Posts Tagged ‘word count’

Finishing The Manuscript.

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Yet again I must open this blog post with apologies – it has been an absurdly long time since I wrote anything here. However in my defence this was because I was extremely busy first of all writing thousands of words elsewhere and then extremely busy deleting them again. Read on to find out why…….

I’ve been busy in an unprecedented way finishing my second manuscript. This was actually a manuscript that I had part-written about three years ago and abandoned because I just couldn’t seem to get it to go anywhere. A muddled plot, too many characters and not enough substance didn’t help matters. So I closed the file one day and left it, choosing instead to write something else which became Things He Never Knew.  Then an agent whom I vaguely knew and liked described what sort of work she was looking for and I suddenly realised that my muddled bundle of words might just be that thing. So with that in mind I went back to my poor abandoned manuscript (think in terms of rusting car with no wheels) just before Christmas and upon re-reading it was staggeringly obvious where I’d been going wrong. Seriously obvious. Embarrassingly obvious. It had potential – but cunningly disguised. So I ruthlessly cut huge swathes of text, updated, re-wrote and re-focussed on where I was going. The ease with which I was able to do this showed me just how wrong I’d been going. The only odd moment came when the writing changed from re-hashing what I already had to continuing the story without being led; not unlike jumping off that infamous precipice. But once I’d got over my traumas about whether what I would write from scratch would match up with what I had already written, it was fine.

Now I’ve never been the most disciplined of writers. I would love to be like dear old Enid Blyton with her 6,000 words a day or whatever it was, but if I did that my fingernails would be ruined, my eyes would fall out and my family would leave home, (those are ranked in order of priority). I can produce 40,000 words in a week but then I won’t touch the manuscript for a month. It’s in line with my all-or-nothing personality. But it isn’t conducive to steady progress. And when you add into this my two daughters and their complicated school timetables (during this term alone I was required to be at their school on twenty-six separate occasions; EXCLUDING drop-off and pick-up) I found it hard (all right, impossible) to have a regular working pattern. Plus I am very much one of those writers who rely to an extent on being in the right mood, which is an indulgence I know, and actually I think I may have trained myself out of it, but I hadn’t when I was writing manuscript number two. It does have a title by the way but I’m not sure I like it. Anyway, so I made progress over the spring, never quite meeting the deadlines that I was setting for myself, and all of a sudden I found myself in the last half of the summer term and I knew I had to get it finished. With the best will in the world I would have achieved very little over the eight week summer holiday that the girls have from school. And this is when I seriously focussed, reduced the frantic socialising that I am fond of and made Finishing The Manuscript my sole priority. Unfortunately this coincided directly with a severe crisis of confidence. I was very pleased with what I had produced so far, it was exactly what I had wanted and the manuscript was coming together very nicely. But instead of appreciating all this, my brain just said “Well what if what you need to write now isn’t as good as what you’ve written already? The whole book will be ruined. Months of effort and thousands upon thousands of words wasted.” And this insidious message was ever-present in my mind; it was something I had to get through to be able to carry on writing. The irony of course was that when I did get through it and produce another few hundred words they were always up to standard. The lesson therefore being that I need to trust in myself more, and if anyone wants to know how you get through that feeling the answer is that you start writing and you just don’t stop and it might take one hundred words or it might take five hundred but in my experience if you just keep going you do eventually become attuned to the story once again. Anyway, that’s not the important bit. The important bit was that through blood, sweat and tears I did eventually Finish The Manuscript. I did this under the encouragement of a very nice agent (different agent) with whom I had been communicating on and off for about three years. When I was very close to the end I sent her some chapters which she read and liked and that in turn gave me some of the impetus I needed to write the final words. It’s a real boon to know that someone is actually going to read it.

I did find it difficult to finish the manuscript, I really did. It was a combination of wanting to, needing to and not being certain that I could make it all the same standard as previous chapters. Oh insecurity thy name is Sarah. But over the course of a week or so I seriously applied myself and watched my word count climb and climb until I reached 142,000 words, including the best two: ‘The End’. I printed it and sent it straight to the agent. To discover that she was out of the office for a week; which was both nice and awful. It meant that I didn’t have to be on tenterhooks immediately and I had a lovely few days shopping and drinking wine, thoroughly enjoying the feeling of having actually Finished The Manuscript.  But it also meant I had a longer wait to see what she thought. I also knew that good news would be via a phone call and bad news via an email. Of course I was also wracked with self-doubt over that week and experienced the strange juxtaposition of knowing that I couldn’t have made the manuscript any better – but what if my best wasn’t good enough? But there wasn’t anything I could do about it, and as my great-grandmother used to say: “Do your best and the rest don’t worry about”. Sterling advice. The following week however I literally jumped every time an email popped up on my (pink) BlackBerry and my heart would race as I looked it, praying that I would not see that name. I really, really wanted her to like the manuscript; she’s someone whose opinion I value very highly indeed.  And eventually, in the middle of one afternoon, my phone rang. She liked the manuscript. But I had no time to absorb this rather incredible news before she was also telling me that it was too long. 42,000 words too long to be precise. I needed to cut it down. However she also said I didn’t need to rush, it was holiday season. Well sod that. All-or-nothing. The phone call was Thursday afternoon and despite a heavy weekend’s entertaining to do, I metaphorically rolled up my sleeves and got working again. By Monday morning the revised manuscript was in her email inbox; I’d reduced it by over 20,000 words. Once I looked at it, it was glaringly obvious what I needed to do. I hoped and prayed that it would be acceptable. It obviously was because by 12 midday I’d been told that it had gone to various publishers and that now we had to wait. Wait! I hate waiting. I’m not good at it. But I suspected in this case I would have to. And actually, against all the odds, it’s not that bad. We’re three days away from the end of term and not having to worry about the manuscript means that I get to relax and enjoy the summer (summer? Ha!) with the girls. And I still have four of those twenty-six occasions to attend. And Saturday is Sports Day which means I need a dress and it has to be red because that is my eldest daughter’s House colour; I don’t own anything red, I need to go shopping. And I have to organise end of term gifts for the teachers, and cards. And I have to make sure that I have all the uniform they need for September, and I need to confirm playdates and I need to see if we can squeeze in a holiday among the already-packed summer schedule….and….and….and…..so no, I don’t think waiting will be that bad.