You've Finished Your Manuscript.
Should You Rush To Send It Out?
by Cheryl Rainfield, the award-winning author of STAINED, SCARS, and HUNTED, 2003
You’ve worked hard on your manuscript. You’ve finally finished it. But is it ready to send out? As writers, it’s often hard to get a clear perspective on our work. One day we love it, and the next day we think it’s crap. Or we may think it’s the best thing we’ve ever written. These reactions make sense; often, in order to write well, we become emotionally involved with the story. In my opinion, that’s one of the things that makes good writing good–caring about the story. But when we’re so emotionally involved with our writing, or so aware of all the time and energy we’ve invested in it, it’s hard to see it clearly. Often we can’t tell right away whether a piece of writing we’ve just finished is as good or as bad as we think it is. So how do we know when it’s ready to submit to an editor or an agent? Two things can help–getting feedback from a trusted reader, and putting your manuscript away for a period of time.
A trusted reader shouldn’t just give you praise. Praise and encouragement are helpful and often necessary to keep you writing or keep you putting your work out into the world. But to get feedback that actually helps you know whether it’s ready to submit, you need to hear many other things: Whether the opening of the story grabbed them; whether or not they enjoyed the story; whether there was too much or not enough conflict; whether the characters seemed real and believable; whether the setting created pictures in their mind; whether the main character had a problem to solve and whether they solved it; whether anything drew the reader out of the story. Ask them to make a note next to any section that bored them or where they found their mind wandering. Ask them to jot down anything that comes up for them as they read. And so on; you get the idea. A good reader doesn’t have to give you feedback on all those questions, but it’s important to get honest, critical feedback as well as praise, to help make your work the best it can be before you submit it.
Another important method in helping you see your writing clearly is to put your work away for at least a few weeks (and preferably months). When you take it out again, you should see it with fresh eyes. If putting your work away for more than a few days feels hard for you, you might want to consider starting another writing project while you give yourself some distance from the previous one. Or immerse yourself in other peoples’ writing for a while–reading does help you hone your skill.
When you take your manuscript back out to look at it, you will find yourself seeing things you didn’t before–perhaps catching phrases that sound wrong, noticing characters that don’t seem consistent or real, or discovering whole chapters that don’t flow well. To increase your ability to hear what sounds wrong–and right–in your manuscript, try reading your work aloud. If you find yourself stumbling over anything, that’s a good indication that that area needs some work. It’s also a good idea to seriously consider the feedback that your trusted reader gave you, and to reject anything they said that doesn’t feel right. Go over the whole manuscript, making changes as you need to–and then decide whether it’s ready to send off or not. You’ll probably find that getting honest feedback, and taking that time away from your manuscript, helped you make your writing better–and got you closer to submitting your work.
©Cheryl Rainfield, 2003
Written by Cheryl Rainfield, award-winning author of SCARS, STAINED, and HUNTED
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