You have probably been in a similar position with something you’ve written or are still writing or will always be writing. You have your friends go from being excited about your magnum opus to being sad because they think you’re stuck like a crazy person in a padded room. “You think maybe you can send it off now? No? Okay.”
But hey, how long did it take to write Gone with the Wind? A long time; ten years to be exact. So maybe sometimes it takes a while to get something right.
But hey, how long can you wait until the earth has passed on and your book is no longer relevant? So maybe you need to just give up or get it out there.
The thing about writing is that there’s no one sitting there telling you when it’s ready. There’s no real deadline except for the one you set for yourself. So you can keep pushing it back. You keep learning, so your manuscript can keep growing, right?
When is it time to let go? That’s what we’re going to focus on today. In answering this question, maybe you should first answer these questions:
Why am I still writing this book?
Do you still get something out of writing this book? There is definitely a script or two that I just gave up on because it didn’t matter to me or the world anymore. One of these was a play that was a thinly-veiled metaphor for the 2008 Election (and also my pining after a young man who broke up with me a month prior to me writing said play). But a year ago, I went and looked back at this poor play and decided never to work on it again. Why? Well, because I can barely remember what that heartbreaker looks like, and the 2008 Election was in 2008. So I’m not really getting anything out of it, and neither would the world. It’s best to let it lie and let go.
However, the best manuscripts are timeless, to both ourselves and the world. Genres and hot-topics come and go, but we will always enjoy reading something like Lovely Bones or The Color Purple. Pieces about the universal human condition have a little longer shelf life. But don't ride on that one comforting fact; if the reason you're still writing this book is because you're scared, you need to let it flutter its wings and fly.
Is it worth it?
Do you love this book enough to keep going? If you’ve grown a lot as a writer over the years, you may have to start over from scratch. Are you willing to do that to make it the best it can be? Or is it best to just let it be what it is? I know this is an issue for a lot of graduate students who grow exponentially after starting their studies. Honestly, I have no answer. I've revised many an old manuscript if I love it enough, but that brings us back to the question at hand. Is it worth it?
Is the clock ticking?
Ah, the shelf life again. If you were writing a vampire novel, your ship has sailed by this point. Breaking Dawn II premiered two years ago, and how many successful vampire movies have there been since? Even the dystopian schooner is breaking off in the distance. We’re now looking at alternative historical novels. So are you running out of time? Is the pot boiling over and the chicken over cooking? Is the insert another colloquialism here? If so, then maybe it’s just time to let it breathe and have agents see it before the agents don’t want to see it anymore?
Why haven’t you sent it off yet?
Nothing is ever going to be perfect. Your manuscript is never going to be what you want it to be. Are you holding your manuscript hostage because it has holes and issues you need to fix … or are you just scared? If you’re just scared, get over it and just send it out!
If you still believe in a project, don’t give up on it. But make sure that you’re willing to put in those ten years to make it what it should be. And if you lose interest, it’s totally okay to let go. Sometimes we have projects that just need to die. Sometimes projects are nothing more than stepping stones to better projects.
What’s the longest time you’ve spent on a manuscript? When do you think it’s time to quit? When do you think it’s time to send?