Don’t worry about the mess

Seventeen weeks after the second day of the new year

With all those questions Author told you about in her last post and all sorts of other tasks Sister needed Author to do as part of the upcoming publication of their current book for you finally done—what Sister needs at this time takes precedence, of course—Author can finally go back to work on their next book.

As Author explained in previous posts, after she has an advanced draft she sends it to an editor, and when it returns as a hard copy with a range of markings and comments (and is placed in that red folder of hers), she incorporates these, along with her own observations, into the original pre-edited draft that has, in the meantime, been waiting in the depths of her laptop, untouched.

Once that’s done, it’s time for Author to go through the resulting document again and do what she has dubbed the building of the body around the heart—making the story whole and bringing the draft closer to becoming a book for the readers among you. But that draft she now works on looks nothing like it did before she began incorporating the new changes into it. It is marked with additions, deletions, corrections, questions and comments, and when she looks at it with the tracked changes visible, this can be quite distracting. But that is how Author works on her marked drafts. It’s important for her to see what has to be done and what she wants to do, and to view these relative to the original, pre-changed draft, which prevents going back to old mistakes and inconsistencies, makes for additional learning, and shows her that she is moving forward on the path to a better manuscript, not backward.

That’s where Author is now with her next book for you, as you already know. Working on a post-editor-comments and post-her-own-observations draft. And sitting here, in front of her laptop screen showing that endlessly messy document, Author couldn’t help but think about the new writers among you. You will probably find yourself in this exact place at some point in your writing. Here you thought you had a nice, clean manuscript, perhaps you thought your work was done and that your story requires no more work, and yet now it’s all messy again. When you first sent your draft to an editor you might have been certain that your writing is clear and consistent, and instead you found that your grammar is lacking and parts of your story are incoherent, and as you yourself have another look at those words on your screen details pop up in your mind that you hadn’t thought about before—after all, during the time when your draft has been at the editor’s you’ve had time away from your story and are now seeing it with fresh eyes. And so, your draft has been taken apart again and has to be rebuilt, details must be completed or rechecked, and missing intervals must be filled.

And that’s actually a good thing. That mess on your computer screen, that’s a good thing. It’s an opportunity. Never be afraid to make changes that tear your work apart. Yes, it might end up looking like a complete mess, but you will put it back together. You can. It’s your story, after all. You’re the one who has brought it this far, you can take it a little further. And this unmaking and remaking of your draft will point you to details you might have missed, to inconsistencies, to angles that might need more looking into.

Essentially, what you will be doing is making the story and the way it is written better. Yes, it will take time. This part of the work is slow, and that’s fine. Author sometimes ends a long writing day only to look back at it and realize she hasn’t done half of what she had set out to do, and then she takes a breath and reminds herself that it’s not about time, it’s about the story. Her story, the way she wants it to be. Her story, for her readers. The only question she asks herself then is, is the story—on all its components, be it content, grammar or layout—better because of the work I just did on this paragraph, this section, this chapter? If the answer is yes, Author is satisfied. And that’s a good criterion.

And so, this week’s tip by Author and Sister for the writers among you is: mess up that draft manuscript of yours. The process of messing and un-messing it can point you to what you might have missed, what you want changed, what is needed to make your story better.


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