People revising your manuscript

My previous post was published more than 3 months ago. I remember telling myself: I won’t distract myself from any other kind of writing until I have my current first manuscript ready. I originally targeted to finish it by January and Look! we’re almost in the middle of the year. Sigh… It took longer than expected but it’s finally done.

I initially had one friend volunteering to read it. She was an encouragement as I had told her it would be ready for January and having her asking about its status helped me push through the line and finish it. I soon found out I had two other volunteers to read it. That was exciting but it also made nervous. Extremely nervous. Why? Well, my mind was invaded by these thoughts:

  • What happens if the whole plot doesn’t make sense or is boring to death?
  • What happens if the whole idea of writing a book is not for me?
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I’m an amateur writer and always have self-doubts about my writing skills. I’m usually not that insecure about life in general but writing is important to me and therefore I tend to feel vulnerable to people revising my manuscript. But then I gather myself, I exhale loudly and I think that this comes with the process. I have to learn to listen to feedback and trust in my work. I’m starting; there is a lot to learn. I have to accept the challenge and keep my faith that hard work makes the master.

And you how do you feel when people start revising your manuscript?

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Book review: On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

I usually wouldn’t have selected this book if it weren’t for a reading club at my work. We wanted to improve our writing as part of improving our communication skills –  most of it is written. But why wouldn’t I pick this book if one of my main passions is writing? Because the book is directed towards nonfiction writing and when thinking of myself as a writer, I believe I’m mostly labeled as a fiction writer. But communication at work is written so it made sense to check how my writing was in the non-fictional world.

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What was different from this book?

The author, William Zinsser, explains with examples (the only way to learn) how to find your own voice. He gives a huge importance in finding your true self, your true voice. He encourages you to find the passion and enjoyment in your daily writing tasks and to never forget your own principles and the ones of the story you want to talk about.

But how is the sound of our writing voices?

Your writing voice should be as you are, not how you talk, but how you perceive things in your head. Zinsser gives the following advice:

“Don’t flight such a current if it feels right. Trust your material if it’s taking you into terrain you didn’t intend to enter but where the vibrations are good…”

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The importance of finding the right words

The right words don’t necessarily mean the complex sounding ones. “Just because they’re writing fluently doesn’t mean they’re writing well,” Zinsser mentions. How many times we read a book with lots of interesting new words, and we find ourselves wishing we had more vocabulary. But sometimes we don’t need this, we only need to find the right words, the ones specific enough to show what we mean. There is no need for complexity, rather for specificity.

When we write fictional books, we tend to overthink the writing process too much. As we write, we’re trying to sound good and to ensure our text looks not simple – not amateurish. We want others to notice we have a great vocabulary and in this effort, we sometimes lose our own voice. I have tried many times to edit my manuscripts in an effort to make the text sound smarter – not simple – but using words that weren’t true to my own rhythm and voice.

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And how about simplicity and clarity?

Sometimes we take too much effort in describing a scene or a character that we lose our sense of direction. “Clutter is the disease of the American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words…” Zinsser mentions.  And although this quote refers to American writing, it still applies to all the writing world and even to all languages. How many times I have found the same issue in my mother tongue Spanish.

Part of this clarity is to question ourselves: Is our story,  the narrative, the description of scenes, and especially dialogue making sense?

Enjoying the process

We spent too much time thinking about the finished work. We tend to visualize or think too much about when the manuscript will be ready, when the book is going to be in a readable stage, and when a possible publishing time could come. We imagine the end line too often and we don’t find ourselves enjoying the process. We are writers, the process of writing should be “our thing” not going after editors and publishers. Let us enjoy the process for the time that is needed.

As Zinsser mentions: “The writer, his eye on the finish line, never gave enough thought to how to run the race,” and “You won’t write well until you understand that writing is an evolving process, not a finished product.”

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How much are we willing to defend our work and to dare to be ourselves?

No matter how much editing we do ourselves, our manuscripts will suffer one day with other editors. We have to make sure that our writing and our voice are still there.  “What you write is yours and nobody else’s”

I’ve struggled with this issue a lot. I want readers to recognize my voice. But sometimes, I’m so lost in having a decent product, in having precise sentences and paragraphs, good words, believable characters, believable setups, etc, that I lose my voice in it. Whatever comes out of our manuscript, it has to be ours, it has to show our own personality. As Zinsser puts it, “Writing well means believing in your writing and believing in yourself, taking risks, daring to be different, pushing yourself to excel”.  This mindset is key, how many times we suppress our thoughts and expressions while we write; an inner voice saying “no, that sounds ridiculous, people won’t understand it.” But we have to understand that there is a difference between readers not able to follow a story structure and not be able to follow the author’s sense of wit and voice. We shouldn’t worry about the latter, we should just go with our guts.

We tend to forget so much of these tips. We’re scared what readers of our manuscript will say, how copywriters will find the text and how editors will see it. We’ve been told rules such as not repeating words, but sometimes they are needed for a reason, sometimes the repetition is there to provide emphasis and to give it a specific rhythm (like the double sometimes in this sentence). Many times when we change our words just to obey rules, we change the effect we are trying to give to our voice, to our characters, and to our story.

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What other advice was also very helpful about this book?

Zinsser treats comedy as a good resource for writing, as a good way to show your personality. This doesn’t mean that you have to tell jokes, but it’s related to the wit with how you tell things. In most cases, this might be the best way to show the true you.

In summary, I really enjoyed the book. Even if I don’t intend to write a non-fiction book, it still had plenty of useful advice, useful not only for non-fictional writers but also for fictional writers, so I definitely recommend it. You can get the book here. 

Is it time to start the manuscript from scratch?

It has been several months since I haven’t posted a blog post. And today was the day that I decided I would not go to bed until I finally did it. Work and travel are the excuses in general – and I won’t go to discuss them more since I want to jump into blogging pools as soon as possible without lamenting why I didn’t blog these months.

My manuscript continues to be a manuscript. However, it seems it was for the best. After going through multiple reviews and editing rounds, I decided it needs a complete makeover. The story is nice, the theme topic is interesting, but it is not the book that I think it could be. I’ve struggled so much to keep the same characters and to bring to life all situations in the book, but I reached a point where I need to acknowledge that my characters might not strong enough, neither interesting enough and some situations feel awkward and forced into the plot. Maybe leaving the manuscript to rest for a long time was a good idea after all.

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At this point, I’m not completely sure how to target this. Should I work on revamping the book, adjusting situations, and changing the characters over the existing framework, or just start from scratch?

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Starting from scratch sounds good, but if I were to start a new complete book, then why insist on this “theme topic”? I have a couple of other better theme topics to explore. However, I cannot simply give up almost two years invested on this manuscript. Somehow, deep inside, I still want to rescue it and rescue all the time invested in it.

I guess I relate to this:

Have you experienced something similar? Any Advice?

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Why we all need feedback and why we should embrace it…

I love feedback and with the time I´ve gotten more receptive of it. Many years ago, it would have been different. I would have taken it too harsh and felt discouraged. I think that´s sign of growing up and I embrace this idea.

Since I began writing this year, I’ve felt insecure about my writing.  The plot, the characters, the stories, have always been abundant in my head, but my problem was translating them into paper.  Having never had writing classes and having a different native language than English, there were  times where I questioned myself “What am I getting myself into?”

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Due to all in these insecurities, I’ve always looked forward for feedback, and expected the worst. However, some people have given me excellent feedback and I thank them deeply for that (even though I still feel they were condescending with me). You see, I’m actually my toughest reviewer, but isn’t´that the idea? If I were to believe that I write very well and that my writing doesn’t need improve, it would be a tragedy, I would be a mediocre writer.

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 Being able to realize that there´s always room for improvement is awesome; I mean the “realization” part. The fact that you´re not that blinded and that you can find your own mistakes, it’s rewarding. And believe me, there must be a bunch of people out there who still get sensitive with feedback, BS! This is not a career for being sensitive, it´s a career for those who accept all sorts of criticism, absorb them, and continue forward! The more you detect your mistakes, the more you’ll be able to improve and learn.

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Thanks for all the harsh reviewers out there. That´s what writers really need and I´m hoping to get as many as possible. That´s the only way up!

And you, how do you handle feedback? Do you let it get to you when it´s too harsh? I would love to hear what you think! Come on express yourselves in the comments section, if you want to complain against harsh reviewers do it! this is your chance  🙂