Thursday, March 03, 2011

Recipe for a Quality Manuscript

Jane Friedman posted an excellent blog post last week entitled "You Hate Your Writing? That's a Good Sign!" It has been re-Tweeted and forwarded all over the web.

Synopsis: If you hate your writing, and still write, you obviously care about it.

Writers fall into several categories:
  • Those who never finish a first draft.
  • Those who don't want to edit very long and send it prematurely into the world.
  • Those who can't stop editing for fear of someone not liking it.
  • Those who rework it until they tire of it, then drop it.
  • Those who rework it until they tire of it, and keep going regardless.
Only the last one succeeds.

You've heard the old adage about 85% of Americans say they want to write a novel one day. Most of them fall in the first category - never reaching THE END. But let's say that they complete a first draft. Most of those first draft folks are too eager, and they send their baby out after bare-bones editing, thinking it will sell. It doesn't. They blame editors, agents, publishers, social media, celebrities, the economy, big-name authors stealing all the readers, other writers stealing their ideas, and so on. The blame never falls on lackus-perfectus-editing.

A handful of writers edit for years...and years...actually afraid of submission and public feedback. I know several writers like that. They have a coccoon built around their desk, where they enjoy reshaping their words and thoughts, and they live there . . . forever. Publishing is too hard, too complex, too scary. It might be sad to you or me, but if that floats their boat, let them enjoy their reclusivity. Book sales isn't a goal - the personal enjoyment of storytelling is.

Then we see those who wrote the book, edited it to within an inch of its life, and decided they were too worn out from the task that publishing wasn't worth the extra energy. In reality, I think they are afraid of failure. Some, however, simply burned out. They learned to hate the story like living with a best friend in a small apartment for one year too many, parting ways never to see each other again.

Then there are those who write, edit, tire of the book, but won't let anything on heaven and earth stop them from following through. They get grumpy. Their families dodge them when the study door is closed. They second guess their plots, tweek dialogue and fine-tune secondary characters. They knead that book until it's beat to death. Then reluctantly they set it aside with a warm dishtowel over the top of it, and let it rise, having done all they can to make the recipe a good one. And so many times it bakes up well . . . it smells delicious, and everyone wants it.

Most cooks who've prepared a huge, elaborate meal, don't care to eat much of it once it's served. They've invested so much into the preparation that it has lost its flavor,  but the oohs and aahs around the table dictate that the end result was obviously worth the toil, sweat, and disgruntlement. And that's what really matters.

A serious writer knows how that tastes.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Hope---What a marvelous post. You are indeed right. Writers have to perservere, they have to keep truding on even when their words are "junk, much worse than they'd originally thunk..."

The last line is a perfect ending.

Susan said...

Good post, Hope. By the way, did you bake that bread? Looks fabulous. I think the most important thing for writers to do is, quite simply, write! Number two, never stop and never give up. Susan

Hope Clark said...

You thing I cannot bake from scratch is bread. I screw up the yeast every time. People say it's not supposed to be hard, but something in my DNA says nope to baking bread.

But you're right. Never ever give up. You never really fail until you give up.

Anonymous said...

excellent post!!!!

Kathy McIntosh said...

Okay, now I'm hungry. Wonderful analogy.

Hope Clark said...

Oh, I can do food analogies all day long! LOL And chicken and garden ones as well. As I'm scrubbing coops or pulling weeds or stirring up cupcakes, I can weave a lesson out of it. It's just plain fun! Thanks!

Prem Rao said...

Thanks for a nice post. The challenge in editing is to know when to stop!The quest for perfection is endless but you need to draw the line somewhere.

D.M. Mitchell said...


Only you could make the toil of a hard days work sound so delicious and enjoyable. Thank you for this blog post. You have inspired me yet again to ... work until I don't want to work anymore, then push myself even farther. Thank you!