Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday's Writing Tip: Don't Send Out Your Your Manuscript Too Soon!

"Writing is an adventure.  To begin with, it is toy and amusement.  Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant.  The last phase is that just as you are about to become reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public."  Winston Churchill

Just make sure your monster is ready to fling!  There's always a sense of accomplishment and achievement when you've completed your manuscript (or killed your monster).  After numerous drafts (of being held captive slave to it), you're likely to feel confident enough to submit it.  But hold on just a little longer before you do that.

I'm reading Robert Masello's Rule 27, "Let it Marinate," from his Robert's Rules of Writing.  He suggests holding on to a manuscript for about two weeks.  And this means not working on it, and especially not reading it!  Just "let it marinate."

Afterwards, you'll be able to view your work with "a passably fresher eye."  I'm doing this now with a novel I'm preparing to submit, yet again!  I was a bit hasty in thinking it was ready.  Now I'm going through it with a fine toothed comb and discovering all sorts of things I can improve.

Masello says you're likely to find "sentences that bump strangely, paragraphs that don't belong, bon mots that no longer seem so bon, typos, and misspellings."  I've been restructuring sentences and finding places where I've left out words completely, and of course, now I'm seeing all those little spelling errors not picked up by Spellcheck, like form used for from!

How do you manage to miss all those things, the first time around?  You're too close to your work, according to Masello.  And this is understandable, after you've worked on something for months.  He states, "You knew every nuance of prose, every beat, every twist and turn and transition.  It's not that you couldn't see the forest for the trees--you couldn't see the trees for the twigs."

So time to pull back.  Kill the monster, but don't throw its body to the masses yet.  Hold onto the remains (in a drawer, hard drive, thumb drive, etc.)  Put some distance between you and your work.  Get it out of your head for a while, so you can encounter it as a stranger would. 

Ask yourself if there are passages that don't seem immediately clear.  At the beginning of a new chapter, have you accurately described where a character is, or is that not made clear until paragraph three.  If you have to pause a moment to get your bearings straight, time for some revising!

Masello ends this section as follows, "It happens to every writer out there.  But the good ones know that by holding on to the work for just that little extra bit, by giving it a final once over-over in the cold light of a new day, they stand a much better chance of eventually seeing the work in print, or between covers."

Have you let your finished manuscript marinate for a while before that final once over?  Tweet me @: maria_mckeknzie.  Thanks for stopping by!


Janet Johnson said...

My most recent work marinated for a couple weeks and I can't believe how many spelling errors I found! Crazy.

Unknown said...

I queried a few agents too soon after I originally finished my MS. This was well over a year ago and I'm still embarrassed. After so many marinating sessions, i can't believe how much my story has changed. Waiting it out is always the best way, but also the most aggravating thing imaginable. My husband always asks when it will be finished and I always reply with: it will let me know. I'm as much in the dark as you are. He just loves that.

Unknown said...

I started writing my frist WIP in July of 2009. In May of 2010 I thought I was done. I finished and did two round of what I called "edits". They were more like read-throughs. I queried way too early and got rejection after rejection.

Now, I've molded my story and truly revised and edited. It's something I am very proud of and halfway through what "may be" my final draft.

Anjuelle Floyd said...

I wholeheartedly agree, Maria.
I write a novel each year during the fall.
The last two years I've joined forces with the power of NaNoWriMo in November. There's nothing like engaging the power of the masses when you're climbing that uphill journey as with writing a rough draft.
On completion of this rough draft, I allow it to lay, simmer or as you write, marinate, for one year.
I then pick up the mss I wrote the previous year and begin my first set of revisions.
I say 1st st of revisions in that the novel I am presently revision has undergone 8 revisions prior to this present 9th revision.
I wrote the rough draft of this novel in 2001.
Yes, 10 year ago. And while I have written nearly the rough drafts to nearly as many novels as the number of years in between--even published a novel, the rough draft of which I wrote in 2008, I am just now seeing clearly the story of the novel I first penned in 2001.
An instructor, during the opening ceremonies at one of my MFA residencies reminded us that on receiving the idea for The Theory of Relativity in a dream, Einstein then spent the next 8 years going back and studying in depth all the math he had his genius had allowed him to skip over.
The number 8 when turned sideways symbolizes "infinity".
Quite often the stories delivered us by the universe require we go back and study the work, and other works of the master, as we continue to write our own stories, read those of the masters and revision our work.
In doing this we gain the skills and artistry to write that work, that much like Einstein's Theory of Relativity asks that we remain patient and yet work diligently to learn our craft and raise it to the level to write what has been given us, shape it into a form that both entertains and engages readers.
Recent developments in Internet and computer technologies have streamlined the process and time required to make our works public to readers in either soft or hard cover, or to render them in digital formats.
And yet the human imagination works in a time-space continuum defined by the very thing that drives our unconscious--the heart and soul and human experience, all three of which ask more time of us, the writer than the American culture and society stands ready to give.
The challenge of the writer of the 21st century, particularly in America is while keeping one foot firmly planted in the fast-paced media and marketing world to promote our work, we also hold our other foot steady in the creative heart from which our literary artistry springs.
We must learn to resist giving way to our impulses and the publishing industry that ask us to increase the speed at which we write or create simply because the market seems to asks for it.
We must remain committed to offering our personal best at all that we do, knowing that we will fall short at times, but not because we rushed the process, rather we had in crafting our work encounter steep part of the growth curve in our writing efforts.

Nas said...

Great advice. Thanks Maria!

chadmawn said...

So true! I've written, edited, re-edited and tweeked a 3800 word story I wrote over the summer so many times, that I must be on a 10th draft. I put it away for a week or three while I work on something else, then I re-read it and cringe. I love it, though. Every time I re-edit my story, I learn something. :)

Myne said...

I've made this mistake once before, hopefully after reading more about this, I won't be repeating it.

Old Kitty said...

Oh yes definitely!!! I marinate my ms for as long as I can between edits. I'm marinating my current wip as I type this!! LOL!!! I cannot agree more about keeping a good distance between you and your ms before attacking it again - fresh perspectives and all that!!! Great advice, thank you!! Take care

Carol Riggs said...

Ooo, yes, I agree with that. I'm always horrified when I query (thinking something is ready) and then after the work has set for a while, I find omitted words and typos. Or just clunky sentences. Gah! It helps to have an eagle-eye critique partner too, but even he/she can miss a few things.

Hanny said...

I appreciate your insight. It's great that so many writers get blogs to share what they know and have learned.

Saumya said...

This is so true and something I should have done a LONG time ago. I almost become too impatient for my manuscript's own good. There is a lot we cannot see when we are so zoomed into our work.

B.E.T. said...

I let it marinate quite awhile after working on something else. I've gotta say, I'm glad for the time apart. Seeing it with new eyes is amazing, really. Especially since I've picked up new writing knowledge about speech tags...which it has way too many of.

Colene Murphy said...

Awesome advice! Thanks!!

Melissa said...

This is excellent advice. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I have a novel, "Coming Attractions", that Avalon Books requested a full on almost two years ago. Back in July they finally got around to rejecting it, and last week I pulled it out with the intention of submitting it to Amazon's ABNA contest.

The opening was a mess. Meandering story, run-on sentances, and a lead who needed to lighten up a bit. It gets better after the first couple of chapters, but or the life of me I can't understand why Amazon asked for a full. The longer you wait, the more problems you'll discover.

Maria McKenzie said...

@Janet: Isn't it amazing what you discover after you let it sit a while?

@TC: My husband's the same way! Unless you're a writer, you don't understand how time consuming writing is to get that manuscript just perfect:).

@Charli: Congrats on what may be that final draft! Querying too soon? Been there done that:)!

@Anjuelle: Thanks for that very detailed comment! Lots of great info was packed in it:). I appreciate you sharing all that insight. You mentioned revising a novel you started 10 years ago--I'm revising one I started in 1998 (believe it or not). It took ten years to write it between working full time and kids. After many rejections, it's been sitting in a drawer for five years. I'm doing some major repairs!

@Nas: Thanks, Nas!

@Chadmawn: Let us know when you submit it!

@Myne: We all learn from our mistakes:)!

@Old Kitty: Thanks, and I'm glad you agree:)!

@Carol:So true! Critique partners are awesome, but they can miss things too!

@Hanny: Thanks so much for visiting, and thanks for your comment!

@Saumya: Impatient--me too! Once I'm done, I want to submit! But when we're so focused on our work, it's amazing how much we can't see!

@B.E.T.: Time apart lifts the veil to all those hidden boo-boos! Dialogue tags--yeah, got to watch those.

@Colene: Thanks, Colene!

@Melissa: Thanks, Melissa!

@ozma914: Hopefully, you'll get Coming Attractions ready for ABNA and win! It must be good if a full was requested. Tweak and revise that beginning and let us know what happens! Good luck:).

J.L. Campbell said...

There are sentences that I think say what I meant to write, but actually don't. I find these doozies on maybe the third or fourth trip through each novel. It does pay to stay away long enough that I almost forget every tiny detail. When I can't repeat each sentence verbatim is a good time to edit again.

Maria McKenzie said...

Well put! When you can't repeat each line verbatim--good time to edit again! Knowing every line by heart makes it really easy to miss words that have been left out all together:).

William Kendall said...

Great advice, Maria!

And I love that Churchill quote.