On Having a Two-Year-Old Manuscript

Here’s a list of things I’ve done for more than two years for free on my own volition that require nothing from any other person other than myself (marriage and motherhood don’t count because those vaunted roles requires a spouse and children, respectively):


Brush my teeth



Last week was my manuscript’s second birthday, and so I’m pausing to reflect on what exactly it means that I’ve stuck with this story that hitherto existed only in my head.  Writing and revising a manuscript is not like exercise or brushing my teeth: for one thing, it doesn’t make my ass look more toned, nor does it freshen my breath.  The value of working on a manuscript is intrinsic– I feel amazing when I open the current file and compare it to that wobbly first draft, that wasn’t so much a novel as a string of expository ramblings designed to help me work through a number of resentments (law firm life, law school culture, the glass ceiling, mental health care).

I’m not sure exactly how to characterize the draft I have today, but it’s at least not that.  Or it’s not just that.  There’s other stuff that’s supposed to be there.

Since April 9, 2012, I’ve actually read books on how to write a novel.  I went to the Yale Writers Conference to meet other writers, both aspiring and established.  I’ve showed up for writing group every single month, then, in a fit of insanity, I joined a second writing group so for the past six months I’ve submitted my work to peer review twice a month.  I still can’t believe I’ve done that.

And ohmylord I’m so grateful for the women in my writing groups.  They’ve performed CPR on my manuscript, rescuing it from languishing in that deeply flawed second draft.  They’ve challenged me (“This would never happen”), offered invaluable suggestions (“Tell us what happens as soon as she finds out”), and they’ve pissed me off (“You know, it takes seven drafts to get to publication”).  Oh how they’ve pissed me off as they’ve found every fissure and cracked it open with their iron fists.  They were the messengers I wanted to shoot for highlighting weaknesses I knew were there, but hoped were invisible to readers.  And without them, there’d be no third draft, no beating desire to reach the summit of publication.  Hell, without them, there might not even be story arc, for Plato’s sake.

Today, I’m almost done with my third draft.  Sometimes I open the document to a random page and read a few paragraphs that I haven’t worked on in some time.  More than once, I’ve found myself shaking my head in disbelief: Did I really write that? That’s funny. Or That’s not half bad.  And sometimes, dear readers, I think to myself: Damn, that’s good. 

Sure, there are plenty of passages I read that disappoint me because they don’t shimmer on the page like they do in my head.  I burn with frustration when I can’t bend, arrange, or control the words to make the story do what I want it to.  Sometimes I pick up a new book and find the prose and story so gorgeous that it seems like a criminal act to continue to plod along on my pedestrian path. (Ahem, Ms. Tartt, I’m looking at you and your Pulitzer Prize.)

But I continue plodding along because I can’t stop.  I haven’t found a more suitable passion or a more satisfying way to spend my spare time.  And now she’s two.  Terrible twos.  So begins the era when she’s going to start wanting to do everything on her own– there will be tantrums, flailing arms, screaming fits in public places.  She’s going to start to separate from me and assert her autonomy, in that long individuation process that will ultimately result her going out into the world uncleaved from me, her creator.

To celebrate this milestone, I’m going to do what’s been working since the beginning: When the kids go to bed, I’m going to sit down and keep writing.




32 thoughts on “On Having a Two-Year-Old Manuscript

  1. Mmmmm. Working on a draft.

    This is a miraculous use of time, you know. Continuing to do the hard work long past when most people say, “of course it’s done. I typed ‘the end,’ didn’t I?” is some of the toughest.

    I love the reminder that getting through the third (and seventh draft) means getting up every day and doing it. And as soon as I meet a couple of deadlines and finish a conference paper I’m going back to mine, too. I miss draft number whateveritis. Yay for pushing past what feels done to what is actually good.

  2. I have on my white board over my desk, “1,000 words a day to True” the name of my character. Some days I make it other days I shake my head and want to weep, she languishes in my WIP file.

    Thank you for another inspiration.

  3. I love this post. Congratulations. “To celebrate this milestone, I’m going to do what’s been working since the beginning: When the kids go to bed, I’m going to sit down and keep writing.” I hear you. In the last year or so, I don’t know what’s come over me. All day I look forward to the quiet moments after my kids go to sleep when I can punch words into a keyboard and then erase them. I’ve always liked to write, at least in theory, but this is the first time in my life that I’ve found it addictive. It seems to be the drug that balances the absolute mental chaos of having two young children.

  4. The stuff I’ve been working on for nearly twice as long (that I’ve probably told you about half a dozen times already with no exaggeration)… I’m afraid to show it to anyone, much less be ready for editing/proofreading critique.

  5. Good for you! I feel your pain/struggle. I worked on my first novel for several years. Can’t find an agent. Need to move on to something new now.

  6. Aahhhhh. I feel every single word of this post! I have been workshopped to death, but it is so needed and so painful. I have taken three memoir classes and now going on my fourth, plus taking another memoir class with a different instructor at a different organization at the same time. We are insane. Let’s hope our insanity pays off…

  7. Wow! I thought I had no read idea of when I started writing my book, but when I look back I guess I put the first words to the page on November 1, 2013 because I signed up for NaNoWriMo. Like you, I read about writing, I’m taking a class on writing, etc. I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo for April & only got 4 days of writing done (illness, unemployed hubby, etc., etc.) I can’t wait until I’m as far along with my book as you are with yours. Congrats!

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