Mess of a Manuscript: Lisa Maxwell talks letting go of perfection

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unhooked lisa maxwellI am an edit-as-I-go writer.

I didn’t know this for sure about myself until I tried NaNoWriMo way back in 2012, when I had this fun idea for a twisted Peter Pan retelling featuring a sexy, brooding pirate boy. That book eventually became Unhooked, but it took me almost two years of revision to turn the mess of a manuscript into the book that finally sold.

I enjoyed the freedom of blasting through words during NaNoWriMo, but I the process of editing that book into something sellable was frustrating. I skipped NaNoWriMo for 2014 and 2015 as I wrote Gathering Deep and the proposal for the book that would eventually become The Last Magician. I didn’t need NaNoWriMo to get words on the page.

And then I tried to actually write The Last Magician.

Now, The Last Magician is a book that has been simmering in the back of my mind for about five years now. I’ve been pulling the pieces of it together bit by bit, and I wrote an excruciatingly detailed synopsis of all the twists and turns of the plot as well as a fairly extensive world building outline. I was ready.

But I couldn’t write the darn thing.

The Last Magician meant to much to me to write. It was too big, too sweeping, too intense, and I felt too close to it. I’d sit for hours and delete more words than I strung together. I was spinning my wheels, getting nowhere.

Enter NaNoWriMo 2015.

After swearing up, down, and backwards that writing without editing just didn’t work for me, I went back to it. I had a friend who had been bugging me to do NaNoWriMo again for the past couple of years, and I finally decided to take her up on the challenge. I went to the website, filled in my book, and had an audience to hold myself accountable. And it worked.

Over the course of November 2015 I pounded out over 50,000 words of The Last Magician, and I think I could finally written them because NaNoWriMo forced me to let go of perfection. Sure, the book still needed to be good, but for one glorious month, I had permission to worry about word count instead of making it good. I had people to hold me accountable, the freedom to get something down instead of the perfect thing down.

When November was done, I wasn’t. NaNoWriMo gave me the boost I needed to get going again. The Last Magician still needed a ton of work, but those 50,000 words helped me to form the book I now have. I’d sworn I couldn’t write without editing as I went…and I was wrong.

NaNoWriMo is coming up again, and I haven’t decided whether I’ll be joining in on the fun again, but The Last Magician has a sequel already contracted. It just might be the boost I need to get that book going as well. After all, letting go of perfection worked the last time.

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About Author

Lisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell is the author of Sweet Unrest, Gathering Deep, and Unhooked. Her next book, The Last Magician, will be out in July of 2017. She grew up in Akron, Ohio, and has a PhD in English. She’s worked as a teacher, scholar, bookseller, editor, and writer. When she’s not writing books, she’s a professor at a local college. She now lives near Washington, DC, with her husband and two sons.

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