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On Reworking Your Manuscript: Adding Some Flavor

I started thisĀ  week with a story about my creativity in the kitchen. It all really boils down to finding a prepackaged dish I really like, and adding some chili powder. Usually black pepper, too, but that didn’t make it into Tuesday’s story.

It’s a solid metaphor for what we’re doing with our novels, now. This week we start the first “rework” of the manuscript, in which you actually get your hands dirty and start changing things. You’re still not doing the huge rewrite, but you’re ready to take the dish you’ve come to know (with all its strengths and weaknesses), and add some flavor to make it your own.

Finished Isn’t Final

When you actually go to do that, you might be surprised to find some real resistance — especially after two full read-throughs when I was insisting you refrain from making any kind of significant changes. I made it sound before like those modifications were hard to resist, but now that it’s your job, you might find them hard to do.

That’s actually why I told you to hold off before. It’s easy enough to see what your novel needs, to know what you need to do, but when you get the cursor to the spot in the document where it’s got to happen…it can be incredibly hard to start typing.

We put so much work into building the novel, into getting from “It was a dark and stormy night” to “The End.” We pour every last ounce of energy into the construction of this Thing, we make that final mad dash to the finish line, and then we call it done.

We know it’s a rough draft. One read-through is plenty to make that clear. We know it needs work. But it’s done. It’s a solid piece. It’s finished.

I know from lots of experience how intimidating it is to open up that draft, and (switching metaphors like mad), make the first incision. The moment you do, the moment you add a new sentence to your book that requires a new sentence after it, and another and another, until you stitch it back into the surrounding scenes…right then, your book goes from “finished” to “unfinished.”

That’s a weight on your shoulders. That’s a burden you have to carry until you get it done. Don’t be surprised when you balk at taking it up. You know just how exhausting it is to have an unfinished novel on your hands, and you’re about to voluntarily submit yourself to that again.

Do it anyway.

Trust me. It’s frightening, but it’s far more rewarding this time through than it was the last. You’ve got a solid base. Everything you do from here on out pushes your story a step closer to perfection.

You’re Still Writing

That’s most of the key to getting over that hesitation, focusing on the reward in store. The rest of it is just understanding that the “finished” you’ve got right now has been an illusion all along.

We do ourselves a disservice breaking up the process into “prewriting,” “writing,” and “editing.” Even calling it a “rewrite” doesn’t really capture the truth of the situation.

I’ve got four different names for postwriting, but in every one of those phases, you’re still writing. You’re still building a compelling story and figuring out how to present it in an engaging way. That’s writing.

The adrenaline-filled, coffee-fueled sprint of getting a first draft on paper is a part of the process, but it feels a lot more distinctive (and a lot more important) than it really is. You’re nowhere close to finished until you clean up the mess you’ve made.

And that’s exactly why we’ve been going back through the prewriting documents. That’s why I had you read through your document two full times before we started. You’ve got to get back into the mindset of writing (after hurling yourself desperately into the mindset of being finished a few short weeks ago), and you need to know exactly what you’re working with.

We’ll talk about the how tomorrow.

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