Lesson #61: Letting Your Manuscript Bleed

Red marks…

Red marks everywhere.

What’s a writer to do?

Have you ever had your manuscript edited? Or reviewed by a peer? Or critiqued by a Crit Group? (I’m going to be blunt and say that every writer should implement all of these wonderful tools into their writerly lives). It’s not surprising that writers often discard their stories (or give up writing all together), feel depressed, get defensive, and/or feel stressed over edits done on a manuscript. After all, hours and hours of work went into that manuscript which is now covered in red.

Let me be the first to say: it’s okay to feel down about edits. You put a lot of work (and probably a lot of yourself) into the manuscript others “tore apart.”

But take a deep breath… and move on.

In this lesson, we’re going to discuss edits as a whole (edits by peers, editors, crit groups… the whole shebang). In a little while, we’ll discuss who to listen to in regards to edits (should you listen to EVERYONE who gives you criticism?), but for now, let’s discuss the value of this wonderful gift called criticism (we don’t refer to criticism as a negative noun, but as constructive analysis.)

The great writers – the great people – of the world look beyond the pain of criticism and see the value of a second (and third, and fourth) opinion, of the constructive analysis given, and of the time and effort (and sometimes bravery) put forth by an individual who cares enough to let you know that an area of your manuscript could be better. Hopefully, the person who submitted his/her comments on your manuscript did so not out of hate or disdain, but out of friendly guidance.

You see, there’s a disturbing but extraordinarily true fact which writers often overlook: we – the writers and crafters of stories, worlds, characters, situations, creatures, and lives – are not gods. We are not perfect. We know “everything” there is to know about our stories… from inside our own brains. We are comfortable with our stories, our plots, and our characters because we have spent hours upon hours dedicating our time to these manuscripts.

We do not, however, know how a situation looks from a different and new perspective. We do not catch all of the flaws in our stories. We cannot know how our approach/wording will impact other people. Often, a second opinion offers ideas we had not considered. Also, a second pair of eyes will catch grammatical, structural, and character-based flaws which we had (being so accustomed to our work) not noticed. And finally, friendly discussion (opinions offered, ideas tossed about, criticisms put forth) opens the doors to bettering the depth, layers, portrayal, and comprehensiveness of a story.

We have, in essence, been given a complete “creative license” as writers. Until, of course, someone comes along to keep us in line and put our toes to the fire. When these individuals come along, we have a choice: regard or discard the criticisms offered.

So when a trusted friend makes a comment about how to make a section of dialogue better, or how this character’s reaction didn’t seem real, or why this part of the plot is overtly confusing… the least we can do is listen.

But Who’s Feedback Do I Accept?

Should we accept everyone’s feedback? Absolutely not! First off, not everyone has your (and your story’s) best interest in mind. And secondly, when it all boils down to it, this is YOUR story and you can choose what criticism to take and what criticism to discard.

Listen to your trusted friends. Listen to critique partners who have studied the craft of writing, who know what they’re talking about, who care about your manuscript as a whole, and who value your opinion as well as their own. Listen to (trusted/distinguished) editors who are being paid to make your story better, who dedicate hours of their lives to studying your manuscript as a whole, and who care about making your manuscript as good as it can be in the long run. That being said, you don’t have to accept all of these edits/suggestions because they are just that – suggestions. Sometimes, you may discuss a suggestion with someone and come up with an entirely different solution. The point of the matter is, though: listen to the problems, and act accordingly. If there is an issue in your manuscript which someone has been kind/willing/dedicated enough to notice, take notice in return. Despite what we think, criticism is a gift which we should be very thankful for. The fact that someone took the time and effort to notice these things calls for a thoughtful and open-minded response.

What if My Manuscript is Bleeding so Much, There’s Hardly Anything Left?

But what if a manuscript has been ripped to shreds so much, there’s hardly anything left? Remembering that it is your choice to accept changes, it’s important to note that edits are GOING to happen. They are necessary, not only for publishing, but for bettering a manuscript. (After all, who writes something with the intention of putting it in a closet and never looking at it ever again? Betterment is a key aspect in the craft of writing. In other words: if you hate edits and editing, you’re in for a very disturbing ride in the craft of creative writing). I agree that it’s much nicer to handle small batches of edits at a time. But the people who really care about your manuscript aren’t going to sit aside and leave problems dangling in your manuscript. Don’t be overwhelmed by an extreme amount of red – let your manuscript bleed.

Don’t Fear the Red Marks… Be Encouraged

Think of it this way… those red marks look ominous now. But when you stitch them up? One by one those problems will disappear and your manuscript will be made hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times better. Stronger. Deeper. How do I know? Let’s just say I’ve had enough experience with bleeding manuscripts to see that there is always – and I mean always – a transformation. (Note: listening to the wrong people can cause a transformation of a different kind… be sure to accept the right advice. Once again, the right advice 1) cares about you and your manuscript, 2) has a good understanding of literature and the craft of creative writing, and 3) is not negative criticism but constructive analysis).

Are you ready to heal your bleeding manuscript? Let’s get to work!

If you or someone you know is interested in a professional edit, contact Kim, Kayla, Darcie, or Becca at thewritenook@kimandkaylawoodhouse.com.

As an added bonus: if you’d like some basic feedback, email us up to 5 pages of your manuscript and we’ll take a look – free of charge!

With pen to paper,

Kayla Woodhouse

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