For months now, starting with the iteration of Camp NaNoWriMo that April 2013 brought about, I’ve been working on a manuscript consisting of a series of stories and a novella. After the draft was finished, I proceeded to put off working on it for a long time until I finally decided to edit the thing, resulting in a manuscript which, although not yet completed, is well on its way to becoming what I hope will be an at least somewhat successful book published through Amazon’s self-publishing services, CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing.
As such, I believe that these final stages of the self-publishing process, which comparatively few of the many aspiring authors of this day come to see, should be chronicled in some way, hence my decision to use it as a topic for a handful of blog entries.
Now, before anything else, it’s worth clarifying that as an author, although I have been writing fiction somewhat formally for a few years now, this is my first ever attempt to get published and find any degree of commercial success, something in which I have had virtually no experience to date. Additionally, the manuscript which is in the final stages of becoming what I would consider a publishable book is, although it would certainly come to be considered one of my earliest writings assuming I have any significant life expectancy and remain consistent in writing through the years, definitely not one of the very first things I’ve written. It was only after working on a handful of other stuff worth at least a few hundred thousand words that I decided it was time to try and produce something that I would feel okay asking other people to pay for.
What I want to talk about in this initial installment of this little chronicle is precisely that: the manuscript. The draft. The enormous bundle of words that have to be extirpated from your mind and beaten into a shape that isn’t completely embarrassing. When is the right time for something like that to come about, and why?
In this reflection, I believe it should be appropriate to mention what I consider to be my first ever venture into writing that I regard (or did, at the time) with any degree of seriousness. About five years ago, when I was in middle school, I began writing a manuscript on a whim, about a story inspired by an inconsequential experience on the internet. At that time, I was a complete newcomer to formal creative writing and had absolutely no idea about anything having to do with the process of writing long fiction. I had technically been writing fiction since even further back as part of school assignments and such, but due to the assignments’ restrictions, they were never terribly long; 1-2 pages at best, which translates to about 3,000 words at the most, being generous. As such, even though I had taken the care to make an outline, (albeit a very crude one), the story did not hold over well in my eyes, and the writing halted when I was about 20,000 words into it. I kept it around, and even though I am still rather embarrassed of it, I do appreciate the fact that as an experience, it definitely inspired me to reflect on what was important in a more formal writing process.
I didn’t really apply these thoughts, however, until years later, when I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2011. Up until that year, writing had taken a backseat, only being expressed in very brief, sporadic outbursts, until during one revisiting, I attempted to begin a series of writing exercises wherein I would write a couple thousand words each night. While searching for resources online, I discovered the site mentioned above, which was really what helped me develop the mindset that is necessary for any sort of serious writing: Discipline, constancy, commitment and creativity. To make a long story short, I participated in a couple of NaNos as well as the Camp NaNo events that started happening during the summer months from 2011 onward, and although at first my drafting had the same abysmal qualities as the proto-draft I had written years earlier, it was rereading and analysing them that led me to realise just what was at fault with them, and comparing them to works of fiction that I enjoyed helped me start forming a better idea of what it was that would make an enjoyable piece.
This carried on for a couple of years, and it wasn’t until Camp NaNo 2013 in April that, inspired by a proposal formed by a couple of writing friends of mine, I decided to try and craft a volume that I would be okay with publishing as my first formal work of fiction. This meant that some sacrifices had to be made length-wise, as while I could have easily made something that was over 100k long in under a month if I had put my mind to it, that would have meant sacrificing quality, which, although theoretically correctable through editing, was not something I was willing to be careless about. With the help of a number of outlines and hours upon hours of writing, I came up with the complete draft, consisting of three short stories and a novella, at about 60,000 words in length.
Then came the editing process. It is often said that the best thing you can do before you begin editing a draft is to take a very long break from it, and I suppose that’s just what I did. Even though I did bring myself to do some preliminary editing as soon as I could for an unrelated reason, weeks went by without me even looking at the manuscript. Finally, I decided it was time to bring the process to an end, and returned to working on it.
Concerning the process of editing, I consider that the way to edit a manuscript varies greatly depending on who was responsible for writing the draft, and what sort of mentality they employed while doing it, namely whether they were plotters or pantsers. Some people like to say that all books are rewritten, but I have observed that, while certainly true to a degree in nearly all cases, the amount of rewriting that needs to be done tends to be significantly less if whoever wrote the draft employed the mindset of a planner (and is not prone to making sudden plot-critical changes), while pantsers often produce manuscripts that need major overhauls before they are to be considered palatable.
Additionally, while I don’t intend to place too much focus on the editing process, I believe I should mention that something about the nature of this process that I find interesting is just how many aspects it can cover. Editing might be necessary to improve a manuscript’s redaction quality, to fix plot holes, to address certain aspects of the story that were unclear, to optimise the pacing, or simply to make it more interesting. While it would stand to reason that it would be ideal to do all four of these, someone who excels in at least one of these respects could be forgiven if they were to fall slightly short in one of the others. One of my favourite novels of all time, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, because of its original nature as a serial, displays some rather tumultuous or self-indulgent pacing a lot of the time, but such a thing can be forgiven if one can appreciate just how interesting its subject matter is, and how well the author conveys it through his writing.
Drafting and editing aside, is there more to be said about a manuscript? Being the heart and soul of one’s prospective book, it should definitely be given as much care and attention as possible, but in the end, it is but part of a body, a central nervous system enveloped by other tissues which can be equally vital to its sustenance and survival. Some of these tissues could be described as physical elements, and others as processes. In the next installment I intend to cover one of the processes, so until then, take care, and keep on writing.