Thursday, January 21, 2016

5 Sure Signs That I Can Let Go of My Manuscript (Finally!)

By Lisa Alber

Over the weekend, I read a printed copy of my manuscript for WHISPERS IN THE MIST (August 2016). I read it fast, looking out for loose ends and moot remnants still hanging around from previous versions.

At this point in the writing process, I always know that I'll feel compelled to read the manuscript just one more time before hand off, and I know I'll still find things that need fixing, and I know I'll worry about whether the newest changes have themselves caused inconsistencies (or typos!) that will require me to re-read the manuscript AGAIN ... 

It could go on forever, but there comes a point when I have to let my baby go. Given that I can always continue improving my stories, when do I feel that "yes" feeling about letting a manuscript go?

1. The latest manuscript read-through was mostly clean. Changes were only for clarity, consistency, and pruning. Nit-piks.

2. I have no more questions to myself about nitty-gritty plot points. (My stories are kind of complex.) Yes, all the bits and pieces are there.

3. I've considered every piece of beta reader feedback. I've incorporated what my gut says "yay" about, and I've ignored what my gut says "nay" about.

4. I've gone through a copyedit (as best as I can since I'm not a copyeditor) on my own. I catch a lot of weird prose quirks when I focus on the line-by-line. We all have our easy-way-outs when we're writing. For example, I love m-dashes, but they can be used in place of properly crafted sentences.

This is also when I deal with rhetorical questions, such as this example from a previous draft of WHISPERS:   

Danny still couldn’t fathom why Malcolm had offered up the alibi unless it was to humiliate Danny. But why? Because he was pissed that Danny hadn’t prioritized the graffiti vandalism? Because he didn’t like Danny prying into McIlvoy’s life?

This is just lazy writing. Really. At least for me. A bunch of rhetorical questions in a row tell me I need to go deeper and get to the heart of the matter in a more precise fashion. This might mean adding word count, but that's OK. So now it's this:

Danny still couldn’t fathom why Malcolm had offered up the alibi unless it was to humiliate Danny. He hadn’t prioritized finding the phantom graffiti artist, true, but surely Malcolm understood that vandalism didn’t rate as high as murder.

No, the alibi had to be a good-old-fashioned diversionary tactic. Most likely to distract Danny from prying into Malcolm’s relationship with McIlvoy.
5. Last but not least, I've word-searched words I know to be problematic, such as the "just"s and "really"s. Excess adverbs. The verb "was," which could indicate a yucky passive voice sentence or a sentence that needs rewriting with a stronger verb. I have a word list that I keep handy for this tedious, final task.

It's not that I get rid of every "just," "really," and "was" -- but I do consider them carefully. It's so easy to fall back on them -- another easy way out. (Oh, look at that, falling back on m-dashes again!)

Also, during all of this, I'll have noticed other words -- not the usual "blah" words -- that I fell in love with for some reason. For example, while writing WHISPERS, I used "flicker" a lot. Everything was flickering, from candle and sconce light, to gazes, to birds in flight. It was a positive flicker-fest, enough to cause a migraine!

All of this may be tedious, it may add to my writing time, but in end, I love the satisfaction of knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I've done all that I can do.

There's no such thing as perfection; there's only doing the best we can.


Raquel Byrnes said...

Good rule of thumb. Sometimes its so hard to let your project out into the world.
Edge of Your Seat Stories

Lisa Alber said...

Hi Raquel, thanks so much for visiting! It really is hard, but, man, it feels great when I let it go. :-)