How to Break Up with Your Manuscript

You’ve been at this for months—maybe even years—and you just aren’t jiving. You’ve lost that spark. You might be filled with dread at the thought of spending time together. So you ask yourself: should I push through, or should I end this now and save myself the misery? Should I… break up with my manuscript?

The reality is, not all stories are winners. There’s bound to be a few duds among the gems. When I’m struggling with a manuscript, the first thing I do is take a break. The break could be for a few hours, a few days, a couple weeks, or even months at a time. When I dive back in, I’ve typically become less attached to my darlings. That one sentence that all my critique partners nitpicked, but I loved too much to cut? BYE, FELICIA! Sometimes, the time apart is just what I needed to revise with gusto and breathe new life into my work.

But let’s say the opposite happens. I’ve spent a few months away from my manuscript, and when I open the document I just think, “Ugh.” I might’ve fallen in love with some new projects in the meantime, or maybe the manuscript no longer feels like a good fit for my list. When this happens, I have to ask: do I see a future here, or is it time to end it? Sure, it’s sad. We’ve spent lots of time together, and I’ve put lots of energy into trying to make it work. But if I’ve given it my best and it’s just not coming together, it might be time to move on.

So how do you know when it’s time to call it quits? I ask myself these questions:

  • Is this a unique, marketable concept?
  • Is this the story of my heart—the one I can’t let die?
  • Is this manuscript getting largely positive feedback from my critique partners (or agent or editor)?

If the answer to all of these questions is ‘no’, then it’s probably time to send it packing.

Do you need to break up with YOUR manuscript? If you aren’t sure how to let the little guy down easy, here are a few trusty lines to help soften the blow:

I’m looking for more of an emotional layer.

You deserve an author who loves you for you.

I just can’t handle a (humorous/quiet/narrative nonfiction) manuscript right now.

I like you, but you don’t get along with my critique partners, so it’s hard to see a future here.

(and my personal go-to)

It’s not you, it’s my carpal tunnel.

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