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Your First Manuscript May Be Holding You Back

Speculative fiction author Alexander Mazin recently wrote a detailed post (available in the original Russian here) on how heartbreaking it can be to watch writers waste their potential on endlessly trying to wrangle their first manuscript into something worth publishing (or more importantly, worth reading).

The main upshot is this: it's important to know when to let go. Often, the first manuscript someone writes is the example used because it is likely to be in the roughest shape. This isn't to say that it can't have an interesting premise, or potential within the characters. Rather, the amount of work necessary to shape that first draft into a story that lives up to the potential may be better spent elsewhere. Sometimes the best way to bring that initial idea to life is to extract the few good pieces and start over with a blank page. And sometimes the best thing you can do is tuck it in a (possibly virtual) drawer and move on to something new.

There are exceptions, of course. A first manuscript can (with plenty of revising) go on to be a huge success. Indeed some writers actually give up too soon, unwilling to put in the work required to transform a first draft into a finished work. Instead, they keep writing first drafts, possibly polishing the grammatical/syntactical errors, and expecting the result to blow readers away—or giving up on writing entirely when that isn't the case. As with most things, discernment is key.

But as Mazin wrote, clinging to a specific manuscript may be strangling your potential as a writer. This is actually true whether the project is your first or your fifth, though it's a safe bet your fifth first draft will be in better shape than your first, especially if you're taking time to study your craft alongside drafting the stories. By the time you write your fifth project, you'll likely be better able to see if the story is worth pursuing—and have an easier time letting go if not.

It's more difficult to have perspective on your first project, especially when it's your only project—the bearer of all your hopes and dreams for your writing career. That first manuscript holds a special place in your journey, and therefore in your heart. Even after having written, revised, and published other works, authors can be drawn back to that initial idea, that first story. You want to make it work.

Nevertheless, it's important to take a step back and assess the scope of work a manuscript would require to reach both its potential and your potential as a writer, whether continuing to spend your limited resources of time and energy on reshaping this material will be worth it.* When your first manuscript is no longer your only manuscript, it's much easier to accept if the answer is "no."
    * This is something an editor can help you evaluate.

It all comes down to not letting determination become blind stubbornness that traps you in endless revisions. Letting go, moving on to a new project when the current one just isn't working, is neither failing nor giving up. In fact, it may be the saving grace of your career.

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