Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Are you Swaddling your Manuscript?

Some folks say you should never, by pain of death, refer to your manuscript as your baby. Too personal. Far too unprofessional. It should be considered a work, and if it’s not, uhm…working, then you should be more than willing to toss it out with the bathwater and try, try again.

You’ve also heard the other side, probably felt it, too: “But it’s my creation. It came from me. I nurtured it and nurtured it some more. I lost sleep and gained gray hairs over it! It’s mine! All mine!”

Still the critics of baby talk shake their heads: “Oh, no, you’re emotionally involved. You’ll never make it in this business with that kind of attitude.”

Personally, I think the baby analogy can be useful--even enlightening--if taken a step further.

Creating an idea, creating people who wouldn’t exist if you didn’t, is very much like birthing a child. They’re not here one day, and then, suddenly, they are: whining, demanding your attention, flummoxing you with their needs, their appetites, their behavior, and looking pretty, well, ugly. But you give your baby what you think it needs: nourishment, time and attention, love...

and something miraculous happens.

She starts to thrive, develop a real personality. You may “hear” her voice in your head while you’re trying to fall asleep, when you’re taking a shower or driving to the grocery store. No, you haven't developed a multiple personality disorder; you've just nurtured your baby to the next step, which I’ll call childhood. Your child can do many things on her own now and is sometimes the one calling the shots in your story.

You continue the journey. Time passes, and as your child’s personality develops, your plot turns in unforeseen directions and you begin to look forward to these little voyages—like the adventures of a teenager with a car once you actually begin to trust them.

You type “The End” with a new appreciation for the craft, knowing your characters inside and out, and probably knowing yourself a lot better as well. You add finesse to your draft—still more hours, more polish, more sustenance. The polish you’ve given your characters helps them to truly shine; you add phrases, strengthen dialogue, refine layers. When you print that manuscript out and are ready it to send to an agent or editor, it’s as if you’re handing your grown child her first briefcase, ready (if not apprehensive) to send her out for her first job interview.

Perhaps she is as perfect as you believed, and she gets a job right away. Or perhaps she comes home depressed, rejected and needing just a bit more polish--or needing parts of herself modified entirely.

“No!” gasps the baby crowd. “I couldn’t possibly alter my child in any way! She’s faultless just as she is.”

Ah, but your child isn’t your child any longer. Yes, she will always belong to you in the most intimate of ways, but she’s all grown up now. She is alive because of you, but she lives beyond you. Go ahead, let her trim her hair, color her nails, wear crazy clothes. Let her evolve—through constructive feedback and careful editing, even radical scene-chopping change. Don’t become her liability with a stubborn unwillingness to see fault in her. Don’t nurture her dependence on you by refusing to help her transform. Let her become who she needs to become to succeed.

Let the baby go.

See? You can have it all. Your baby. It is personal, but you can keep it professional. And when your name is on the best-seller list, you can heave a sigh and think back to those first wrinkled, whining, red-faced, ugly-baby scenes with all the parental pride inside of you.

[Note: Click here to find a comprehensive collection of paper doll links, but don't linger too long. Hear that crying? Write on!]


Blogger Elena Greene said...

When you call your manuscript your baby you do run the risk of sounding too precious.

BUT the analogy is so valid, including the labor pains, the hair loss, even post-manuscript depression.

There are some encouraging differences, though. A manuscript baby can sleep peacefully in your drawer until you figure out what's wrong with it, and in the meantime you can gestate another one.

8:50 AM  

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