Thursday, December 15, 2011

Manuscript Blues: A Messy Mess

57ยบ ~ oddly warm here for the past 48, moisture everywhere, leftover rain, cement seeping, light rain here and there through tomorrow, then the cold returns

This morning my father is having his second (and last) surgery to finish placing all of the hardware he needs for Deep Brain Stimulation therapy for Parkinson's Disease.  Tomorrow, I'll be on the road to Iowa to visit and see for myself how he is doing.  (C. will be home with the cats, recovering from his semester.)  Dad's hardware won't be activated until the very end of December, so we won't know how much improvement he will see until the first of the year, but I just need to check in and give everyone hugs.

from creativecommons.org, click for link

That being said, I'll be offline for a few days more.  You can see that I have been fairly quiet already this break, after Monday's draft.  I confess, Tuesday was a disaster in terms of poetry.  One of my goals for the break is to re-visit In a World Made of Such Weather as This, my 'second book.'  As most of you know, the manuscript has gotten lots of love in terms of semi-finalist status and a bit of love as a finalist; however, it has not made the final leap to publication, and I've been sending it out in what I consider its strongest form for two years (with a re-ordering between year one and year two).  In any case, I thought I was ready to take another look under the hood and see if I needed to tinker with it more.

It's hard for me to describe what happened on Tuesday when I opened up the binder and started reading the poems.  After the first poem, I started questioning everything.  I wondered what I had been thinking.  I beat myself up.  I felt sick.  I was tired of all the poems I was reading.  I half-heartedly shuffled a few poems around.  I told myself to stick with it and just keep reading.  I stopped reading and closed the binder in defeat.  I'm now wondering if it is even a book.  Most horrify thought:  it is not a book and I've wasted my time on it.  I feel sick again, now, just thinking about it.

On reflection, I suspect I know what is happening.  I've "broken up" with those poems.  Traci Brimhall writes about this transition at Her Circle Ezine.  The new series I'm working on is so exciting and full of energy that I've moved on to a new passion.  Since the sickly speaker poems are shaping up as a true series with an arc of a plot that the poems will follow, I'm caught up in that cohesiveness.  My weather book is definitely NOT a project book.  It is a 100% mix-tape book, with common themes and threads floating throughout, but no definitive arc that moves through time and place.  Connections that seemed natural and instinctive when I put those poems together have evaporated in the face of how easily the new project poems are sliding together.

Today, I sit here gathering questions.

If nearly every poem in the collection has been published individually, is that enough?  Is that too much?  Do I suffer from over-exposure?

Is the poetry world more apt to publish a project book over a mix-tape book?

What does it mean to collect these loosely connected poems in a book and send it out into the world?

Is it all about audience at this point, growing the audience for all of the poems together?

When does one decide to abandon a collection?

How does one deal with this abandonment?

One thought that is running through my head is that I need to go back to square one and pull the whole thing apart and find the poems that still sing to me and see what I have then.

Another thought is that I'm being too hard on the book and need to leave it be and see what happens with this round of submissions.  But how long do I keep putting the book out there without revision and can I continue to do so when my passions have moved on to other work?

While nothing about this work is physically taxing, the emotional exhaustion is real. 

12 comments:

Kristin said...

I would offer this approach:

keep sending the book 2 manuscript out while you keep working on the poems that will become book 3.

If you had had no encouragement, then I might be more inclined to think there's something wrong with the manuscript. But the book has come close to publication, from my point of view.

Or another approach: choose the 3-5 (8-10?) places where the book 2 manuscript still needs to go, and then decide to put it away for awhile. An alternate version: decide you'll keep trying until a given date (by which, hopefully, you'll have a new manuscript that's ready to make the rounds).

I don't have any solid answers. I think the main problem is that we've got lots of quality manuscripts out there and fewer and fewer publishers.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kristin!

The shrinking number of publishers and the rise of online publishing has me wondering what the future holds. I wonder if I should hire and editor and then publish the book as a PDF and try a Radiohead approach, asking folks to pay what they think the book is worth. It's never been about the money, anyway. What the press offers is the credibility of having outside readers say 'yes, this book is worth your time and money' to the audience. Hmmmmm....lots to digest, and thanks for your offerings.

Kathleen said...

I'm sending healing thoughts and encouragements as you cope with all this. I'm glad Kristin can offer specific suggestions!

I do think you have asked excellent questions. The answers will come to you, and the questions will also help others.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kathleen. Appreciate the thoughts and support.

Justin Evans said...

I have fallen on hard times with my second ms., Sailing this Nameless Ship. It's 955 of the manuscript I want it to be as well as that much of what I am capable of in terms of how good a writer I am. More than a third of the poems in the book were snapped up for publication but still, I get nothing but scorn for the manuscript as a whole. The only thing I have going for me is that my poetry has always had a difficult time finding acceptance in manuscript form. It's always had more success as individual poems.

I am also right there with you about having divorced my 2nd manuscript. I may have to accept the fact that I wrote a book which will never be published because I can barely find the energy to send them out the door, let alone look at them with a critical eye. What I am writing right now is infinitely more enjoyable.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Justin, thanks for the insight. Glad to know I'm not alone.

Jeannine Hall Gailey said...

Dear Sandy,
Of course, everybody goes through these kinds of doubts and fears. I am just now reviving an MS I had given up on after a couple of years of sending it out; now, looking at it, it seems like such a fun MS - why did I ever give up on it? LOL.
I would recommend finding a writer/editor you trust - maybe two, someone you know well, and maybe someone you do not know well but you respect - and get their feedback on the MS. You can really get re-energized by taking a look at an MS through another person's eyes.
Don't give up on poetry publishers yet. There are a number of new good publishers starting up every year. You may just not have found your right fit yet. (Like dating!)
Best, Jeannine

Tawnysha Greene said...

I agree with Kristin--keep at it, but keep working on your sickly speaker poems, too. Your poems have been getting published, so there is a market for them, but as you know, the market is so fickle and subjective sometimes. Your second manuscript will find its publisher :) Keep your head up! We are rooting for you!

Karen J. Weyant said...

It sounds like you are suffering second book blues (this may be a misdiagnosis -- coming from someone who does not have a first book out!) However, I would not give up on your collection -- Kristin gave some awesome advice.

Sending good thoughts & karma to you and your family!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You all are awesome and smart.

taramaemulroy said...

My ten cents:

If nearly every poem in the collection has been published individually, is that enough? Is that too much? Do I suffer from over-exposure?--My thesis adviser, John Bensko, who I respect dearly, had a ton of the poems for his recent manuscript snapped up, but then he hit bad water when he submitted it to his publisher. They turned it down, told him to submit it the next year. They turned it down again. He submitted it to a couple of contests, didn't hit the jackpot there either. I think getting individual poems published is never a sure bet of whether the greater manuscript will be, which I think must make the process even more painful since it should seem like one should inform the possibility of the other. I also read somewhere that just because a poem's been published doesn't mean it's any better than some other poem that hasn't been published. That might help if you're thinking about ordering your manuscript differently.

Is the poetry world more apt to publish a project book over a mix-tape book?--I read very few project books, but they do stand out for that exact reason. Most of the winners for prizes like the Princeton or the Yale are mix-tape books, ones that have a recurring theme or motif that threads through the piece. Carnations by Anthony Carelli, which won last year's Princeton prize, has mix-tape poems that are also connected by a subtle thread of religion. Each poem has a bit of some religious imagery in it or the title of it is pulled from something religious. This really made his poems, which jumped from being in Spain to working in a pie place, more connected than a "normal" mix-tape manuscript might be.

Is it all about audience at this point, growing the audience for all of the poems together?--I'd say no. I think that may help once the book is published, but not in /getting/ it published.

When does one decide to abandon a collection?--I'd like to say never. Maybe you could put your finishing energy into finishing the sickly speaker manuscript and send that one out, and then coming back to this older one. I know I can be really hard on older poems. I see things in them, errors more like, that I don't do anymore. I find the subject or content boring or old hat. The fact that your manuscript has been a semifinalist and a finalist implies THERE IS SOMETHING GOOD IN THERE. It may not be at its peak yet, but it is of some worth. I would try to hold onto that grain and keep at it.

But how long do I keep putting the book out there without revision and can I continue to do so when my passions have moved on to other work?--Once you hear back from your submissions, if it doesn't get published, think about trying to revise it or put it on the backburner until you can come back to it with a more loving hand. Think about having someone else go through it and make suggestions. Never give up.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Tara Mae! I appreciate the thoughtful answers and the encouragement (as always)!