Of the Benefits of Letting Manuscripts Age

Just when I thought that fall was poking its shy nose, a heat wave has taken California by surprise. In reality September is one of the hottest months in the Golden State.

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When I lived in the San Francisco Bay everyone was looking forward to these few days of real warmth because summer there was cool and windy.

In the Sierra foothills everyone is impatient for a break.

Hot temperatures for us are getting so old.

Talking of old, because I’m spending more time inside, I decided to have a serious look at my old work while finishing the draft of my new novel. During spring cleanup I deleted several useless manuscripts, which I knew held no publishing value. I kept a few and among them one caught my attention.

I wrote this middle grade story over a month, four years ago. I had signed up for Nanowrimo, and although I have a tendency to start many projects at the same time I finished the draft just in time for Thanksgiving.

After the holiday season I revised it, helped by my writing critique group, but didn’t submit it until the year after when I decided to enter the manuscript in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel competition. There was no middle grade category so I boosted my characters’ age in order to get a shot.

After the winner was announced I received a two-page critique from the jury. The main issue, according to them, was that the story was meant for younger readers than high school teens.

I could only agree since I had at the last minute added a few years to my people only to enter the competition. I knew I was walking a fine line and I did.

Two or even four years aren’t enough to transform a middle grade novel into a YA novel. Even I knew that.

So today I decided to read my entire manuscript with a cool head. If I can say when temperatures soar in the upper 90s.

We all have heard that experienced writers advice novice to let their work sit on the stove for a few months before tasting them.

Since I hadn’t looked at this particular work of mine for three years, I assumed I had waited long enough. By now the story would be more like a stew than a stir-fry.

But would it be like a bottle of wine, which deserves to be put away in order to release its full body?

I am French and know that all wines don’t age well. Some aren’t supposed to age at all. These two tips come from my beloved papa who knew his wine.

Anyway, I was anxious and curious to read my story after such a long time. After all I had just decided to give it a chance, but only based on the critique.

More than a taste, I had to give a hard, honest look at my work before taking a hasted decision.

I must have worked on this story much more than I thought, I told myself with relief when I was halfway through.

Now that my characters are twelve years old again they act their age. The critique I liked best and triggered my desire to reconsider the potential of this novel came from one of the jury members. He appreciated the loving relationship within the different families, especially between siblings. A nice change from most stories, he wrote.

To be honest, when I wrote this story I was also getting a little tired of reading novels with complicated family situations where parents and children hate each other. I wanted to write about loss and peace on a background of healthy family relationships, not picture-like unbelievable relationships, but with boys and girls who care for their sisters and brothers, even for the annoying ones.

At six o’clock when I reached THE END, I was glad I had treated my manuscript like a bottle of Bordeaux. It deserved to age.

And I think it has aged well enough so I can pour a chapter or two to my writing critique members.

If they can bear a second helping, I will get the support I need to seek publication.

Cheers to your own writing!

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