When you finish a manuscript, the hard work is just beginning.
I wrote last week about my experience with coming full circle with critiques and rewrites of my opening pages of Gram & Me. Three critiques, three resulting re-writes, and then a fourth tipped the scale to send me back to the original opening (or at least, a variation of that).
I also wrote about my passionate pursuit of an agent and traditional publication. The best opening pages might result in a request for the full manuscript. But the full manuscript has to “wow” an agent just as much as the opening pages. So, while I’ve achieved a reasonable comfort level with my opening (given the four critiques with only two in agreement—plus my own gut), there remain 250 pages that have been edited but not critiqued in depth.
The manuscript is back in the hands of one editor (for “proper” writing) and two early readers (on whom I am depending for honest feedback on flow, holding power, level of emotion evoked, fullness of characterization). Meanwhile, I’ve reread the entire manuscript twice in the past two weeks, and have continued to tweak both sentences and entire scenes. I’m a woman obsessed!
After the first re-read, I felt the crisis that turns the corner in the story fell short of the “kapow” needed to bring the reader to a peak before a satisfying resolution and ending. I had three ideas that I’d considered earlier in the writing process that I hadn’t used. I went back to them and settled on one (my use of the term “settled” says a lot), and dove back into rewrites to incorporate that crisis. Once again, I reread the entire manuscript to determine where I needed to lay the groundwork to build to the crisis scene. And I kept getting this internal resistance to changing the final crisis. The question I needed to answer for myself was: am I resisting it because it doesn’t add to the story or because it is a phenomenal amount of work to insert it smoothly? I read through to the end and declared the “crisis” scene that already existed to be adequate.
Adequate? Adequate doesn’t cut it in the ultra-competitive world of agent representation and publishing. I started justifying my determination by telling myself a more dramatic crisis would seem artificial, contrived.
Earth to Dawn! Is there a single novel out there that doesn’t have multiple scenes so dramatic that they seem unlikely in anyone’s real life? No, not in any of the really good books I’ve read in the past five years.
So has a sort of lazy inertia moved in to cripple my chances at that ultimate dream? Or is my gut—the part of me telling myself that my book is more “real” as is—correct?
How many rewrites are too many? When should the writer, especially one aspiring to the “Holy Grail” of traditional publishing by a major publisher, stop trying to push the novel up a notch, to the next peak, to the highest it can go before falling off the edge?
My answer after “talking” to all of you like this? NOT YET.
BACK TO WORK!
What would you do?