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And They Called It Manuscript Love

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 4:31
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I’m working on a new manuscript—a picture book—and when I wrote the story, all 400 words of it, I was beside myself. Dang, I thought, isn’t this story just about the cutest picture book ever? I mean, I absolutely fell in love with this brand-spanking new manuscript, and I could not wait to show it off!

Which is pretty much exactly how I felt when my brand-spanking new puppy arrived. I saw those tiny little paws and the precious little whiskers and the adorable wagging tail, and I was totally smitten. I failed to notice a couple other things. Like the tiny little claws on the paws and the exceedingly sharp teeth beneath the precious whiskers and the not so adorable accidents from the wagging tail vicinity.

I suspect that the astute writer will see where I’m going here. To wit, as cute as my picture book story was, I might have overlooked a couple things in my first moments of manuscript love.

Did I have a conflict? Was my main character walking on to stage first? Had I established the tone from the beginning? Did I have a great hook?

And I was just warming up. I also needed to consider word choice, word count, themes and titles. Research of other picture books, similar titles, and similar concepts, too. Oh! And the color-coded system that identifies all sorts of elements! I hadn’t even broken out the first highlighter.

You see, whether I literally check off my Things To Do list or mentally check the list as I proofread, there is a process I put my work through before submitting. It’s all about sending out my best work. But this picture book—oh, it was different! I loved this picture book—it was such a cute story—and I was in a hurry to get this story going!

As I cleaned up my puppy’s latest accident, I realized that it would be a while before she was trained well enough to go out in the world, visiting friends and family. I needed more time to instill a little doggie discipline so that people would love her just as much as I do.

That, ironically, was the moment when I knew that as much as I loved my latest picture book story, it needed work before I sent it out into the world. And I wondered how many times writers fall in love with a story and rush to get a manuscript out before it’s ready. And then feel miserable when no one else (like our critique group or an agent or editor) loves the story like we do.

So I’ll rein in this love affair with my picture book and get out those highlighters. And the next time you’re tempted to dash off your words, take a moment to ask if the work is really ready. After all, love is patient, whether applied to writing—or puppies.

~Cathy C. Hall

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