Thursday, February 6, 2014

Working with an Editor: Manuscript Anxiety

Have you ever met an author who never agonized over their manuscript? If so, I'd love to meet them. I am not one of these authors. I'm the author who guards her manuscript, dreading even to share it with my editor because I know that despite me reading through it numerous times, she's going to find everything that is wrong with it (okay, I make it sound worse than it is). 

Of course, most of what she finds, I expect. It's her job to pick through the details and remind me that I don't know as much about grammar and sentence structure as I'd like to believe (she doesn't actually say that). It's her job to tell me when the flow is a little off or I have a gaping plot hole that I somehow missed while finishing up the last paragraph at midnight. So, if I expect her to find these issues, and I know there will be some rewrites, then why am I so anxious about the moment when I will hit the send button on my email, and my manuscript flies over the super-information highway straight into her capable hands? 

Heck if I know.

Really, I don't know. With my first two books, we worked on them so closely together, and I was still naive enough to NOT care what an editor would think. Then came the third book - I was a wreck. I kept telling my editor over and over how much work I thought the book would need. I delayed sending it to her for as long as I could, and when I did send it, I impatiently waited for her first comments. Turns out I didn't need to be that anxious. Of course, that didn't stop me from going through the process on the fourth book, and again on the fifth book.

I have to get over this, or at least keep it to myself, because I know it doesn't help the process. I always feel fine about it a few days later while I'm busy working on other things, waiting to hear back, but I can't seem to rid myself of that initial anxiety. Perhaps over time I'll be able to move past it, or at least not share it with my editor (though I don't think she minds). I'm lucky, because she's patient and understanding, and even adds a little levity (probably because we have that kind of working relationship), and it helps. 

So, what do you do when you're possessed with manuscript anxiety? I eat chocolate, then exercise until I'm too tired to care about it any longer. 

I imagine time is the only cure, and even then the cure isn't foolproof. Try setting aside your manuscript for a while, and I don't just mean after the first draft. (Side note: I've sent in a manuscript I knew in my heart wasn't ready, and it was dreadfully embarrassing). After you've done your own rewrites, and you have the urge to send it off, stop, and set it aside. Give yourself a few more days or a week, maybe even a month or two. If you're anything like me, you'll run the story through your mind over and over, picking up on all of the little fixes that can still be done. Major fixes required? No problem. Tackle them, but don't let them get you down.

I didn't set aside my last manuscript, even though I knew I should have, and "kick" myself for it because I have pages of notes on items I forgot to fix before I sent it to the editor. In truth, most editors expect your manuscript to be rife with errors - again, that's what why you work with them - but giving yourself those few extra days, weeks, or months, can decrease the errors, thereby helping both you and your editor. 

The upside is that when your editor sends back the manuscript, you still have the chance to tear it all apart and put it back together the way you should have the first time. Don't be ashamed because sometimes a writer will fall into a rut, go through the motions, and produce what they think they should, rather than what they feel they should. The best advice I've been given on this subject is to embrace your creativity and worry about the rest later. And above all, make sure you're working with an editor who challenges you, and expects as much from you as you do from yourself.

Have you ever suffered from manuscript anxiety or meltdown? 

Disclaimer: My editor does not edit these posts. I accept full  responsibility for any errors present when I don't have chocolate within reach.


  1. MK,
    Yes, I agree with your take. I always hesitate before sending something off. I believe a project must have a chance to settle and rest, even after the sixth rewrite. :-) But I recently read a word of advice from author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat,Pray,Love)--when it's good enough, it's done. I like that, because no matter how hard we try, there will always be something we want to fix at the end of the day regarding our work. When I start to stress, I just repeat to myself, "It's good enough."
    Have a great day!

    1. My editor has told me the same thing--sometimes you just have to let the book go. It won't ever be perfect, but it can be as perfect as we can get it. I know if we each went back to our books two or three years later, we'd want to make changes. Thanks, Kristy!