Old Writing, or, How to Breathe New Life Into an Old Manuscript

I have a conundrum.

You see, it’s time for me to start a new project, and I have two completed projects sitting in my desk drawer. One of them — let’s call it Hank — was already purchased by a major publishing house in 2008, but was later cancelled after my editor left that house. The second, also my only adult literary manuscript, — we shall call it Jase — is probably my finest work from a literary standpoint.

It would seem to make sense to dust off Hank or Jase and get to work beautifying him. I mean if Hank, the runt of my writing litter, was already deemed publishable five years ago, and I’m a more established author now, he certainly would still be publishable.

But it’s not as simple as that.

You see, timing is so important.

As a follow-up to Out of the Pocket, Hank made a lot of sense. It’s about a boy who is sent to football camp against his will. In trying to step out of his comfort zone to please his father, he pleases no one. Funny and sad, it seemed a nice sport-related partner to that first novel of mine.

But I’ve changed and grown, and my career has moved into other areas. I can’t help but feel that Hank is old stuff for me. How do you make an old novel new? How do you breathe life into a project that was penned in 2004?

And then there’s Jase. Ah, Jase.

So dark, this novel is. It focuses on a family of three males — a single father and his two sons. Unable to accept the abandonment of the mother/wife figure, all three have turned to addictive behaviors to fill the hole in their hearts. This novel goes to dark, dark places, touching on gambling, sex, and food.

The problem is, I have changed. I don’t know that I care at this point in my life to put my name on a project that, while well done, will leave readers feeling darker than when they picked it up. Eight years ago when I wrote it, I was feeling dark. Today, that darkness is gone. Do I really want to revisit it? Would it be possible to lighten it up while staying true to the story and characters?

This post includes more questions than answers because right now I have more questions than answers. I simply don’t know how to proceed. Every time I pick up Jase to read it, I feel the darkness, the heaviness of the manuscript, and I put it down.

I haven’t even gotten up the nerve to look at Hank yet.

So what does an established writer do with old manuscripts?