The Biggest Mistake Most Writers Make With Their Manuscripts…
And consequently, not understanding what stage of the process you are in leads to some crucial mistakes which can slow down or even keep a manuscript from ever being finished.
There are several stages to creating a book-length work, whether it is a novel, a collection of poetry or stories, a memoir—and knowing which stage you are in is crucial.
So what are the stages?
Newborn Infant Phase—this is when your ideas are new and fragile and you are engaged in lots of creative play, trying out new stuff, following hunches, stopping and starting and starting again. And it’s the worst time in the world to get feedback. But unfortunately that’s what lots of authors do: rather than protecting these infant ideas until they have more strength and can withstand critique, we are often just so proud of the fact that we are writing a manuscript at all that we want everyone to know it! And that need for validation can crush baby manuscripts, because a first draft is, well, a first draft, and it has a lot of growing to do before it will be ready for the world. But we still thrust our naked babies into the world, wanting praise or validation, and we rarely get it at this phase. Because, let’s face it—it’s not ready yet. And when we don’t get the praise we were hoping for…we become plagued with self doubt.
Don’t show your manuscript until it is strong enough to withstand the world!! Protect it at this stage like you would a real baby because it’s just as fragile.
Awkward Puberty Phase—this is right about the time when your manuscript has some legs under it, when you have a lump of clay that can withstand some real shaping. And mark my words: this puberty stage is no less transformative than growing hair between your legs—this is when your manuscript really discovers itself, when your manuscript is about to figure out who the hell he or she is.
The biggest mistake writers make in this phase? Skipping it! That’s right—we will finish a draft, and then we will get an editor or someone who is “good in English” to make sure it’s “correct”, and then we will think we’re done! We confuse revision with proofreading, so if someone combs through the manuscript and says all the commas are correct, the author believes the manuscript is ready for publication. They skip—or try to skip—puberty all together, even though puberty is where the manuscript actually reaches maturity and finds its specialness. And this is where I see writers get the most impatient—I have already written the book, I have already had someone proofread it—what else is there?
The answer to the “what else” is as nuanced as writers and books, but remember this: the what else IS the book. If you do not allow your book to evolve through this maturation process, you stunt its potential as an artifact in the world. The book must steep in your imagination, the words you have written must become puzzles, you must be willing to revision—and revision, and re-vision. Re. Vision. To see it again, as if it were new.
This is actually my favorite part, this evolving relationship with the words you have already written. But you have to be willing to embrace this phase—if you are clinging desperately to your first draft, terrified to change anything of significance because you might never be able to write it better—you will never create the book you are truly meant to create.
This is also the best time to bring in others whose voices you trust and who have your best success at heart.
Grown Adult Living In the Basement Phase—this is when the manuscript is truly finished—it has gone through its puberty, and it’s been scrubbed and polished…but you are still sitting on it like a mother hen. Maybe you are picking at it because you’re afraid of the next step. Maybe you are still soliciting feedback every time you change a sentence. It has now over gestated, late in the womb, done. Sometimes we pick at our manuscripts because we are afraid to start a new one, or we don’t feel a new one coming. Perhaps it’s a way to avoid publication or having to face the daunting wall of rejection. Perhaps it’s a perfectionist piece of us that is afraid to let it go. But let it go we must.
Maybe we let it go and it is published and that is fantastic. Maybe we let it go and it is not. But it does reach a point but we have no choice (and we can actually even ruin our work if we stay there too long). But mostly what it does is it robs us of our growth, because we have learned all we can from this manuscript, and we will have an impossible time taking our next steps as writers if we don’t ever leave the comfortable mother’s basement of what is known. So whether we decide to put it in the world or not, we must still choose to move forward and allow a manuscript to be complete.
Know that whatever phase you are in now–the vulnerable infant, the impatient puberty, the grown manuscript—is the perfect place to be with your manuscript. But first you must recognize where you really are, not where you think you are or where you wish you were, and give your manuscript what it truly needs from you now.
To your success!
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