Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Manuscript Emergency Room

by Julie Coulter Bellon

As we’ve watched Rob’s medical drama unfold, it sort of reminded me of how, as authors, sometimes we know our manuscript is sick and we need help in diagnosing it, just like Rob. You see, when Rob was feeling chest pains during a football game, he waited for a while, to see if he would die, then went to the emergency room. So it is with some of our manuscripts. We know something is wrong with it when it’s painful to read it, so we wait a bit to see if any inspiration on how to fix it will come to us or if we should go with the feeling of scrapping the manuscript altogether. Sometimes the muse comes to help us out, but a lot of times it doesn’t, so we have to take it to the manuscript emergency room.

What is a manuscript emergency room, you ask? Well, any good writer should have access to one. A manuscript emergency room is full of people who can help you see what’s wrong with your manuscript and how to fix it. The first thing to do is sort of like the triage nurse at the ER, who takes some baseline tests like your temperature and blood pressure and such. In the writing world we can take some simple baseline tests like that, including giving the manuscript to some test readers to see if they have some insight for you. Or, take a break from writing for a while and get out your library card. Start reading some books to see if you can make a self-diagnosis with writing books, or read some books in your genre to see how other authors have done it. Another test that I highly recommend, is to let your mind rest so you can come back to your manuscript a few days or a month later and see it with fresh eyes.

If none of these tests really show you anything, then the ER nurse will take you back and get you a bed. This is the turning point, when you're deciding what to tell the doctor. You have a few hours to watch the clock tick for a really long time and count all the dots in the ceiling tile, and think of the symptoms, of what the tests showed, and what you hope the doctor will say. Of course, in the writing field, we call the doctor our critique group. When we finally have the floor and show our manuscript to our critique group, we give them the results of what we've tried so far and some hints on what we think is not working properly. They read it over and give it feedback. But we don’t want anyone like your best friend or mother who will not give you productive feedback to help your diagnosis, (and say things like, I loved it! There's nothing wrong at all, you're imagining things. You're the best writer ever!), we want people who are truly going to be honest so you can figure out what’s wrong.

If the doctor declares that he can't figure out what's wrong with your manuscript either, but you KNOW that something is still wrong, then you might need to see a specialist, or in the writing world, a professional editing service that can give you a content edit. This is a little more serious than the critique group, mostly because you pay for it and sometimes that can hurt. But a good editor will be able to see things and point out things that will make them worth their weight in gold. When I was having problems with Dangerous Connections and was really frustrated after my third rewrite, I consulted with a professional editor and through her suggestions was able to see where I was going wrong. The specialist really came through for me and was able to diagnose the problem right away. Always shop around for a good editor, however, and for what services you are really getting and if the company is reputable. I personally can recommend Eschler Editing and Precision Editing Group. These are both great companies with remarkable insight and reasonable prices.

If your manuscript is still sick after taking all those tests, seeing a doctor and a specialist, then, like Rob, I think you should just beg for a casserole and see if eating helps entice the muse to come back to you. But, in most cases, I know that the manuscript emergency room will diagnose your problem and you’ll be well on your way to a publishing contract. (Hope you feel better soon, Rob!)


At 1/28/2010 5:24 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Great comparison, Julie. I love the line about how we know something is wrong when it hurts to read it! It's great how "ER personnel" can help spot problems we might miss.

At 1/28/2010 8:25 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks, Stephanie, although I'm sure your manuscripts never need emergency care. Can't wait for your next one!

At 1/28/2010 8:28 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Thanks, Julie!

I'll try to continue leading a life that provides you with good metaphors for your blogs. :)

At 1/28/2010 11:57 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Julie, thank you; you're so nice! But my first drafts are inconsistent messes that need major surgery! And last time when I was at the point of proofing the typeset, I was still finding little cuts that needed stitching.

At 1/29/2010 12:44 PM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

You're chock full of great analogies lately, Julie! =D

I'd like to add that sometimes your manuscript dies on the table and you have to let it die (especially in those early, formative days). And no, Rob, that is not a greivous portent of your future. Let's hope!


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