THE DEATH OF A MANUSCRIPT

Revisions.  That part of writing where—after you’ve celebrated writing ‘THE END’ and thought you were some big shot because you did finish a whole book; you imagine your name on the New York Times Best Seller List, and start picking out the stars you think should play your hero and heroine in the movie version–you then go back and rip the guts out of your first draft.   Now, you are standing there with nothing more than bloody entrails of what was so recently your ticket to fame and fortune.

Wait?  You didn’t really think you were finished just because you wrote those two final (THE END) words, did you?  Ha!

Cowboy Up, Cupcake.   This massive operation isn’t over yet.  Hook up the heart monitor, because the writing process isn’t for weaklings.

Sure, you’ve birthed a complete manuscript, but it’s only a pitiful little skeleton of what it needs to be before you’re ready to send your brilliant creation out into the cold cruel world.  Take that scrawny baby, print it out and get a new bright red pen.  For me, the printed version looks nothing like or reads nothing like the version on the computer screen.  Then, pour some wine, or make a pot of coffee, grab lots of chocolate and settle in for the slaughter.   With knife—er—I mean, pen in hand read those words like you want to slash the fricking life out of them.   That’s what an agent or editor is going to do if your manuscript isn’t up to par when you send it out to them.   They don’t care that every word of your incredible work of genius was lovingly written with passion and devotion.   Don’t make them gag on your words because you were too anxious to give your masterpiece its wings, and didn’t complete the entire (painful) writing process before letting it fly.

At this early stage of the revision cycle I’m really excited to start reading through that entire rough draft for the first time.  Usually, it’s been a long while since I initially began writing the book to the time when I’m ready to do revisions, so it’s somewhat like that feeling I get when I’m going to see an old lover who used to make my toes curl and my socks roll up and down.  I’m all giddy and excited at the possibility of seeing him again after such a long time; I’m fantasizing about taking a hippity-hoppity skip down lover’s lane.   But, then he shows up, a total loser now, and fatter than I am, and I’m not so turned on any more.   That’s usually how I’m feeling about my first draft after a few chapters, too.   As I hack through page after page with gory red marks, notes in the margins, and huge what-the-Hell-was I thinking question marks, my enthusiasm quickly wanes.   I wonder why I had been so excited about this book, because seriously, it’s total crap.   This is where self-rejection sets in, and I’m truly my own worst enemy when it comes to my writing career.

About this time, I also start avoiding the wounded pile of red slathered vile like it has a sexually transmitted disease.   I stop bragging to my friends and to random strangers on the street about my new book.  Instead of working extra hard to fix all the problems with the poor bloody babe I’ve just shredded to bits like yesterday’s recycling, I start running blindly into the dark.   I spend my nights trolling Pinterest, cyber-stalking Facebook friends, cleaning out my Yahoo emails, and writing blog posts about revisions.   I listen to old songs I never really liked all that much.   I’m just a hot mess.

This lowly period could last a day, a month, forever.   Fear of failure is a paralyzing  emotion.   If you give into it, you will absolutely fail.   So, let yourself wallow in self-pity for a short span of time, but not long enough to let your evasiveness take control of that dream you had of publishing this book, or it will remain just that…an elusive dream.   Get a shot of penicillin and get your butt back to work.

The next phase of this major surgery really isn’t as bad as you might think.  You’ve already found the major issues such as where your heroine has blue eyes like the azure sky in one scene and hazel like the desert landscape in another scene, or you hero’s father is named Harley in the beginning of the book and Jack about mid-way through.  You’ve wrote everything from ‘puke’ to ‘you suck’ on all the scenes that really did suck and made you want to upchuck, and wrote ‘good job’ on the scenes that were so good you just had to point that out to yourself.   Now, you merely have to sit down in that chair in front of the computer—you know, the one that has started to resemble an electric chair that you must avoid at all costs—and just do it.   Stitch up all those jagged wounds you made with that evil red pen, sooth your baby’s pain, and let the healing begin.

Wow.  This second draft is so damn good.  Who knew you could write like that?  Who should play your hero in the movie?   Get real.

It’s time to get out the scalpel and do another major surgery.  Yeah, that’s right, round two.  Not as painful as the deep cuts of those first revisions, in my humble opinion, but equally as important.   I’ll talk about my next revision phase in another blog post.  I hope you’ll stop back by and join me.   Bring wine or coffee, lots of chocolate, oh yes, and a mirror.   Guess you’ll just have to wait until next time to find out what we’re going to do with that mirror.

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