Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sorry, Virginia, There's No Such Thing as a Completed Manuscript Either

Bonnie did a great job of popping our bubble about the first draft on Monday here. In short, first drafts are not really first drafts. If we're lucky, they're third drafts. Sometimes, they're 27th drafts.

It's all good.

Now, for the bad news: Even if you don't demonstrate symptoms of OCD in other areas of your life, you will never have a completed/perfect manuscript either.

Take a minute to let that soak in.

It's the truth.

I speak from personal experience. And just to be clear, I am not medicated for obsessive behaviors. I'm a novelist.

So, once the manuscript gets to the point where Bonnie left it--friends are begged to read it--the manuscript will come back marked with circled words, bold question marks, and the abbreviation: awk in the margins.

Back to the drawing board!

Page by page, each suggestion and question is evaluated for verisimilitude. You learn to trust certain readers more than others, and some are gifted at critiquing certain aspect well: dialogue, story structure, or grammar.

Changes are made.

Before I send off a "completed" manuscript to an editor, I pay to have it printed and 3-punched to put in a binder. And then I read it out loud in a southern drawl or a horrible British accent, something that will get me out of my head and paying attention to each and every word.

Lots of slashing at this point. Extraneous words are such slippery devils.

This is the copy I eventually let people I want to respect me read.

Next, my husband talks me out of the tree to push the send button. I hate pushing the send button. I never feel more vulnerable.

This is why deadlines were invented. If we didn't have deadlines, not one novel would sit on the shelf.

With my manuscript on my editor's desk, I begin the next story. I need something to keep my mind from asking, "Was the motivation for the hero strong enough? Was the whole thing with the subplot character too clownish? Did you put your name on the title page, dummy?"

Editors notes come back much too quickly. (Where do these people learn to read like that?) I read the notes with one eye closed. S/he is almost always right, but I would be a fool not to carefully consider all their remarks, especially if they ask, "Did you leave out a chapter?"


Corrections are made--Are we keeping track of how many times we comb through a novel?--and the manuscript is sent off to the publisher again.

The manuscript returns as a galley, a mock-up of the novel. The accompanying letter says that I can only change up to 20%.

I'm up for the challenge.

But I don't take it. Deadline.

I do change more than I thought I would. I add addendums and use Wite-Out when I don't like the changes I made.

I read the novel out loud very slowly, again. I find more words to slash.

Finally, the novel is published. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.


At every reading I do for an audience, I revise as I read from the published novel. (I read somewhere that William Faulkner made changes in the margins before going on stage for his readings.)

Time passes.

Several of my novels go out of print (ouch!), so I decide to reissue them as ebooks. I read each aloud for the third, fourth, or fifth times. I can't remember which. I cut out passages that weigh the story like a sinker.

How did those get in there?

And so, Virginia, no novel is perfect. It is only your best effort, and that is magic enough.

It's good magic. Very good.


Susie Finkbeiner said...

You know, I haven't had the courage to read either of my published novels yet. I KNOW I wouldn't be able to silence the editor. There are a few things in each novel that I wish I could tweak.

I like to think that this obsession with adjusting our novels is a sign that we're growing as writers. I don't know if that's true, but it's a nice thought, right?

Thank you, Patti, for this post. It's reassuring to know that we're in this together!

Sharon K. Souza said...

Susie, you're spot on. We can never silence the editor. Patti and Bonnie are so right, there's no such thing as the perfect manuscript. We do the best we can and move on, hopefully learning ways to make the next one better, and the next one better ...

Denise Covey said...

This is so true. I just sent my first finished novel to a manuscript assessor and just know there will be pages of re-writes. I actually upload mine to kindle to see how they look/read first.