The Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very Ugly: All Manuscripts Are Not Created Equal

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Listen closely, for I am about to tell you a publishing secret no one else wants you to know.

Are you ready?

Here goes.

Not everything a writer writes is good.

Shocking, right?  J.K. Rowlings didn’t sit down one day and pound out a thousand pages of Harry Potter the first time her fingers hit the keyboard. Learning craft takes a lifetime. Some writers get lucky and the first manuscript they write is snatched up by an agent and sold to a big house for a huge advance. But they still have to sit back down at the keyboard and write book 2.

Trust me; the second book won’t be nearly as easy to write. Or as pretty.

Manuscripts are a lot like children.  Some are born cute, while others have to grow on you.

*No emails, please. Your offspring are just adorable, I swear.

But there is a beauty in the crap writing too. A freedom. Maybe it’s a freedom from inside the box thinking or story ideas. Sometimes it’s freedom from your own voice, a means to explore beyond what you know. Often, for me, my crap words are the same ones that push me for better ones. After all, how many times can my heroine roll her eyes?

The answer is 27 time, in two chapters.

Had I submitted that bit of crap to my editor, he might’ve suffered from an eye-rolling sprain.

Not pretty, I know.

Now what can you do if you find yourself with an ugly baby?

A few things:

1)      Dress it up. Add a new, exciting character with a better story line. Then cut the old characters and story line. Basically, write a new book.

2)      Rip it up. Sometimes it’s best to just let a story idea and sometimes a whole manuscript go. Too often we get stuck on a manuscript, on an idea, trying to turn an ugly baby cute when even ten million hours of scalpel-sharp revision wouldn’t make it better.

3)      Let it rip. The ugly baby might all be in our heads. This is when honest feedback from a critique group can save your precious baby. But you have to be able to trust what the critiques say. People don’t like to tell you your baby is ugly, so they nod and smile when asked. That won’t be helpful if your baby really is ugly.

4)      Embrace it. Show the world your ugly baby, and let the world decide what happens next. This is a mindset I see a lot in indie publishing. Sometimes the world loves an ugly baby, a baby that then turns out to be a swan in diapers.

5)      Toss it in a dumpster. Or better yet, that drawer in your desk where all bad manuscripts go to die. Then, in a few years, after 20 more craft classes on revision, 10 on editing, 3 on the hero’s journey, take that baby out and play with it. If it’s still ugly, put it back in the drawer before anyone sees it.

Because I love my RMFW blog readers, I’m going to share a piece of an ugly baby of mine with you:

She struggled, but not too much. Her water soaked hair turned stringy like seaweed, making it almost impossible to see the terror in her eyes, as he held her head under the icy water. He was careful not to mare her snow-white skin. A bubble burst from the water’s surface, filled with the last remnants of oxygen in her lungs. The sound it made as it broke the surface was anticlimactic, a muted death rattle and then silence.

Guess that baby needs a few more years in a drawer before unleashed onto unsuspecting, polite society. Did I actually use the words, snow-white skin? I feel sick…

Since we’re all friends here, give me a bit of your best ugly baby, a sentence, a paragraph, a page, as much as you’d like to share.  Best ugly baby will win a prize.

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming book, The Assassin’s Heart. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator. For more about Julie, visit her website and blog.

Connect with Julie on Twitter and Facebook.

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4 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very Ugly: All Manuscripts Are Not Created Equal

  1. Patricia Stoltey

    Oh, no, I’m not putting my worst out there for everyone to see. However, I will say that my editor asked me this about my (hopefully) to-be-published-in-late-2014 novel, “When did you start having your characters shrug so much?” I won’t tell you how many times “shrugged” had to be removed.

    And for another first draft mystery manuscript, my critique group members said, “Enough about the cats already!” That was right after we adopted Katie Cat and I had turned into a crazy cat lady.

    I keep on finding new ways to write badly with each new manuscript.

    Reply
  2. Julie Luek

    I love the image of Pat as the crazy cat lady. Funny.

    I wrote a novel. Yup, sure did. It sucked. It’s now languishing on a drive somewhere. BUT, I learned a lot from my attempt (mainly that I’m not a fiction writer, but a few other plot things too). I now have a new idea and I’m so nervous to even start. I have to keep reminding myself, as you pointed out, it will not get written perfectly, but that doesn’t mean the concept has no merit. Right? RIGHT??? ;)

    Reply
  3. Cindi Myers

    My characters frequently suffer from spastic Tourette’s, repeatedly nodding or shrugging or smiling like idiots on every page. Taking that stuff out is what revision is for…

    Reply

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