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Archive for June, 2010

I Don’t Dance

    I sent my revised manuscript to my agent yesterday. After I forced myself to hit the send button, I called a friend and told her it was sent.

    “Did you do a dance?” she asked.

     “What?”

     “Did you do a dance?” she repeated. “You’ve just sent something out. You’ve got to celebrate.”

     After I was done talking to her, I called my husband and told him the manuscript was finally done and gone.

     “Great,” he says. “I’ll bring home something special to celebrate.”

     Now, in his case, I can understand the desire to celebrate. I have been impossible to live with these last few days. I have been driven and grouchy–especially during the final proofreading phase.

     Their words got me thinking. The truth is a couple of  phone calls and a post on Verla Kay’s blueboard are all the celebrating I ever do when I send something out. I’ve read several articles that encourage unpublished authors to celebrate each step on the long road to publication. So why don’t I feel like celebrating?

     I think part of the reason is that I am still subconsiously trying to stay under the radar as a would-be writer. It took me a long time to be able to say, “I’m a writer” out loud without dropping my voice on the last word. A part of me still feels that I’m going to be carded at writer’s conferences and booted out. It’s scary going after my dream, and I figure if I don’t shout about it, maybe I won’t notice what I’m doing.

     Another reason is that I generally finish my manuscripts under a deadline. Okay, I’ll admit that a lot of those deadlines are self-inflicted, but it still adds an element of pressure.  Also, after going over the thing ten or twelve times looking for typos I might have missed, I am completely burnt out. All I want to do after sending out a manuscript is crawl into bed and sleep for a week. (Incidentally, it doesn’t matter how many times I go over a manuscript; there is always a typo in the final copy. Typos in my manuscripts are like spiders in my home–I can never completely get rid of them, no matter how hard I try.)

     Finally, I am just to nervous about the manuscript itself. Will they like it? Will it find a home? Will kids like it? I always run my writing byseveral test readers before submitting, but I tell myself, “Well, they just said they liked it because they like me.”

     I wonder sometimes what other writers do when they send out a manuscript. Do they celebrate? If any other writers read this, I would love to hear what you do.

     Oh, and I did find one other thing I do to celebrate submitting a manscript. I invariably go off my diet.

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     It is difficult, if not impossible, to catch all of your own mistakes in a piece of writing. The large errors are easy to find, but the little things–the typos, omitted words, wrong use of there, their, and they’re–these are much harder to catch. The reason is that our brains are overly helpful. The brain knows what is wrong or missing and helpfully supplies the right word as we read, regardless of what is on the page.

     I know this. I teach this. Every year I tell this to freshmen students, encouraging them to find a peer or relative to read their papers before turning them in. So why do I think I am the exception to this rule?

    Part of the reason is probably that I am reluctant to ask a reader to proof a 100+ page manuscript for tiny errors. It’s one thing to ask someone to read for theme and whether or not the story works, it’s quite another to ask her to make sure I have all of my articles in place. This is not to say my friends aren’t willing–they are. They’ve said so. I just don’t want to ask.

     The second reason is because I teach this. I get paid to find these errors in the papers of students. I should be able to find them in my own work–right? It’s just so hard to believe that they would be so very visible in everyone else’s writing and so very invisible in my own.

     The final reason is time. I am pretty good at estimating when I can get a rewrite done. I even build in a little extra time for those inevitable family emergencies, but I don’t leave a lot of wiggle room. The truth is if I laid the story aside for a few weeks and looked at it fresh, I’d probably find a lot of my little errors. I’ve certainly found them in other drafts I’ve had to leave for a time. I just don’t budget enough time.

    So why is this so important? Because it’s the small stuff that can cost an author. Those little errors give an editor an excuse to pass on a manuscript, and with piles and piles of manuscripts to go through they are looking for excuses to stop reading. Of course, having a grammatically perfect manuscript doesn’t take the place of having a compelling plot or well-rounded characters, but it can give you an edge–and in today’s market, a writer needs all the edges she can get.

     As a result of all this, my manuscript will get to my agent a little later than I promised. I’m not happy about that. I just sat through a conference where the presenters stressed the importance of meeting deadlines. Lucky for me, it won’t be too late due to the efforts of a good friend who is going to give up a free evening to proofread for me. I owe her chocolate.

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