Schrödinger’s Manuscript: The Uncertain State of a Novel

by Jennifer L. Carson

As we write our first novel, we can’t help thinking about its future.  I day dream about DAW, Roc, and Tor.  I hear stories about indie published works like J.L. Doty’s Gods Within series that I learned at a con sold over 30,000—and who hasn’t heard about the success of Shades of Grey?  As I get closer to finishing my manuscript, I have to do more than daydream: I have to really think about what I want.  If it’s traditional publishing, how do I optimize my manuscript’s chances with the most likely fit for it?  Daydreaming is fun.  This is work…and scary work at that, because every choice I make, every avenue I go down, every street I bypass, could be the difference between finding a publisher…

Or not.

As I near finishing my novel, I have started researching cover letters, query letters, synopses, publishers, and statistics on rejections.  The numbers are downright scary.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe in my manuscript with all my heart…but when I read that Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone got rejected 12 times, that Herbert’s Dune got rejected 23 times, that L’engle’s A Wrinkle in Time got rejected 26 times, and that King’s Carrie nearly didn’t see publication because after 30 rejections, Steven King threw it out (his wife rescued the manuscript…thank you Mrs. King.  I like that one!)…well, when I read those numbers, I think, what chance have I? This is why, in my head, my novel is both publishable and unpublishable all at the same time; it is my Schrödinger’s manuscript.

But I have one task to do before I try to take my novel from Schrödinger’s sealed manuscript box…and that is finish it.  But how?  I’ve been stuck on the Chapter 49 for a very long time.

Enter Clarion West.

I was at a writer’s retreat trying to claw my way through chapter 49 sentence by sentence, when Carolyn, the host of our mini retreat, spotted a post about the Clarion West Write-a-thon. For those who haven’t heard, Clarion West Writers Workshop is an intensive writer’s training event where you stay on site for six weeks and (according to a friend of mine who’s been through it) you live, eat, and breath writing.  Sounds AWESOME—but who has six weeks to just take off from his or her life?  Sadly, not me.

That’s why the write-a-thon caught my attention. To help fund this pricy writers workshop program, during the same six weeks, Clarion West holds a write-a-thon online where anyone can join.  You set your goal.  You can get sponsors.  Or you procrastinators out there can “unsponsor” yourself; I’ve seen folk pledge to pay if they didn’t meet their goals:  “Every day I don’t write I will donate $5.”  Don’t like to bug people for money? Join next year anyway!  Clarion West gets funds based on the number of participants. So when Carolyn said, “Let’s join the Write-a-thon,” well, it didn’t take much arm twisting.

I put together a page on the Clarion West site, inserted my excerpt of my novel, blurbed it, and set my goals, which read: To finish writing the rough draft of my novel…especially that #$#%$ chapter 49! This means I have six weeks to finish my novel.  If ever I am going to document the process as I said I would in my first blog, now is the time to start.  Groan…blogging…often…it would interfere with my accomplishing my goals.

Or would it? During our writers retreat, I discovered that Carolyn is keeping a diary of her writing on her blog (her “Progrep” series).  I loved the idea…and by the end of the weekend, I knew I wanted to do it, too. Today, for the six weeks of the Clarion West Write-a-thon, I share my diary with you to fulfill my promise of tracking the progress of a manuscript in the days when my novel, In a Mortal Shadow, is still Schrödinger’s manuscript.

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