How to Tame a Manuscript

Some writing projects come easily. My first manuscript poured out of me. There were a few plot points I had to mull over for a few hours, or sometimes overnight, but I always knew what to write next until I hit somewhere around 65k words. Plot issues never stumped me for more than a day or two. When I got an idea for a revision or notes from my CPs, I was excited to dive right back in. I loved the manuscript and had a lot of fun writing/tinkering with it. When my agent made a few suggestions during the Call, I eagerly implemented them.

My second manuscript was not like that. Not at all. The idea came easily, and much of the basic plot, but I hit a point where I was fighting to put every word on the page. When I finished it, it was really easy to put it aside and not think about it before I started revising – because I wasn’t really that excited about it. In my mind, the whole thing was a 59,000 word mess.

This is pretty much how I looked.

So, what to do? I read a couple of books in different genres. I read a manuscript for my CP to get me excited generally about writing and editing. At one point, I almost decided not to try to fix it – to delete the whole thing and write something else. But I talked to my CPs and they convinced me to edit it first. Finally, I broke the manuscript down into small pieces. When I said to myself, “You need to fix this beastly manuscript and make it awesome,” that is a really daunting task. But when I said, “Just read the first chapter,” it was much easier.

The first chapter wasn’t as bad as I expected either. I did it in one day. I read and edited the second chapter the next day, and the third the day after that. After I got into a rhythm, I managed to do more than one chapter at a time. I figured out what didn’t work, cutting huge chunks and adding more. In one week, I deleted 8,000 words and added 15,000 more. The draft currently in front of me is just shy of 80,000 words. And I love it. That never would have happened if I hadn’t forced myself to take the first step and dive in.

No, I didn’t finish as soon as I wanted. (I had this arbitrary idea that, since my CPs were hustling to finish their MSs by August to enter PitchWars, I needed be on the same deadline. That makes no sense.) But it’s been read by three CPs (one especially brave CP read it twice), and I have a beta reader reviewing it for typos. In another week or two, it’ll be ready to go to my agent. Fixing problems in a manuscript may seem daunting, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Like any journey, you just have to take that first step and you’re on your way.

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