Is your manuscript in its eighth trimester? It may be time to induce

image Though I’m still working on the eBook version of my Nickel’s Worth on Writing, that doesn’t mean I’ll be using it as an excuse to stop posting my weekly NWOW. No way! I’ll use a fictitious illness for that. Speaking of fictitious, this weekly feature was recently recognized by Publisher’s Weekly as offering “A level of writing insightfulness rarely seen outside of mental [writing] institutions…”

But enough accolades!

Let’s face it, editing the second draft of your story or manuscript is like a visit to the proctologist: You want it to go quickly; you want to avoid too much grimacing; and you know before you get started there’s going to be too much crammed in. Yet statistics show that early detection of grammatical “polyps” is the most effective way to prevent the spread of bad writing.

But apparently not horrible analogies like this one.

However, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that if you remove the “p” and “l” from the word “polyp,” then add a “t,” you can spell the word “typos.” Or if you prefer, drop the “y” and you can spell “stop,” which I plan to do right now because, judging from the look on your faces, I’ve made my point.

Or possibly made you queasy.

Either way, I believe the second draft is the most important draft in the “three-draft process” I suggest every writer practice. And when I say “three-draft” process, I’m not talking about how many beers it takes to loosen up those typing fingers. I’m talking about the minimum number of drafts you should make of your story or manuscript before you push the “publish” or email button. That said, I’m not suggesting you can’t do more than three if that’s what it takes to make your manuscript the best it can be. But if you’re on the 20th draft of a five-paged short story you’ve been revising for the last three years, it’s time to ask yourself if 1) There’s alcohol involved, or 2) You’re purposely stalling.

I recently had a conversation with a blogger who is an aspiring writer. She confessed to having a 100-paged “work in progress” she’s been revising on a weekly basis for six years. Her plan is to make it available online as a self-published novella. When asked when she thought it would be done, she wasn’t sure.

“I think it’s time to consider forced labor,” I told her. “This baby is so overdue that, if it were a child, it would come out eating solid foods.”

[Official Disclaimer: I am not an actual doctor, although I have played one. Just not on TV.]

Inevitably, she realized she was stalling out of fear of failure; as long as her novella remained unpublished — and unread — the hope it would be a “big success” remained. As I mentioned last week, “success” is a relative term. What I mean by that is, if your family won’t even read it, then Yes: it probably stinks.

Ha! Ha! Just kidding! Who cares what your family thinks! Or if your own mom thinks your writing is “just a phase” that will pass like “that Star Wars thing” once you turn 50 in couple of years!

By the way, have you seen my shoes?

Yeah, Star Wars and being a writer are just phases...
Yeah, Star Wars and being a writer are just phases…

In all seriousness, the only failed writing project is the one that is never started. If you’ve completed one or more drafts of your manuscript then you’re already a success because you’ve beaten the odds by doing something many people talk about but never attempt — let alone finish. Think of it as making the world’s best submarine sandwich; whether or not anyone takes a bite, it’s still a great sandwich. Having others walk around with mustard stains on their shirts is just a bonus.

So if you’re carrying around a 9-pound, fully-developed manuscript, ask yourself what you’re truly waiting for and why. Be honest with your answer. Don’t let fear of failure keep your literary baby from entering the world. It may be time to start pushing for a delivery.

And be thankful I didn’t end this with another proctology comparison.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)


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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

37 thoughts on “Is your manuscript in its eighth trimester? It may be time to induce”

  1. Your NNOW pieces tend to feel like visits to the doctor sometimes. I believe I compared you to Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil before, or maybe that just happened in my mind, or maybe the thought of that happening in my mind is just happening in my mind right now without it ever being the case before…but anyway, Dr. Ned has a nice ring to it and I’m sure you could fix people’s manuscripts the way Dr. Oz fences off bad dieting habits!

    If only I could save this comment as a draft before posting it. I get the feeling it’s long and weird:S

  2. I want to go back to the Official Disclaimer remark. Not on TV, eh? How about a cheap video being sold out of a car trunk in Hoboken? Or maybe just some selfies on FB? I mean, inquiring minds wanna know. 🙂

    As for the rest of this, great advice, but I beat you to it. I wrote it, formatted it, and then yelled, “Here it comes, World, ready or not.” (Of course, most people didn’t realize I was referring to whether or not the book was ready. Or the one after that. Or the one after that.) 😉

    1. You’re my hero, Marcia. Whenever I feel frustrated by my lack of time or technical skills, I think of you and get inspired to keep working on my eBook. Mostly because I know I can’t visit Florida until it’s done 😉

      1. That’s right, you wouldn’t dare, because when you come to Florida, you have to bring me a signed copy of it! 🙂

        And thanks for the kind words. But really, you are MY hero, because you make me laugh every single day. And that, Young Ned, is a rare and treasured gift. Now about that doctor video????

  3. I had a very talented writer friend who wrote a screenplay. And kept fiddling with it for far too long. Died before she could get it to the right people. I will never forget that. None of us should! Get it out there, folks:). Life is short.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that happened to your friend, Kay, but what you said is so very true. Make the most of your time by believing in your writing and having the courage to get it out into the world.

  4. I tried to write once, and but got so frustrated with the process and my inability to focus and be patient that I totally gave up. Now, when I read posts like this one, the writing thing keeps coming back and telling me ‘Come on! Give it a try!’

    1. I have to confess: I actually had tiny speakers mounted everywhere you go that allow me to whisper “Come on! Give it a try!” every time you pick up a book or magazine.

      Sorry. I was just trying to help.

  5. I am in the middle of the third draft of my manuscript. I have a firm deadline of October 1, driven by the fact that a well-intentioned yet thoughtless friend forced my hand by scheduling a reading from my book in early December at the indie bookstore where she works. As recently as last night, I referred to October 1 as my “drop dead” date. On reading your post and Kay’s comment, perhaps a new phrase is in order, along with a physical.

    1. At age 48, “drop dead” is a phrase I try to avoid as much as possible! That said, sometimes a little added pressure can be a good thing. Provided, of course, it’s not in your aorta.

  6. I submit something for a writing contest or for publication 3-4 times a year. Every time I think I must be nuts for doing it. It’s good practice though – practice preparing something for submission and practice for the reality of rejection. Those, in addition to the practice of writing, are good exercises in the training manual for writers. It may never ever come to anything, but at least by doing it I know if it doesn’t.

    1. The fact that you go through the process of writing with the intent of submitting your work shows in the quality of your writing, Melanie. It’s always image-rich and rhythmically balanced — hallmarks that come from practicing and homing your skills, and dedication to the craft of being a wordsmith.

      1. Well thank you so very much, Ned. I do try to create a work of art rather than just putting words on a page. I should hear about my latest efforts in the next week or so. Fingers crossed.

  7. OK Ned, I’ll get busy on my next “Ellen’s Writing Page” post. This is what you get for encouraging me to write, and teaching me about (what one of my sisters calls) shameless self promotion. 🙂

  8. This is so apropos for me today since I have an appointment with a proctologist! (for real) I am not looking forward to it, but it must be done these days when a colonoscopy is quite standard as a test for disease or a test to see why you have a little blood in your stool. Anyway, good post!

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