Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Do You Have Manuscript Fatigue?

At 12:16 this morning, I shipped off what I hope were my final edits. Then I fell into bed and slept like the dead for six hours.

Something I don't think I've ever seen addressed by a writer is what I'm going to call "manuscript fatigue." It was a serious problem for me during the editing process.

I began what eventually became my novel Bad Girl in February, 2005. At the time, I was taking an online erotic romance class from Ellora's Cave author, Jan Springer.

As a sidenote, I met some of my closest writer friends in that class: Jeanne Laws, Marie Tuhart and Sherrill Quinn. As the result of that class, a group of 25 of us formed our own support group, which we call the Brazen Hussies. When we took that class, I think only one of our members (besides Jan) was published. In the two years since, at least six of us are either published or under contract, and 22 of us are still members of the Hussies.

In order to participate in the class, I started the story that I called You've Been A Bad Girl--my first erotic romance. Jan and my classmates offered suggestions and, over the course of the next few months, I polished the first chapter. I entered it in the "Just Erotic Romance Reviews" contest where, in July, 2005, Raelene Gorlinsky, the editor of Ellora's Cave, awarded it second prize and asked for a full. I was shocked, delighted and terrified because I only had three chapters done. Between July and August, I finished the 40,000-word novella and shipped it off.

Taking the advice of my published friends, I continued working on my next manuscript and tried not to obsess about that full mss sitting over at EC. After three months, in early November, I emailed EC and asked if they'd reached a decision. I was told they couldn't find the manuscript and to resubmit it. With trepidation, I did. I was beginning to question my decision to seek publication online because, by then, I was actively seeking an agent for my erotic romances.

Six weeks later, I was in discussions with the agent with whom I would sign a contract. By then, I really was regreting my decision to resubmit to EC (An aside: To this day, I've never heard back from them on that mss). My new agent was enthusiastic about You've Been A Bad Girl, and she assured me it would sell. She was right. By July, 2006, we were reviewing a contract from NAL. The publisher wanted to purchase the book for publication in trade paper on the condition I expanded it from 40,000 words to a minimum of 65,000 words.

So, here I was--a year after finishing the novella--rewriting it as a novel.

My new editor at NAL has been a dream. She okayed my proposed outline without a single question and has been encouraging and enthusiastic about the reworked manuscript. Last month, I shipped off what was now being called Bad Girl.

Early this month, I got the manuscript back with edits. Every one of those suggested edits was on target. I was surprised to find half a dozen places where I'd slipped into "telling" instead of "showing." I'm such an advocate of "showing" that I couldn't believe I'd missed those "telling" places. I started the editing process.

That's when I discovered I had manuscript fatigue. After nearly two years, I was tired of this book. I had other characters talking to me, and it was surpisingly difficult to get back into my hero and heroine's POV. I started by going from edit to edit, only reading those pages where my editor had penciled in a correction. In a couple of places, she had asked for an "additional romantic moment." But I found difficulty concentrating on the plot; I had other plots fighting for my attention. Sandy and Zeke were almost strangers to me now.

After weeks of fighting through the first hundred pages--flipping from edit to edit--I went back to the beginning and did what I should have done in the first place. I re-read the entire manuscript. In doing so, I rediscovered the magic that had helped me write the novella to begin with. I really loved Sandy and Zeke. More importantly, I cared about them.

It had taken two weeks to edit the first hundred pages. It took a little over two days to make the changes in the remaining two hundred pages once I was back in Sandy and Zeke's heads. I couldn't believe it. And I learned an important lesson.

You can't shortcut the process. I had avoided reading the entire manuscript again, thinking it would take too much time. As a result, I wasted days and days by trying to write from the outside
--instead of from inside my characters' minds. And it didn't work. I'd been what my mother calls penny wise and pound foolish.

When I got home last night, I curled up on my bed with a cat in my lap and re-read the manuscript one last time. I was thrilled with the final product. The edits made it shine. And, suddenly, I'm enthusiastic to tell Leah's story.

Leah was a minor character in the first draft. My editor liked Sandy and Zeke so much that she encouraged me to expand Leah's role so that I could do a second novel using the characters I'd created in the first--just telling a new story.

When I finished the expansion, I couldn't focus on Leah. I was tired. Last night, for the first time, Leah began speaking to me--telling me about Kadeem. And I can see him in my mind's eye. He looks a lot like the character of Derek Morgan from the televison show Criminal Minds.

I can't wait to start.


Marie Tuhart said...


First off, Congratulations on surviving your edits and getting the book off.

I understand what you mean, while I'm not published yet. I have done extensive revisons on manuscripts and get tired of the characters.

I was that way about a manuscript I loved, I was so sick of the characters and the manuscript that I put it aside in mid-edits.

I've finally been able after almost a year, to pick that book back up and finish the edits.

Hope tonight you get more sleep and the new characters enjoy telling you their story.

Maya Reynolds said...

As always, Marie, thanks for your kind wishes.