I did something fun this past Christmas. For those who've been around long enough, you might remember my previous manuscript, Devolutionaries. I worked on it for over a year, queried it for 8 months, and got some bites but ultimately nobody loved it quite enough.
Except my teenage brother. I emailed it to him, and he raved about it. Multiple times. Which, of course, made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So for Christmas, I uploaded the book to Lulu and had it printed out in book-form for him. (And, let's not lie. For me too, because I still love the book. And yes, I got a little giddy when a book came in the mail with my name on it even though it was basically just an expensive print job.)
dimension story! *not the
plot of my story.* (source)
This is a very tough question. But basically, it boils down to this: it simply wasn't my best work anymore. I'm not saying it was badly written. In fact, I picked it up about a year ago to decide if I wanted to go back to it, and I was quite proud of it. I couldn't necessarily pick out anything WRONG with it (though I'm sure crit partners could). But in the end, I left it in its virtual drawer.
Because I'd written another book in the meantime. A better book. In some subtle ways, I'd become a better writer, and no amount of fixing that old book would bring it up to caliber. It was kind of a bittersweet moment. You see, that book was where I really applied myself to the craft for the first time. I learned more through that book than any I've ever written. And it's still (in my opinion) a great story. But it had its time.
I've seen a lot of writers stick to one book. They rewrite it and revise it and edit it and start from scratch and rewrite it again for ten years. And you know what? That's okay. Because only you as a writer can decide if this work is the one that will take just a bit more push and hit that hot button. I have a friend who did that and, bam, the story found itself. But make sure to write other things in the meantime. Brandon Sanderson himself (yeah, I'm totally name-dropping like I'm the guy's best friend *no shame*) told all of us students to write something completely new for his class. (Which I initially ignored, and learned to rue the day, but that's another story...)
Writing something new is the best way to apply what you learned with the old. So, when do you let go of one and move on? There's no solid answer. It takes being honest with yourself. It takes crit partners willing to be honest with you. It takes working on something new and going back to see if you can truly make that story what it should be. And it takes a willingness to let go and play with a new story that has potential to be a million times better.
So, my friends, have you had a hard time letting go of a manuscript? How did you know it was time? Or did you go back to one and make it better? How did you know that one could get there?