Behind the Curtain, Part 1.5: Revenge of the Manuscript

Okay, I lied. We’re not doing Part 2 yet. It was pointed out to me that there’s some key aspects to the manuscript process that I ignored.

Really, they’re more like key aspects of the writer’s psyche: resilience and determination.

First, resilience. You have to have it. You have to be willing to accept criticism, and even unconstructive attacks – you have to get used to sorting through all the feedback you get on your novel, and figure out what’s wheat and what’s chaff. Sometimes this will be bloody hard. Sometimes you’re going to want to scream and cry and tear your hair out because people keep telling you something isn’t right, but they don’t know what isn’t right, and can’t you just make it better? Sometimes you’re going to want to scream and cry because people are mean.

But you still need to send that manuscript out, and you still need to listen to what your readers are saying, and while you need to take all of it with a grain of salt, you still need to take it. Because that’s how you polish and hone a manuscript, and make it the best little manuscript it can be.

That’s where determination comes in, too. Resilience lets you bounce back when the inevitable “I hate your character” and “you suck” reviews come in (everyone has ’em), and it also lets you sigh, shrug, and go fix things when someone very helpfully tells you that you need to work on how often you use the past perfect in your writing, and that it’s irritating.

Determination is what lets you keep going, fixing those damn pronoun issues and tinkering with the point of view until it works. Because it’s going to work, damnit. And it’s going to be awesome.

Right. Resilience and determination, check. What next?

About those beta readers I mentioned…you need tough ones. Not just your mom or your brother, someone who’ll read the manuscript and say, “Wow, this is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius…with zombies! I love it! They’d be fools not to pay you a million-dollar advance for it!”

Nope, what you need is someone (and this could be your mom or your brother…sometimes they’re mean, man) who is willing to give you constructive criticism, and a lot of it. You need to know where those plot holes are before you trip and fall into them. You need to know where your pacing doesn’t work, or where your grammar sucks, or where you’re being repetitive and dull.

And once you know that, you need to pay attention. Sometimes, you can ignore what your betas tell you. Often, though, they’ve got a point, and you need to listen and figure out what isn’t working and how to fix it. It’s rough, but that’s where that resilience and determination will help you out.

Keep in mind, too, that even though the Mythbusters proved that you can, in fact, polish a turd, sometimes it’s just…a turd. We all want to believe that we’ve written something amazing, but sometimes? Sadly? It sucks. It can have the best mechanics and prettiest phrasing and most intriguing characters…and yet something just ain’t right and it doesn’t work…and never will. Those are the manuscripts we stick in the back of a drawer somewhere. You’ll know when you’ve written one, because five rewrites later, your betas will still be scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to politely tell you that it sucks. Still.

Again, resilience and determination. If you’ve got ’em, you can stick that bad manuscript in a drawer and go write something new. Maybe this one will work, and you can do all those edits and revisions and then send it out…

I don’t meant to be discouraging here. I want you to write a manuscript, polish it up, and start shopping it all over creation! Really, I do! I want to see what worlds and stories are in your head.

But I also want you to be prepared. Being a writer involves a lot of rejection, and a lot of work. You’ve gotta be ready for it. You’ve gotta be willing to take the punches – and eventually, you’ll be hitting back when you need to. You just have to be prepared for the inevitable crap that comes with the process.


One Response to “Behind the Curtain, Part 1.5: Revenge of the Manuscript”

  1. Jason May 28, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    Yes, this. Definitely this. I know a writer who is terrible at accepting advice with friends… just drops out of the discussion/tunes out most of the time. All I can ever think is “If you can’t take friendly notes from the people you know, how on earth do you deal with all the rejection letters you’re getting? How do you plan to handle reviews if you ever publish?”

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