The Unfinished Manuscript
"I won't leave any unfinished manuscripts." – Harold Robbins
(Good for you, Harold. I can't make such a bold statement.)
Question for writers: How many unfinished books are collecting digital dust in your computer's filing cabinet?
There’s a folder on my desktop called Writing. Within that folder are several additional folders for each of the projects I’ve worked on over the years – novels, screenplays, short fiction, poetry. There are outlines, character biographies, and of course the manuscripts themselves. Some of them are finished. Some are perhaps a chapter or two long – seeds of ideas that broke the surface but didn’t quite reach full bloom. Well, not yet at least.
This week, I added another folder to that latter category.
Late last fall I began fleshing out an idea that appeared to be unique. I put out feelers to Agent Steve and a few writer pals for suggested books written in the same manner as my idea. I wanted to see how others pulled it off. Oddly, no one could think of any examples. The prospect of stumbling across something original (which isn’t as easy as it sounds) intrigued me. So I plowed ahead with the idea and, by January, was hovering around the 11,000-word mark. Then I hit the proverbial wall. I couldn’t make progress.
The reasons why weren’t all that mysterious. I hadn’t fleshed out the story and the characters enough to sustain it past that initial surge out of the gate. That’s pretty much what happened with all those unfinished projects. (Not that there are many. Maybe I shouldn’t say “all those.” There are, like, a few.) I try not to over-outline and get so excited about actually writing the story that I don’t plan my route far enough ahead, eventually getting totally lost and unable to move forward. So that’s where I was with this latest project, and it's a lousy feeling.
Suddenly, I got smacked in the face with a really cool idea for a different book. And I mean different in more ways than one. So far, every project of mine has landed somewhere in the Young Adult genre. This one isn’t. So that’s something I’m excited – and admittedly a little nervous – about. I've spent the past week and half using every bit of my writing time working on this new idea: sketching, outlining, researching, then diving hard and fast into the story this week. I’ve written 3,300 words in 24 hours and am (insert major wood knock here) having more fun with this than any of my other projects. This one is also requiring a little more research than my usual YA rom-com fare. So perhaps balancing the research with the writing surge will allow me to sustain this one all the way to the finish line. Is there a chance this idea could end up like the previous one? Sure. But I'll cross that bridge if I get there. (Or not.)
So, as for that book I shelved, I do hope to finish it eventually. I liked the characters and was enjoying getting to know them. They’ll be there when I get back to them.
Back to my original question: am I alone in this tendency to start and stop books? How many unfinished manuscripts do you have?
(Update: I just counted. I have four folders for unfinished novels, ranging from one that never got past the idea-sketching phase to that 11K-word project I discusssed above. Is that a lot??)