Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Parenting your manuscript

In the many years when I was struggling to find a publisher, I often heard the mantra “you have to believe in your work.” And it’s true—it’s important that a writer take pride in her work like a parent takes pride in a child. A new parent is pretty sure that her child is the best, brightest, strongest, and most appealing in every way.

But at some point good parents recognize that a child may need a little work. He’s a teenaged slob. She’s mean. He’s unable to look people in the eye. She giggles too much.

Like a child, a manuscript may need a little work. So how does a writer remain self-confident while not being so self-confident that he is blind to the need of his manuscript to for judicious editing?

With a second set of eyes, that’s how. We’ve all known parents who refused to see the tiniest flaw in their precious darlings. There are numerous opportunities to get the information that little Billy or Lucy needs a little guidance, but some parents ignore it—to the detriment of their perfect monsters.

The same is true for an author. There are plenty of opportunities to find out if the manuscript measures up. Writer’s groups, beta readers, workshops, and paid editors can give an author the feedback he or she needs. The job of the author is not just to find way to get the feedback, but to use it constructively.

“Constructively” is the operative word. When you get feedback there are several ways to receive it:

1)   Believe all of it and twist yourself into a pretzel trying to incorporate each and every comment. Do this, and you’ll end up not only with a hot mess, but also deflated confidence. In fact, it’s a mark of low confidence to not be selective in using the edits that are suggested to you.
2)   Believe none of it. What a disappointment for a reader to put in the time and effort to give honest feedback, only to have the author dismiss every suggestion out of hand. This is self-deception at its worst.
3)   Weigh carefully the advice and figure out how it fits into the feel of the story. This isn’t something that happens overnight. When you first turn your manuscript over to people to critique, the first response you often have is #1 or #2 above-that is, “my manuscript is total crap and I’ve got to start over,” or “what idiots; the readers didn’t ‘get’ my brilliant manuscript.” It’s important to give the critique time to percolate and then remind yourself of what your goal was…and then figure out what changes will work best. Don’t just look at which opinions are in the majority and blindly follow them; instead, weigh them against what you want to accomplish.

The self-confident, "good" author knows that there’s always room for improvement and will invite it and use it wisely.


Anonymous said...

You are right on target! Not only do you write well but you analyze and counsel well!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan... can you please send me your home address - I'd like to send you a card... tjs I'm a former member of the MWA-NY Board and SinC so i'm bona fide...

Grace Topping said...

Hi, Terry --

Terrific post. If anyone is kind enough to review my work and give me suggestions, I'm thrilled, especially if what they suggest makes my work even better. But sometimes it takes wisdom to know when a suggestion just isn't right for your manuscript. In the end, you have to be happy with your final product.

Nupur said...

Great post, Terry! I especially like the last bit of advice: "Don't just look at which opinions are in the majority and blindly follow them." Too often writers are advised to do just that. You really do need to consider what it is you're trying to accomplish and whether the suggestion in question will help you accomplish it.

Shari Randall said...

Terry, just what I needed to hear. I got a batch of comments back and went through exactly what you described! I'm letting them percolate….and will try to trust myself to put the comments to good use.