As creatives, we end up making a lot of art. I’ve known plenty of writers, musicians, illustrators – the list goes on – that have started projects and left them in limbo for many years only to bring them back to light again. Writers tinker all too frequently with manuscripts and short stories. Eventually, these drafts end up sitting in some digital folder covered in metaphorical dust, and some of them never see the light of day again. On the flip side, sometimes writers revise and revise a story and never end up completing it. So the question is, do you scrap your manuscript?
A Good Concept
We’re specifically going to be talking about writing and stories. However, the theories apply to all types of projects and creativity. As my graphic design college teacher once told me, “you can put lipstick on a pit bull.” I love this quote. He was referencing bad design versus good design. Sometimes you can’t save a design, no matter how many times you revise it or dress it up. It is always going to be ugly because the concept itself isn’t good. This saying applies to every other creative outlet as well.
How Do You Know If It Is a Good Concept? Or should you scrap your manuscript?
If only this were a straightforward answer. Since we are talking about writing, we’ll look at methods specifically to it. They may apply to other arts as well. Some ways of figuring out if your story is a good idea are:
- Practice the 30-second elevator pitch: See if you can explain your story’s premise to someone in 30 seconds. Ask what they think of it, do they find it boring? Engaging? Or is it rough and needs to be worked on? This method is quick and easy and doesn’t require a lot of commitment from anyone.
- Beta readers: You have most likely heard of the term beta readers. Get someone to read your work! There are plenty of articles online that talk about how to find beta readers, so no need to cover it here. In short, find someone who has an opinion that you respect and who will give you constructive feedback. Anyone that is going to say “it’s great” isn’t helpful.
- Read your story out loud: For a full manuscript, this will take multiple sessions. Still, reading your story out loud will give you a fresh perspective on the manuscript. If you find yourself slowing down or bored in certain parts, that is a clear sign that your readers will have the same feelings.
- Have your story read to you: A similar technique to the one mentioned above, have your story read to you. You could have a friend or computer read it to you. Microsoft Word has a text to speech option, which lets the software read the story to you. You become the listener and can experience what it’s like from there and. This method can help you understand what parts are boring, not believable, or if the whole thing needs to be scrapped.
- Let it cook: You might not know if the story is terrible until you give it some time. Stephen King has mentioned he gives himself at least three months before returning to a manuscript. There is a lot of work done in the subconscious mind when writing a story. Sometimes your mind needs a little bit of time to work through what is missing. On occasion, this can also take years to happen. Perhaps the concept is fine, but the execution isn’t. You may need more practice, research, or experience in your craft.
- Genre Checklist (Meeting the Criteria): The last point is my least favourite and may not be applicable. If you are writing within a genre, and want to stick to its principles, make sure it meets the criteria. If you’re writing a High Fantasy book, look up what is High Fantasy and does your manuscript meet the checklist? For example, you wouldn’t want zombies and a ton of romance in the story to meet the high fantasy requirement. Again, it may not apply to your manuscript, but cross-referencing other works is a reliable method.
If you have a diamond in the rocks, try some of the ideas above. Getting an outside perspective can offer new insight into your work. If it isn’t a good idea, great, you can scrap your manuscript and move on with life. Other times it is a little more complicated than that.
Work on Something New
If you are uncertain of the manuscript, frustrated, or trying one of the notes above, work on something new. As a writer – any creative – it is part of the craft to persist in the art. You don’t want to be a one-trick pony that has only ever produced one piece. Giving yourself the freedom to explore new concepts allows you to become better at your craft. You may also find new ideas that can be integrated into your previous concept. Or perhaps discover something better than the previous one.
Scrap Your Manuscript
The methods above are effective ways of deciding if you should return to your manuscript and keep working on it. The last point mentioned talked about letting the idea cook. It’s the most realistic way of knowing if your idea is any good. The future version of you will come back and look at the work with a fresh perspective and will most likely be wiser and smarter. It is amazing to go back and look at your older work to see all the mistakes and faults you made for just being inexperienced.
Keep Your Manuscript Regardless, Don’t Delete It
Never delete your progress or scrap your manuscript in the shredder. In the digital world, it is straightforward to store your work-in-progresses. Personally, I’ve kept every sketchbook that I have (except for one and I regret throwing away). As previously mentioned, looking back at your old work to see your progress is incredibly rewarding.
Focusing on the craft and improving your skill in the art will enhance your future work. You’ll come up with better concepts, and looking back at your old ones will make you pleased about how far you’ve come. It may even make you laugh about how ridiculous your previous concept was. Or, you might get that aha moment that’ll make the piece feasible. Take the time; don’t rush your art.