Not going to lie, I’m dealing with some pretty heavy self-doubt this week. I just finished reading through the latest draft of my WIP, and I’m finally ready to admit it needs heavy world building and character development work.
These are areas that I can realize I’ve been lazy in, and I’m finally at a place where I’m telling myself that rushing this project for the sole reason that I feel “time is running out” is not going to allow me to put forth my best possible work.
Rushing it and having a project that even I know still needs work will do nothing but burn bridges and waste time. Which brings me to the harder part: do I shelve the manuscript in order to write new projects and develop my skills as a writer, or do I start from essentially scratch with the same idea?
Honestly, the WIP I’ve been working on since Spring 2016 is pretty high fantasy, and I mostly read contemporary fantasy. As I sit here staring at my shelves and thinking of books I’ve enjoyed and been drawn to over the years, I’m forced to admit I don’t read very much fantasy set in a world other than our own. No wonder my world building is underdeveloped. I need to fully brainstorm and flesh out my world, and something that intense, that involved, that will have to be interwoven in every other piece of the story from the characters to the plot, can’t be done with a simple revision.
As much as I love so many parts of my manuscript and the work I’ve put in for two years now, I know I’d be once again cheating myself to just call that a revision. And if I’m going to rewrite anyway, shouldn’t I take the time to really learn the genre as I brainstorm? I think I should, that I’ll be left with another underdeveloped draft if I don’t.
These kinds of realizations scare me, make me want to save myself the learning experience and just begin working on a new idea. But those other ideas aren’t developed either. Most of them don’t have characters or any real semblance of plot, they’re still just premises, basic settings, things that I’m not attached to yet in the way I am the characters of my current WIP.
And that’s what I have to remind myself. The plot of my WIP has already changed a dozen times in the last two years, so have the settings and so many other little details. But those two years weren’t wasted. I know my characters in a way, even if I haven’t done them justice by developing their relationships and arcs. It’s the characters that make the story, and their fundamental motivations and characteristics aren’t changing, so I’ll love this new version of their story as much as the dozen that came before.
I’m going to force myself to not take the lazy way out, to not sit here and say “well it’s good enough”. Because if I can read my own work and see so many things I want to change, that can be developed better and leave a deeper impact, than I owe it to myself to put the work in.
So for my final thoughts on this, I’ll just say that regardless of whether or not you decide to shelve or rewrite a manuscript, think of it as a learning experience. As writers, every draft we write or revise teaches us something. Don’t be stuck on keeping something the way it is, and don’t avoid putting in the legwork. I’ve been avoiding world-building and character legwork for two years now. I’ve finally reached a point where I’m 100% excited about the plot, but even as the writer I don’t feel a resonance with it, and I know that’s because the world and characters aren’t interwoven deeply enough.
It’s time to make a new plan of attack, one focused on world building and character arcs. I’ve been researching different ways of doing this, and will be trying to outline and make a revision plan with these things in mind. I’m hoping to have a coherent idea of everything this latest revision needs in the coming week or two, which brings me to April.
April is CampNanoWrimo (my profile here), and as I was already planning to do a revision of my WIP during that, nothing has really changed. The scope has, but at the end of the month I hope I’ll be at least halfway to a new and improved version of my story.
P.S: A lot of the self-doubt has gone away by writing this. I highly suggest venting/working through issues like this, by laying out WHY you feel your story isn’t working, and making a game plan, it’ll hopefully no longer feel like a failure, but rather just another step toward becoming a better storyteller.