Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Your Unpublished Manuscript File

by Terrie Lynn Bittner

I just finished reading the book Writing Magic by Gail Levine. It’s for children and teens who want to write fiction, but it was a great starting point for me as well. She advised writers to save everything they write for fifteen years, because even if it isn’t good because it may spark something later, when your skills have progressed or your perspective has changed. That is great advice for children, but I found myself thinking, “I’m getting on towards fifty. I could be dead in fifteen years.” (It's been that sort of day!) Then I read an article asking if it was inappropriate to publish unfinished manuscripts by dead authors who asked that their unfinished works all be destroyed without reading.

My file cabinet is filled with old manuscripts, largely due to the fact that I recently got ambitious and sorted a box that has moved from house to house without being touched since my first writing career in my younger years. I was surprised to find file folders with stories long forgotten. After I looked them over, I knew why they were long forgotten. Ouch! Did I really write that badly? Did I really submit those stories somewhere and think they would get published?

Fortunately, I’m not famous enough, and never will be, that someone will be tempted to publish “Terrie Lynn Bittner—The Early Years.” Most likely those sad old stories will be tossed by family members trying to undo my years of clutter, and no one will be the wiser. But if things were different, how would I feel?

I do believe it might be that a writer’s greatest fear is not rejection, but the publication of unfinished or unskilled writing. Do I really want people to know about my elephant stage? This is not as impressive as the traditional blue stage or red stage you find with professional artists. It was, I think, a reaction to the realization that the last invisible friend had left my children’s life, and I was trying to keep them all (the friends, not the children) from running away from home by immortalizing them in story…after story…after story.

Maybe it would be a good idea to celebrate fiftieth birthday next year by cleaning out those files myself. I’m not sure I trust my kids to toss them. They might find it funny to fill my abandoned website with elephant stories.


Anne Bradshaw said...

LOL! My elephants are awful poetry. I guess all authors go through the poetic stage, but I cringe now when reading some of it. I've made a note to get rid asap. Thanks for the prompts, Terrie.

Rebecca Talley said...

I have that same book. I bought it for my kids--I have a few who love to write--and started reading it the other day. It's a great book.

I've also found "elephants" that I've written--eewww. So glad they were never published.