Monday, July 15, 2013

The Hazards Of Reading Our Old Manuscripts

On Sunday Megan Sayer posted this revelation on Facebook:

I'm pretty sure all of us on Novel Matters identify, as do many of you, our readers. But Megan is in fine company. This article in The Telegraph reveals that many great authors have similar experiences:

"Yann Martel discloses he “never liked” the opening line of his award-winning Life of Pi, while Sir Tom Stoppard claims he now has to 'avert my eyes' from particularly “horrible” lines in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead."

Does this comfort you as much as it does me? I have averted my eyes more than once, when reading my own work.

It's been so long since I looked at any old manuscripts of mine, that I'm not sure what to expect, but, like Megan, I'm sure I'd wonder what I ever saw in them! I think it can be said of most of us that we'll always find something we'd written in the past that we would do differently now, like Yann Martel and Sir Tom, which puts us in great company. One thing I can say about myself is that I'm not a packrat. At all. If anything, I'm the exact opposite. I'm a minimalist when it comes to decorating my house -- and in my writing, I believe. But I have carried around all the manuscripts I've written over the years, even my first, which was handwritten in pencil. Until a very short time ago. During a recent move I actually tossed that handwritten manuscript -- without reading a single line. I knew what I'd find there, that I'd see how my writing has evolved and improved, thankfully, over the years, and I thought, why do I need to keep this? So I didn't. And I haven't missed it. I have kept the manuscripts that have been stored in my computer since they were written, though there's no guarantee they won't go the way of that other manuscript. In fact, I just read the opening paragraphs of a couple of them, and I'm in perfect agreement with Megan: They. Need. Work.

I read Megan's entry on FB, too, and had to groan along with her. I recently re-released my first three novels as Kindle books. I absolutely and positively had to tidy them up before doing so. Slashed wordiness. Reduced description. In short, made them more readable, even though they were my best-selling books. One was a Christy finalist. When I wrote them, I was so enamored with my own words and cleverness. How embarrassing, really.

Tell us about your own old manuscripts. What have they revealed, and what have they taught you?

We love to read what you have to say.


Susie Finkbeiner said...

(exhale) I tried to sit down and read 'Paint Chips' when I got my copies in a big, beautiful, cardboard box. I couldn't do it. I got three paragraphs in and thought, 'Why did I let this get published?'. I talked to a friend about it. She told me to stop reading it.

Putting my own novel back on a shelf was a great idea.

How crazy.

Cherry Odelberg said...

My old manuscripts are still very much like me. They need a good deal of plucking, waxing, polish, make-over, pedicure and manicure to be presentable.

I have always tended toward too much introspection / self-examination. Extrovert or Introvert, are all writers this way? We must unite and agree to be gentle with ourselves. Of all people, why do we beat the messenger? Much Grace to you who hold me up and understand when no one else does:)

P.S. When the fire ban is lifted you all can come over and have a manuscript burning party. We will roast hotdogs and marshmallows over the flame, Okay?

Patti Hill said...

Not so crazy. I once read that William Faulkner revised his published books as he waiting to do a reading. And I have skipped or added words at my readings.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I did that at my first reading. So glad to be in good company. :)

Megan Sayer said...

Ha! Katy you're so funny. And thank you!!!! That encouraged me no end. I'm so glad to know I"m not the only one.
I read this post last night after a frustrating afternoon during which I scrawled the word "boring!" through huge chunks of my second chapter and wondered vaguely if I could justify emailing a couple of my very favourite writer-friends and saying "YOU SAID THIS WAS GOOD! WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME NOTHING HAPPENED UNTIL CHAPER FOUR?" but I decided against it and ate some chocolate instead.
So thank you. So much. It's not just me. Me, you, them, Yann Martel, Sir Tom Stoppard. I'm okay again now. Back to those stupid rewrites!

Megan Sayer said...

The interesting thing for me during this process is that it took me over a year to see it. Over a year of this book sitting in the (metaphorical) bottom drawer before I could pull it out and feel separate from those words, not just fall back into them again. I've heard that before from writers, put it away for a year, and it's so interesting to experience it.

Patti Hill said...

Megan, this is exactly why I don't like getting on the fast track with writing fiction. It takes time and distance to see your writing for what it is. Maybe that should be our next discussion: Can we see our own writer for what it is? I'm beginning to have my doubts.