Recycling Shelved Manuscripts – Your Words Are Never Wasted! A guest post by G. Z. Schmidt
Every author has a drawerful of shelved manuscripts: early stories from their beginner days that never see the light of publication. These shelved manuscripts are often riddled with clichés or plot holes or cringey storylines. But they serve a very important purpose for a writer: PRACTICE.
Back before I was published, I was reaching out to literary agents with a now-shelved manuscript. The manuscript was about a pair of twins going through a portal and finding themselves in a brand-new world of magic. There, they meet all sorts of magical creatures and navigate mysterious buildings, such as a never-ending library. I received nice feedback complimenting the writing, but ultimately, none of the agents would touch it. This is a bit similar to other things I’ve read, one said. Another agent wrote kindly, While the writing is great, the story does hit a number of typical MG scenarios/tropes.
Looking back now, it’s obvious the manuscript needed a ton more work. The characters were underdeveloped, the dialogue was stilted. To say the story was derivative is an understatement, and I cringe whenever I think about the fact that I made my husband read the entire thing. (He was nice about it.)
I shelved that manuscript and moved on. To my surprise, three years later, it resurfaced in ways I didn’t expect. I was drafting my second book, The Dreamweavers, which is also about a pair of twins journeying to the Imperial Palace in ancient China. One of the scenes features the twins in an enormous, never-ending library. Wait a minute! Sound familiar?
I had successfully borrowed elements from my shelved manuscript and reworked it into my new stories.
I had a similar experience writing The Curious Vanishing of Beatrice Willoughby. The early draft was vastly different from the final version. In fact, when I was first writing this, the original premise was nowhere near the same. For comparison, below is the original premise, compared with the final version’s:
Original premise: A sheltered daughter of a powerful wizard must venture out of her mansion and find the antidote after her father gets poisoned.
Final premise: An unusual group of townspeople get invited to an All Hallows’ Eve party at a mansion, but it turns out one of the guests is responsible for a series of disappearances in town.
Several characters were kept the same, such as the little girl named Beatrice, her talking bat, and an old, unusual woman named Edie. Others were shifted around but retained their main features and personalities. The setting stayed the same: The Curious Vanishing of Beatrice Willoughby takes place in a remote town where magic and oddities happen. This setting was inspired in a large part by my time living abroad in Switzerland.
I sold this book on proposal to my publisher with the final premise, but it still took almost a year of subsequent work before I nailed down the first clean draft to send to my editor. The book is one of the more ambitious ones I’ve tackled, juggling nine different characters (thirteen, if we count the hosts of the party), and it took some tweaking to make sure the narrative is tight enough.
And then there were more drafts after that.
This is the process of writing. Your ideas don’t come to your head in order. Your sentences don’t come in order. It takes revising and rearranging to make it the best it can be on the page.
For all my manuscripts, I keep a section titled “Deleted / Moved.” It’s the collection of scenes that have been removed and passages that didn’t make the cut. It’s less of a trash can and more of a recycling bin. Sometimes, scenes get reworked back into the story. Other times, they appear in a brand new story.
Your shelved stories won’t be lost to the dust. Rework bits of it into your new manuscript. Borrow entire chunks and passages freely (after all, it’s your own writing). As you grow as a writer, you’ll find that your judgment gets better, and you’ll have fewer shelved manuscripts as a result. A graveyard of forgotten manuscripts is just begging for a new life. Go have fun with it!
Meet the author
G. Z. Schmidt has lived in many places around the world, including Switzerland, where tiny hamlets, deep forests, and majestic mountains provided more than enough inspiration for the setting of this story. Gail now lives with her family in southern California where, unlike Nevermore, things are usually what they seem . . . usually. For more about Gail and her books, visit GZWrites.com.
About The Curious Vanishing of Beatrice Willoughby
The Amadeuses were always considered somewhat strange. Even before the incident.
When six-year-old Beatrice Willoughby vanished at the Amadeuses’ annual All Hallows Eve party, people in the tiny mountain town of Nevermore were quick to whisper: They were always odd. Their house is full of dark magic. And when Mort Amadeus was pegged for the crime, the Amadeuses, once the center of society, retreated. They closed their doors, disappeared from life. People almost forgot. Until thirteen years later, when six envelopes land at the doorstep of six households in town: We cordially invite you to a celebration on the 31st of October this Saturday evening at the Amadeus household.
So begins the mystery of who was really responsible for the missing girl thirteen years ago. Was it Duchess von Pelt, whose face no one has ever seen? Mrs. Raven, the keeper of the local inn? Wormwood, the Amadeuses’ mysterious caretaker? Dr. Foozle, the town pharmacist? Count Baines, who seems to know when unlucky things are about to happen? Judge Ophelius, who presided over Beatrice’s case originally? Mr. and Mrs. H, a couple who no one can ever quite remember? Or somehow, might precocious, eleven-year-old Dewey and his storytelling dad, Chaucer, be somehow mixed up in all this?
The guests must work together to identify the guilty party among them over the course of the evening—but beware the ticking clock, because at midnight, everything is going to change! Told from different perspectives, this is a sly, darkly funny mystery. Filled with strange characters and set in a mansion deep, deep in the woods. G. Z. Schmidt has crafted an unforgettable puzzle, perfect for reading on a dark autumn night.
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 09/05/2023
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network