Last week I’ve embarked on editing my manuscript for the seventh time.
I started writing the book around the time I conceived my son in June 2012. As my belly grew bigger, so did the word count. My intention was to write a book, though at the time I wasn’t entirely sure what the book will be about (apart from the fact that it was based on my life). Working with my writing mentor, I tirelessly generated a lot of material (two 12-page submissions every month). By the time my son was three months old, I decided to apply for The Transformational Author Experience (TAE) writing contest in the USA. In June 2013, I pulled various chapters together and it resembled a collection of short stories from my childhood, around 90,000 words. My husband came up with a title ‘The Smell of Ganja’ (believe it or not, Ganja is the name of my hometown) and after having session after session to clear my fears and inner blocks, I mustered enough courage to send the proposal to the TAE writing contest. My application didn’t succeed but it gave me an idea on how to take the first draft forward.
Gradually, the story arc became clearer and by August 2014, I had another draft which was 124,000 words. My dear friend read it and helped to improve on it, but I struggled to cut it back and hired a development editor. She liked the manuscript a lot, but didn’t make any suggestions on where and how much to cut out. She thought the title could be misleading, so eventually I changed it to ‘Where Black Rivers Meet.’ Meanwhile, the book proposal did well in the second round of the TAE writing contest in 2014 and I was one of the winners (top 30). By then, I was pregnant again, and continued generating more material, most of it for a second book. I also continued clearing the inner blocks: the fear of exposure was still way too strong.
In March 2015, I did another round of editing. My baby girl was under one month old and I was recovering from a complex C-section. I have no idea how I did it, but here I was editing a manuscript in between breast-feeding and connecting with my toddler. In that round of revisions, I cut out 50,000 words and put in a new 10,000 words. Suddenly, the manuscript had a better shape and the message started coming through clearer. A good friend of mine and my husband read it and gave some useful comments. After some revisions, draft number four was ready. I sent a query letter out to an agent in August 2015. He liked the first few chapters a lot, but suggested that I revise them, strengthening the sense of place.
That agent wasn’t the only one who liked it: my book proposal made it into the top ten in the TAE in October 2015. The prize was consideration for the traditional publishing deal with New World Library. In anticipation of the publisher requesting my manuscript, I edited it once more last November – more stuff came out, and new material made its way in. New World Library didn’t pick my manuscript, and the main benefit of making it that far was a new draft number five.
Shortly after, fellow writers from my writer development programme read and gave me feedback first on a couple of chapters, then the entire manuscript. Last month, I’ve incorporated that feedback, as well as cut out 20,000 words, while waiting to see whether I could win the TLC Pen Factor writing contest. I was long-listed, made it into the top 10, which was great, except no one requested my manuscript yet. Nonetheless, thanks to that anticipation, the story line is much tighter, and I made another significant change: I used to call it a memoir, and now it’s a novel based on a true story. Ah, the creative freedom that comes from that small but significant shift. In fairness, it always read like a novel with plenty of dialogue and no inner ruminations on what a particular event meant in my life.
So, I’m now reading it again with the view of adding more texture and detail to strengthen the sense of place, and smooth out any rough edges. The manuscript is at a reasonable 65,000 word-mark.
Will it stay that way? I don’t know. As you can tell, my manuscript has been shape-shifting for the last several years while life has been happening. I admire people who write the whole thing in one go, tweak it a bit and put it out into the world. For me, the process has been fairly organic and the book has been maturing along with me.
What has been your experience of writing a book or working on a specific project? Does it have a mind of its own, sometimes? How do you find editing? I’d love to hear from you.