On Editing my Manuscript

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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.

 

40 thoughts on “On Editing my Manuscript

  1. Ah, dear Gulara, such a familiar story this feels. The writing, editing, sending, shortlisting, rejection, acceptance on an endless loop it often seems … but eventually everything falls into place and makes sense. I’m now holding a copy of my published book in my hand and I’m still crying and laughing with the wonder of it. Your day is close now and you too will forget much of the heartache when you embrace the joy of what you’ve done. Looking forward to “Ganja,” whatever you choose to call it next 🙂

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  2. I lost count of the edits of my first novel. It’s still a wip 10 years on. I learnt a lot about what worked from reviewing it. One think that remains clear. Each time I finished an edit I thought Yes! Nailed it. Every time I went back to it, it was Groan, what a heap of Ostrich Do-dos. But that just inspired me to improve it.

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    • I know exactly how you feel 🙂 I don’t think I’ve got to the point of thinking I’ve nailed it. Even before I finish a round of editing, I know the next one is looming ahead 🙂 Have a great week, Geoff, thanks for stopping by.

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  3. The first novel I published went through lots of edits and reworks over its 10 year or so creation. I used critique companies beta readers and a professional editor. Each little bit of advice helped to shape the book into what it is today. I couldn’t have done it without that input.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your process, Gulara. It’s interesting the transformations that occur. Each time you revise you get closer to what you want to share and how you want to share it. It takes perseverance to keep going. It is great to have so many who believe in you and your story (including yourself). That must make the journey a little more enjoyable. I wish you much success with reaching the final (?) edit. I look forward to reading it.

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    • The process has been truly transformative. Just writing it up and then being called to look at my inner resistance to put it out into the world was truly liberating. Thank you for your kind words, Norah.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve never tried to write a book [although, in a way, I’ve written a book in the form of a blog]. I suspect that if I did sit down to write my memoirs I’d be doing it the same way that you have over the course of years, editing and revising as needed. You’re process is inspiring to read about, and clearly has gotten you to where you need to be. I look forward to reading your published novel any day now.

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    • I can only imagine the amount of material you’ve generated in 10+ years of blogging! Perhaps, it’s worth pulling some pieces together one day. Thank you for your kind comment about my process. It wasn’t intended to be that way 🙂 Sometimes, I get impatient. And I’m really glad it’s taking its time, because the manuscript has definitely benefited from these edits, as well as the inner healing it prompted me to do. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

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  6. I’m in a writer’s group here in the states. Most of the women are published authors and I know they have grueling experiences with their books too. Anjali Banerjee is one of the authors and she also writes under the name A.J. Banner. Her books vary in genre and I know that sometimes she seems to have to walk through fire to get her books to the point of publishing. She is from India so her first books usually had some connection with India.

    But listening to your trials and tribulations, especially in not considering your story a memoir any longer is fascinating. It also gives me some ideas. Continue your journey. You WILL succeed!

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    • Thank you for sharing, Gwynn. Writing this post made me realise that walking this path is a success in its own right, whether we make it to the finish line (i.e. publication) or not. Also, we see a finished product and forget how many years of trials and tribulations contributed to that process. It was illuminating to run The Story Behind The Story series because learning about other people’s process was reassuring. Sometimes we have to walk through fire to get there (wherever that ‘there’ is 🙂 ). On a different note, I’m delighted that you are a part of a writer’s group. It’s so important to have an on-going support on this journey. As always, thank you for your support!

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  7. I wrote my first manuscript over 10 years ago. I printed for friends and family to read so I could get some feedback and input. It’s a non-fiction. I have been “trying” to edit since then. I actually just forgot about it for years and I’ve only started looking at it again and I have seriously considered turning it into fiction, based on real life, like yours. It seems that we may have more in common than I think. Perhaps that is why I feel a connection with you. And I feel that you offer me a lot of encouragement and I truly appreciate that. I need more courage to do what you have done so far and to keep going, despite rejections (and I did send to publishers before and heard nothing), no matter how tough that is for someone who has always struggled with the feeling of inadequacy and over-compensated in the process.

    I am looking forward to reading your book one day soon. I can feel that the day is coming and that will be another inspiration for me.

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    • Anne, we are so tender and vulnerable in those early days when the material is raw, well, actually we feel raw from peeling off the layers to write them down. So feedback can helps us to move forward or set us back. I’m sure it wasn’t the intention of those people, but I wonder whether it was difficult to receive what they said. It can be so exposing to write a memoir. I’ve been working with a writing mentor who was the only person who saw my writing for the first couple of years. She is kind and encouraging and her non-judgmental tone helped me to keep going. It took me over 3 years before I showed my manuscript to my husband. It was a big deal and I was anxious about his response. Our loved ones’ opinion is sometimes more important than those of strangers. Oh, and when a dear friend of mine gave me some feedback, I couldn’t look at my manuscript for 6 months! It took me an hour to incorporate her comments when I could finally face it. I’m saying these things to encourage you to pick up your manuscript. Find the right support to get there, and try not to take publishers’ lack of response personally.

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      • A writing mentor will be great. I just don’t know where to start looking and if he/she needs to be in the same city or country. I asked an editor of a magazine with whom I became friendly but she said she didn’t specialize in books and she also didn’t give me any feedback even after I said maybe she could just read it, not necessarily as an editor. An editor will be good, too, but I first need to do my edit. I already took the whole first few pages. My partner didn’t know I have this manuscript and was quite surprised. He still hasn’t really asked for it and I don’t think I’m ready. Surprisingly, my ex-husband knows it exists, and he was encouraging from the start, even when he was already an ex. Even his former partner, the same very young girl I referred to, thought I should pursue it. So, I haven’t given up. Having a blog and connecting with writers and bloggers, especially like you, help a lot and I’m probably closer to progress now. I’m learning more reading other writings and gaining a bit more confidence. Thank you once again.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Anne, I have no doubt you’ll find your way with this manuscript. What’s important, you’ve got the material. That’s the hardest bit. And having years of distance from the written material can actually help a lot, because you are in a way slightly removed from it and have the objectivity that’s required to edit – keep what works and leave what’s not needed for this particular story. I wish you all the best! Keep us posted on your progress.

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  8. I’m impressed by the rewrites and redrafts you’ve done, and I’ve no doubt they’ve all improved the manuscript. It does evolve, and each time you do it, it adds more layers and makes it richer. As you know, I’ve done similar with mine—two major rewrites and countless smaller drafts in between. It’s taken nearly four-and-a-half years (and counting!), but it’s all been worth it as just yesterday I signed with an agent. I know you’ve set your sights high, and it might take longer to get there, but I’ve no doubt that if you keep going, you’ll reach your destination!

    Liked by 2 people

    • What fantastic news, Louise!!! Thank you for sharing – you made my day! I can’t tell you how very-very happy I am for you. Yesterday Rashida shared that her book is out in the world and today your news – my heart sings with joy and excitement. I can’t wait to hold your book in my hands. 🙂 And thank you for your kind words about my book. One day… 🙂

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  9. Dear Gulara,
    I have a book in my head, but not started to write it yet. Follow you and your process with much interest, so I know what I’m up against 😉
    Reading this post a thought came to mind; by having it reviewed by to many people, isn’t there a danger in drifting to far away from your initial intent?
    Your inspirational thoughts and lessons regarding ones inner child, made me realize how important your core is, which to me is driven by our inner child.
    To use maybe a weird example; how often you go shopping for shoes and after trying several, at several different stores, you mostly end up back at the first store and with the first pair of shoes you tried.
    Is it due to the fear of exposing yourself, that a person search for confirmation, maybe even feels the need to be perfect, while the open raw material is already marvelous as is?
    Ques what I’m trying to say….I hope you don’t drift to far away by re-shaping your manuscript over and over again.
    (Aaarch English, I hope you understand what I’m getting at/my point)
    XxX

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Patty, I completely understand, and in the beginning of my journey I was clear it had to be a memoir. People kept encouraging me to fictionalise it, and yet for me it was important that my inner child was fully acknowledged. It was my way of reclaiming my truth, feeling heard, and making sense of my life. I believe writing things as they are (the way I worked with my writing mentor really helped: she insisted that I never edit whatever I write. So, whatever comes up I poured it on the screen of the computer without even corrected my English). All that raw expression was essential to heal the inner child, who is feeling a whole lot better now 🙂 My aim now is to share a good story and hope that it moves as many people as I can reach. The core of the story is still there, but I’m less attached to it so the goal is not to ensure complete accuracy but rather have a well-crafted story. This is only book 1 and I have material for at least 3 books, so who knows, the next one may be a memoir.
      I wish you all the best with your book! It’s important to ‘birth’ our projects and gestation time is different for all of us. I hope that your journey goes with ease and grace. Sending much love xxx

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  10. Thanks for sharing your process, Gulara. My approach has been fairly similar. My book has been growing and changing with me and each draft brings me closer to what it will be. I feel like I am unearthing and discovering what it’s all about as I go.

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  11. Your story is heartwarming and intriguing Gulara thank you for sharing it with us. My own WIP has had I don’t know how many edits – its driving me nuts. It’s a collaboration with another person in the States and though I don’t know for sure, I suspect she’s wondering why the hell I just don’t get on with it already. It’s getting there – I’m going to be taking myself off into the blue yonder for several days later this week and I hope to get it sewn up in that time …

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    • Creative process is so particular for each of us, isn’t it, Susan. For someone it maybe straightforward, for another person, there’s an inner journey to get to the finish line. I wish you all the best and hope you can complete your WIP soon. I can’t wait to read your new book. And thank you so much for your kind words of support and encouragement.

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  12. With such a journey, Gulara, you can only make it into print at some point. Since I am also in the process of submission now and thus of revision since no editor will take it as it is, I feel your creative mind churning ideas. I wish you the very best and of course, for me and your blog followers, a book to read soon.

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