Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Patience is a Virtue

“Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.”

- Samuel Johnson

I’m impatient.

When I finish a manuscript, I want to show it off to the world, but I know in my heart of hearts that it’s not ready. So, I read it over and over, and edit it over and over until I’m sure it’s somewhat decent before another person gets the opportunity/burden of viewing it. Like this:

Then I get the pages back only to find out that it needs A LOT OF WORK. More like this:

Why can’t I see the flaws in my own manuscript when I can see them in other manuscripts? To be redundant, I’ve read many books on the craft of writing and grammar since September so I thought this improved the quality of my manuscripts, but not to the extent I expected – at least not yet.

Once in a while, I’ll come across a blog or an interview, and the author will say how she wrote the manuscript in a month for NaNoWriMo*, took two weeks to polish it up, and then sent it off to an agent, who represented her immediately, and then sent it out to a publisher, who snatched it right up, and six-months later it’s on a bookstore shelf near you. Okay, I’m exaggerating just a little because the only part that isn’t true is the six months from contract to actual hardcover.

Another blogger bragged about how she sent a rough draft to the Amazon writing contest in January and is now on the short list. If I sent a rough draft to the Amazon contest, an official would’ve shown up at my door and ordered, “Ma’am, move away from the computer,” while he pried the laptop from my clutches, and then smashed it in front of my mortified eyes.

Now I know these quick success stories aren’t typical. Even Stephen King sits on his rough drafts for SIX WEEKS before editing, so he’s not too attached to his own words, and then he shows it to six friends, but I don’t think they do line-by-line critiques. My manuscripts need more intervention, especially since I didn’t spend my teens and college years filling up on writing and creative writing courses, so I’ve had much to learn later in life.

What are your strengths?

One of my strong areas is dialogue, which comes off as authentic. Related to this are believable interactions between characters. I’ve always felt these were my best writing assets, and enough readers have confirmed this, so I’ve got some redeeming qualities.

What are your weaknesses?

I’ve been too comma happy because I want to record each pause I hear in my head, but, I’ve, gotten, better, about, this, compulsion.

My sentences should be stronger. I’ve been told that I need to vary sentence lengths or the writing comes across as “stilted”, which makes me want to give up because that’s a devastating critique. Devastating.

Where have you made the most improvement?

As a newbie writer, I often made the novice mistake of showing rather than telling. Reading advice on many how to books and blogs have finally (I think) cured me of that.

There are a myriad of other aspects to writing: plot, character development, climax, layers, avoiding cliché, midpoint character change, opening, inciting incident, story-worthy problem, believability, and more. I’m feeling pretty good about those aspects of my manuscripts… most of the time.

I want recognition for all of the hours of creating, agonizing, doubting, editing, and crying. More than recognition, I want to know that these hours haven’t been a waste of time. The money spent for SCBWI membership and conferences are because I’m a writer and it’s all for this greater cause of making me a better writer and being a better writer means that eventually some agent will think I’m awesome and said agent will knock on every relevant publisher’s door until I get an awesome contract and that publisher will have so much faith in my manuscript that I’ll be top priority for promotion and readers will love my book and…

…Deep Breath. Exhale.

There are no guarantees in life. I know that.

When new people comment on my blog, they’ll often compliment my writing. I puff up with pride when I read that because I love writing posts and that’s the main feedback I receive about the quality of my writing.

So, why doesn’t my blog writing translate to good enough fiction writing? Nobody comments, “Your blog writing is stilted. Get a beta reader for your blog.” (But would you really tell me that?) My husband points out the one or two typos I can’t seem to avoid on each post, but that’s not really like being a beta reader, is it?

What’s my point of this whole post? I need a manuscript exchange partner for The Disappearances. Right around the time I realized that I was kidding myself as to its readiness, Mary Kole at KidLit set up this post where writers could find one another and set up critique partners and groups**. I’ve received four e-mails already and am setting up arrangements.

It’s time for some feedback. And patience.

*Here’s more about the group and contest:

** Mary’s post:


  1. Cutting commas and varying sentence lengths are mechanical things that are very easily fixed - something like authentic dialogue is much harder to learn, however. And congrats for taking that step to find critiquers!

  2. Love that quote!

    Good luck on the entire writing process. (Ain't it great?)

  3. Hi Theresa, it will happen for you.
    I am a person with no patience which is why unlike you, I am sitting here with no manuscripts. Just short stories and little radio scripts entries.

  4. Oh Theresa Milstein!!!!

    I always think success stories like the one you quoted and the ones that are fodder for the media do not help at all - they really don't!! They fire up all our insecurities and jealousies and anger at our own failures.

    I have to really bite down on my tongue and clench my fists very hard whenever I read or am told about how so and so was sitting in a cafe and was discovered suddenly by an editor and given squillions of money for his or her novel.


    I never hear about the writers who starve, nearly kill themselves, lose all hope and friends and are living from day to day eking out some kind of life because the only thing that keeps them going is their passion and belief in their stories. They don't make good publicity news.
    They're kind of depressing!

    It's to your amazing credit that you are able to analyse where your strengths and weaknesses lie. I think you are a better writer for doing so. I think that you have the passion and determination to make the Disappearances reach stratospheric heights!!

    Good luck with your critique partners and groups! I know they will help you because there is nothing like fresh eyes to give serious and considered perspective on your work.

    I know you will make it Ms Milstein! The road to getting published is long and full of diversions and stumbling blocks but by jingo you've taught enough PE lessons and taken enough troublesome kids under your wing to overcome these things! Above all you have the character and sense enough to make it.

    Take care

  5. I've realized the blogging world has several different types of writers, those who push their stories out super fast and are agented immediately, where as others mold their stories for well over a year and have yet to query, they are just too nervous to let go of it.

    In time you'll know what's right! At least I hope so!

    My strength is knocking out my first draft, my weakness is that it's a tornado when I've finished, putting the pieces together is the hard part!

  6. Susan, thanks for saying that. Now it sounds less of a fatal flaw.

    Bossy Betty, your sarcasm shines through. It's a long and arduous process, ain't it?

    Brigid, I think it's great that you have short stories and radio entries. Many agents recommend starting there first so you can add it to your eventual query.

    Old Kitty, I agree that these stories do nothing to help us struggling writers. I'm saving a quote which talks about the life of a typical writer.

    I guess most writers need other readers to polish, especially for long pieces. There's so much to consider in a novel that few of us can write each sentence and aspect of it flawlessly. How will we notice our own plot holes and who knows what else?

    Thanks for the encouragement, as usual.

  7. I think as writers we are often too "inside" the manuscript to see certain flaws. We have a different insight than a reader, looking at the work from a creation side, and miss some things. Readers are so important, best wishes in your search.

  8. I'm a very impatient person, so I deal with this as well. I want to get those queries out there, but I know I have to let it sit for awhile and that's the hardest part for me.

    Let me know if you need a beta...I'll be sedning you my WIP later today since you offered :)

  9. Jen, I've noticed that too, but there's a third type that fits somewhere in the middle, which is more like me. We are the writers who often write and polish and submit... and get rejected, but we keep at it until (hopefully) we get the contract.

    Very few people don't have much work to do once they complete a first draft.

    Joanne, you're right. Readers are important so I don't know why I thought I should submit anywhere without having someone look at it first.

    Aubrie, I look forward to getting your WIP so I can see about those secondary characters.

  10. One distinguished guest writer told a group of students I taught that his novels go through seven drafts. Sometimes on one revision he would spend four or five hours on one page.....He weighed every word, phrase...again and again...

  11. Those instant success stories make us all miserable!

  12. You have a manuscript. That is an accomplishment in itself. An idea, a story that has developed. Well done you. I am a comma phobic too! I am also a fragmented sentence addict.

    Sounds like you are moving in the right direction to me. Wish I could say the same for myself. Keep up the good work.

  13. Paul C, that's good to hear. While I probably do more rewrites, I'm not as thorough as that author.

    KarenG, if it makes you miserable (with your three books) too, then I feel a little better.

    Ann, I should focus on the manuscripts I've written, rather than what I haven't accomplished. Thanks for reminding me.

    I like the snippets you've shared, so I hope something comes of them.

  14. I totally understand your frustration at not seeing weaknesses in your own work you easily see in others' work. I'm a professional editor, yet I do really stupid things like accidently omit words and can't see the gaps. Doh!

    I think what's going on is our brains are full of the characters and story and tend to fill in with beauty what didn't make it to the page. Setting aside pages before digging in with substantive edits helps some. But I think this phenomenon makes the help of critique partners so essential.

    Hope the folks you found through critique connection work out well!

  15. Laurel, it's nice to know that even editors wrestle with manuscripts.

    I just sent my first two chapters to two beta readers this morning, so I hope to getting closer to a stronger manuscript soon.

  16. Don't let anything bring you down! All your reading and learning about this craft will surely reflect in your manuscript (if it doesn't already). It can be really easy to compare to those "bragging bloggers", but I really think that writing is about what suits you best. Sometimes, when you look at your manuscript so much, you don't see it as vividly anymore. I had to force myself to take time apart from it in order to help it for the long run. Don't worry!!

  17. Theresa, I am SO impatient so I feel your pain. The waiting is the worst - we wait to revise, to query, to submit... and then we wait some more.

    But if it helps us learn to hold our horses a bit maybe it's a good thing (in a way!).

  18. Saumya, I agree that we need breaks. I took nearly a year break after writing the rough draft, so I thought I was in good shape. But after what I'd learned, so much needed to be done to change it that I probably needed another break after adding and editing. So now I'll need another break, but not so long this time.

    Talli, it's all a waiting game. I have to learn that trying to cut a waiting step makes it more likely that I won't get an offer of representation.


    I've already learned that, yo.

    Sometimes that timeline you see is compressed into the last turn of the last lap and you never see that long road that got them to that final victory lap.

    Ray Bradbury said, "A million words gets you to the foothills."

    Don't believe that asshole on the mountain saying they didn't have to climb to the top like everybody else!

    My methods:

    For short stories, I write a title, bang out the story, run a quick edit, done. It might take a week, or two days, or a month. Most of my short stories have never been submitted. The few that have been submitted were rejected more than accepted.

    For novels, I write out some test scenes, let the story simmer, write the first few chapters, review it, re-write the first few chapters, review it, finish the book, review it, wrap it up and on to the next.

    If I let it sit like King, I would lose all the ache to finish the book. I MUST finish before I move to the next story.

    This is how Bradbury wrote.

    I've been writing and studying the art for ten, twenty, thirty years, depending on how you count.

    Hang in there and write write WRITE!


    - Eric

  20. Look at you go! Congrats! (But I want to read Disappearances too--I guess I better hurry up and finish my WIP so that we can trade them.)

    I know what you mean about being impatient--I want to show the world right away. But the more books I write, the more I find myself hoarding that baby close. I begin to want to make it pretty first, dress it up. We'll see if that keeps up.

    Great post!

  21. My half-Lakota told me over and over again : "You must learn to be patient or you will become one."

    I find leaving my novel to sketch out my next one or writing a short story, then getting back to it after a week or ten days will lend me enough distance to be objective. Hope this helps, Roland

  22. Waiting is definitely hard because we need patience. Just hang in there and believe! Dreams do come true!

  23. Dear Theresa,

    I wish I could help but I just teach kindergarten. Just keep believing in yourself because I know you are good.

  24. Eric, I often stop and do some editing while I'm writing, although I know some people say write it all and edit later. I do plenty of editing afterwards too.

    Thanks for the advice!

    Jackee, I want my first reader to get the cleanest copy possible, and over the years, the first readers have gotten cleaner and cleaner copies.

    Roland, I like that saying. Thanks for telling me your method. I like hearing these different methods that writers use.

  25. Choices, I'll keep that in mind during the times of uncertainty.

    VKT, I always like hearing from you. I think you would've liked yesterday's post better.

  26. You will get there :o) XX

  27. Teresa,
    I always feel like I'm such a slow learner when I read the instant success stories, because it took me years to get anywhere, and even now I'm still a very slow writer.

    If you're worried about how well your writing flows, have you tried reading it aloud? That helps me find the awkward sentences better than any other method. Good luck!

  28. Dee, I have read manuscripts aloud, but not this one. This is now I know that I've rushed because I haven't made the time for that yet. I only did it with the first chapter. Good tip!

    Thanks for the comment.

  29. Your writing continues to get better, you continue to challenge yourself, you've sought a community of writers to help support you, you attend conferences and critique groups -- you have a voice and stories to tell; it's just a matter of time:)