Tearing Apart Your Manuscript

I know, I know—I’ve been missing as of late. For two months, I’ve been holed up inside my novel doing everything I can to meet a self-imposed deadline for revision. The first of March, I received a reader’s report from my paid editor on JAZZY AND THE PIRATE. As you, my readers, know, I’ve been working on this novel since God was a toddler. I had finally reached the point where I thought someone could read it. Ordinarily, I would ask several Beta readers to take a look at it before I sent it to the editor. But I was in a hurry. Like I said, I’ve been working on it a loooooong time.

The reader’s report was not good. By which I mean it was not particularly helpful and she was not enthusiastic about the work. She didn’t say, “This is so not working,” but that was the only conclusion I could draw from what she did say. So, with very little guidance, I had to fix it.

I set about changing the ending, which changed everything from the beginning. I changed the main character’s primary motivation, which created ripples throughout the work. I promoted a character, who now tells a story that was not in the first version. I added a third voice that explains a critical part of the story.

Those are the big revisions. I also deleted the first 30 pages; changed the main character from an “I” speaker to a “she” speaker; added a new secondary character; cut out huge chunks of it (at one point, my placeholder for these cuts had over 100 pages on it—most of them did not make it back in the manuscript); and re-wrote most of what remained.

Making this level of change scares the crap out of me. At one point, the manuscript is like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz: part of it was over here, and part of it was over there. I spent days in panic, wondering if I could put it back together. To get through, I kept telling myself that THE BONE TRENCH began life looking much different from where it ended up and experienced its own god-awful mess stage. Yet, it is with an agent.

For now, I have put the manuscript in the figurative drawer for about three weeks. I hope to come back to it with fresh eyes so I can better assess what I did. I’m sure some of my revisions that seemed brilliant at the time will stink like rotten fish. If I’m lucky, some of them will also feel like good, solid writing.

In any event, the whole process has consumed me. I feel as if I’ve done nothing but work on it solid for these two months. I finished about two hours ago and, of course, the first thing I did was to run straight over to tell y’all all about it. 🙂

I hope to be visiting you (and your blogs) more regularly.


Comments (9)

  • I say with laughter, when does avocation become passion, does passion become obsession, does obsession become addiction, does…..? Not to worry–I believe it is the artist’s (writer’s) nature to strip-away, rebuild, change and continually tinker with a work, and in the end to never be totally satisfied. I have much the same experience with my books and have never been completely satisfied with any of them. And the drawer thing does wonders for ripening the scent of the dumb stuff we put in our stories. Now, leave it there and don’t touch it for a few weeks. Go do something else. Otherwise, the continual exposure to new air will allow the scent of the “nuoc mam” to dissipate, and you may even grow accustom to it. 🙂

    • Yes, the real challenge right now is to LEAVE IT ALONE! I think I’ll make a list of things that pop into my brain as needing addressing/fixing so I can preserve them and see, at the end of the three week “isolation” period, if I still agree with myself. 🙂

  • I am fascinated by this process you describe. It sounds so overwhelming and yet it works. I do it on a tiny scale with short stories and see how an idea changes as it gets worked on. I used to ask myself is it lack of discipline on my part that I can’t stick with the idea and move it along? But now I see, I think, that this is just how it is. Ideas and stories aren’t static, just like people aren’t. Anyway, good luck with the next step in the ripening of your book.

    • My writing mentor used to talk about the “triggering town,” a concept that one should be willing to give up even the idea that triggered the story/novel/essay. That is a hard one for me to accept, but it’s the ultimate end of what we’re talking about. Who ever knew writers were so brave!!!

  • Congratulations on finishing your novel for the second time! I hope that your revisions will still ring true to you when you re-visit. I am totally in awe at the extent of work you have accomplished in a relatively short time. I can only dream of the day that I will have a manuscript put together for the first time, much less tearing it apart, adding, subtracting, and re-assembling! (And, yes, I am very late even reading this blog post, so you can tell I’m not on top of much of anything these days.)

    • Thank you. I am a little leery of looking at it again. It will take courage to do so. And I am so behind in my blog life! Every Monday when I get my blog notices, I think this week I’m going to catch up with people, but I’m not doing it. Maybe, maybe.

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