Wednesday, April 10, 2013

When Your New Manuscript Is Like Your New Baby

I’m beginning a new manuscript, which is always exciting, but it’s turning out to be more trouble than anticipated.

This isn’t my first time at the rodeo—this is my fourth manuscript, and every manuscript I’ve started, I’ve finished without too much trouble. I have a great idea, a plan, exciting characters, and a setting I can’t wait to explore, but for some reason, the actual getting the words down on paper part is proving tough.

Part of that is because until fairly recently I was working on my last manuscript, the one that connected me with my agent. I was (and am) so comfortable in that world. I know my main character, her voice, what she thinks and feels and how she reacts. I know the insides and outsides of her world and have finally managed to juggle the various different elements and characters.

My mom is a teacher and for years she taught first grade. At the end of every school year she’d say how proud she was of her students, how they came in as shy or unruly kindergarteners and how she’d spend the whole year working with them, teaching them, until finally they marched off as happy, confident second graders. It was great, she’d say, except she knew in three months she’d have to start from scratch with another bunch of five-year-olds.

That’s a little how I feel now, starting this new manuscript. My big, grown-up story is out in the world, meeting people around the country and holding its own, and as much as I want to enjoy that, I know I have a shy, unruly idea that needs a lot of coddling.

It can feel exhausting, remembering all the work an idea needs before it turns into a story, and then a good story, and then a story that you actually want to show the world. And I confess that when I put down a paragraph, it’s hard to not compare it to polished work, even though that’s a little like getting mad at a baby because it doesn’t know how to tap dance.

I’m trying to remind myself of the great things about starting over, like discovering for the first time who your character really is or finally unraveling a knot in the plot or that high from putting something down that you didn’t even anticipate writing. 

It helps, also, to look back at my last manuscript and remember that it wasn't all just instantaneous magic--it took time and thought and lots of thrown-out work until I got the point where things flowed. But I got there eventually, and this little baby manuscript will get there, too.

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