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  • [Reality Check] - What If Your Whole Book Is a Darling? by Patricia Robertson
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[Reality Check] - What If Your Whole Book Is a Darling? by Patricia Robertson
Written by
Zetta Brown
October 2017
Written by
Zetta Brown
October 2017

Writers can be their own worst enemy when it comes to publishing. 

How? By not being able to let go of their work. Every word and sentence is too precious to delete and too important to the story in its entirety.

We all have written things that are very close and personal to our hearts, but believe me when I say that once you've gone through the editing process and it's been published and out for a while, you will start to feel detached from it. Your baby has left home and is coping on its own. You can still be proud of it, but you no longer have to shelter and protect it.

Patricia Robertson talks about her experience of dealing with her darling and the advice she received to help her get it a step closer to being published.

What If Your Whole Book Is a Darling?
By Patricia Robertson

It was the hardest editing I have done so far. During my twenties, I went through a prolific period of writing. I wrote seven novels, two of which I threw out in entirety. From one, I took a small part then threw out the rest; two I revised extensively and updated and self-published last year; one remains unread in a file drawer somewhere, but the last held a special place in my life.

It was me during my darkest time, amidst teenage angst and depression. Entitled, Senior Year, it covered my years in junior high and high school. I had experimented with this book, going back and forth in time and between first person and third person. Included in the book were journal entries and short pieces I had written during this time, tied together in the framework of a day of school, expanding across my senior year. There was a chapter for each class: first hour Physics, second hour French, and so on. Confusing—yes. I recognized that but felt that since there was only one main character, I could get away with this. All novice-writer mistakes.

Still, the book held a special place in my heart. Over the years I would pull it out, make revisions, send it out to a publisher, then put it away after the rejection letter, only to pull it out again years later. Some days I thought I should just pitch the whole thing, other days I thought it was the best thing I had ever written. I just couldn’t let it go.

It definitely was my darling.

This past year I decided to pick it up again. I couldn’t throw it out because I felt there was a story within it worth being told, but I didn’t know what to do with it. Whom could I trust with my darling?

I asked my copy-editor, someone familiar with my writing whose opinion I trusted, to do a quick read through. He isn’t a development editor, still he gave me helpful suggestions, one of which was to do the book as a reminiscence. That’s what I decided to do, putting the book within the framework of a woman coming home and discovering the manuscript in an old desk.

From this framework I was able to start cutting, moving parts around, eliminating sections that did not move the plot or develop character. The book became a way to explore the vagaries of memory, why we remember some events, not others, especially within the context of the main character’s father having Alzheimer’s. It was also a means to explore high school and its impact on us as adults years later.

I still have darlings to deal with. I want to preserve the voice of the adolescent me while cutting away unnecessary anecdotes which may have worked in a memoir but don’t fit in the novel. I have removed these but kept them in another file for future reference. I’m also keeping the initial novel around in its uncut form just to have. I keep reminding myself that this isn’t a memoir for family where I want to keep all the little incidents that may not interest people outside of my immediate circle of family and friends.

This story, including my main character, has taken on a life of its own, growing out of the original manuscript. There’s still a part of me that says, “Throw it all out. Why are you putting so much time and energy into trying to make a darling into a book?”

But I think I’m on target.

What do you think? Have you had a similar experience with a book?


Patricia Robertson is the author of fiction and non-fiction books, some self-published, some traditionally published. She recently released her novel, Still Dancing, the sequel to her novel, Dancing on a High Wire, and is looking forward to writing the next book in the series during NaNoWriMo this year. She blogs about life and writing at http://patriciamrobertson.com.


©2015. Zetta Brown. All Rights Reserved. Zetta is an editor and the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. She provides services through JimandZetta.com.

Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :)

If you like this post, then stop by and follow Zetta’s Desk for editing tips.


* This post was originally published in September 2015.

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  • Kaye Curren Quering

    I can look back on two years of pouring out whatever I could as a frustrated writer - waiting for her turn after years of living life, taking care of others, and nurturing several careers.  Darlings be damned.

    As I review the two year of writing, I see how much I just wrote for myself - narcissistically so - daring anyone to get in the way.  But now, with two years of also sticking like glue to other writers, mentors, and advisors, I am excited to start the third year with a love for my reader and what she (he) wants to hear.  The darlings are dying fast.

  • Patricia Robertson

    Michelle, I enjoyed reading about your "big baby!" (though link did not work - I searched through website to find your blog) Maybe your baby is meant to be a twin?! Or even triplets? Sometime a few years, (or as in my case, over thirty years) in a drawer is what baby needs to mature. Congratulations on your soon to be published book.

  • Michelle Cox

    I recently wrote about having to put my darling, or the big baby, as I like to affectionately call it, in a desk drawer.  (You can read more about this experience on my SheWrites blog: http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/how-i-found-my-way-to-she-writes-press-naturally-part-one-the-big.)

    I vowed to go back to my first novel someday when I'm famous and then get it published.  But, a strange thing has happened in meantime, however.  I am currently working on Book 3 of a series I am writing (the first, A Girl Like You, is scheduled to come out next April with SWP) and have found myself unwittingly "borrowing" characters from the big baby, or one's that seem suspiciously similar, anyway, as well as a few actual scenes.  I keep telling myself not to use too many, or I won't be able to publish the big baby.  Nothing will be left of it.  At first this alarmed me, but then I realized that it's okay.  If it's meant to be, I'll find a way to bring it forth into the world, maybe with a few new characters to replace the ones that left.  But that's okay, too.

  • Alonna Shaw Writing

    Zetta, my oops--I thought it was your content! Thanks for clarifying for me/us. Update: Thanks to Patricia for sharing her personal journey!

  • Patricia Robertson

    Thanks for the clarification, Zetta! And once again, thanks to all for adding their stories to mine.

  • Zetta Brown

    Hello, ladies!

    I'm glad you're enjoying the article, but I need to point out one important detail.

    I didn't write it.

    It's Patricia Robertson who is graciously sharing her personal experience dealing with her darling...although I can relate to her struggle as many of you can. :)

    But I do stand behind what I say about writers staying too attached to their work. If you don't plan to publish, this is perfectly acceptable; however, if you ever expect to be published and share your work, your experience, your passion with others--you have to let it go.

  • Lloyd Lofthouse

    I wrote about a dozen book-length manuscripts over the decades before I indie published my first novel that was the last manuscript I wrote between 1968 - 2007.  Then in 2013, I returned to two of my older manuscripts, revised, edited and published them. one in December of 2013 and the second on in February 2015. I know what it feels like to have a rough draft you just can't let go of.

  • Patricia Robertson

    Thank you for sharing your stories. Sometimes it just a matter of timing, knowing when you are ready to tackle yet another revision, or as Frances said, waiting until you've learned enough to tell this special story.

  • Frances Brown

    I feel your pain, Zetta. My Darling is still on a flash drive somewhere...well, there are probably a half-dozen versions on a half-dozen flash drives. I switched POV. I did total character rewrites. Still, I feel like someday, I will bring this book back out and be ready to do it justice. Who knows? It may just be my breakout novel - I just have to wait until I've learned enough to tell this very special story the very best it can be told.

    Thanks for sharing. Now I don't feel so alone.

  • Kathryn Meyer Griffith

    I spent most of 2010-2012  rewriting and updating seven of my earliest novels originally published between 1984-1994...the writing itself going back to 1971 when I began my first book, The Heart of The Rose...to bring them all out again with my last publisher. (Now I self-publish.) Now these were published books and I was amused and shocked to see how bad they were. They needed major revisions. But I reminded myself that they were first written by a 21-31 year old and they showed it. But one, my Dinosaur Lake, had sat in a drawer for over 20 years and when I rewrote and self-published it in 2012 it quickly became my best-selling novel ever, hands down, of all my 22 novels! So I agree with you Zetta, sometimes an old darling can be an unpolished gem. All you have to do is have the time and wisdom to know which are glass or unfinished diamonds and if it's a gem, start polishing and release. Books never die.  My brand new Blog: https://kathrynmeyergriffith.wordpress.com/

  • Alonna Shaw Writing

    Zetta, thanks for sharing your personal journey. You're objectivity with your darlings is inspirational. The unused favorite bits moved into another file is a freeing exercise.

    I've had a similar experience editing a manuscript (now book). I find when we prioritize the character's truth it's easier to let go of the darlings (even if autobiographical). As writers we are too possessive of our words, gotta wonder if the character would see our precious darlings as darlings?

  • Great post, Zetta! I have been working on my memoir longer than I care to admit. But it's okay because the manuscript has come a long way. I paged through my first draft and discovered more legs than a centipede hidden in the too many pages. So I resurrected a leg or two, developed it into short essays to post on my blog. This continuous blog feeding keeps the energy charged for bringing my manuscript to developmental editing. I consider my virginal draft a never-ending prolific source.