Yesterday a writing colleague posted a question on social media about unpublished manuscripts she had sitting in a closet. Do you keep them or toss them out, she asked.
Coincidentally, I have been working on a manuscript I wrote a number of years ago, which oddly I had made no effort to publish. It’s the story about a woman named Elise who kept whispering in my ears when I was cooking in my kitchen. I was busy working on a mystery series at the time, so I kept trying to shoo her away, but Elise would not let go of me until I wrote her story. It turned out to be a romantic comedy, a genre I hadn’t attempted before. I enjoyed Elise and the cast of characters supporting her, yet the book did not fit into my plan at the time.
We all know what’s happened to plans. For me, the pandemic preceded by a couple of killer hurricanes turned my life into a chopped more than a tossed salad. So be it. You land where you’re planted and try to bloom.
Elise has continued to gnaw at me since I placed her in a desk drawer. “Let me out. Let me come to life.” She really can be quite a nag, which was how she got on paper in the first place. Now that I have more time to write and read, I decided to liberate her from the drawer. Beneath Elise, there are a few other manuscripts waiting in a queue to escape. Be patient, my creative darlings.
When I reread Elise, I was surprised by how little I remembered about her story. Things happened I didn’t expect. How can that be, since I’m the one who wrote the book? There were parts where I laughed and a few where I got choked up. Wait a minute. I wrote this stuff. How can I go getting emotional about it?
Elise is not in perfect shape. She’s a bit dated. Some of the clothes she wore, the devices she used, and her expressions need work. The arcs in her story could be higher and lower. The ending to her story could be more satisfying. But I like Elise and I like her story. It deserves to be told. Whether it deserves to be published and read remains to be seen. But I’ll never know if I keep suffocating her in my desk drawer.
The stories waiting in line after Elise may not deserve the chance she’s getting. But I’d never know that if I had shredded them out of discouragement, fatigue, and the other emotions that torment writers. We often joke about how difficult it is to “kill our darlings,” which refers to chopping out precious words from our work. Shredding an entire book must be excruciating. That’s why I’m going to continue to give my unpublished books room in that desk drawer and see who screams loudest to be freed.