Only You Can Fix Your Manuscript

I’ve touched on this before, but there’s a reason our stories are our own. And there’s a reason they get royally screwed up if we take every single suggestion a critique partner, beta reader, agent or even an editor gives us–because no one else can write our story.

Of course I’ve always known this, but for some reason it really clicked with me as I was going through notes from my third round readers for A BOY COULD. One of the readers had commented on something an earlier reader had also commented on and given me a suggestion on how to fix it. The suggestion wasn’t quite right, just as the suggestion the earlier reader had given wasn’t quite right. However, the difference this time was that when I put the two slightly off suggestions together, I came up with a right idea. So, hey, two wrongs can make a right in certain conditions. Who knew? Well, at least I think it’s a right idea. That will be up to a new round of readers to determine. The thing is, I knew in my gut that those suggestions weren’t right for my story, and when I’ve gone against my gut before it wasn’t a pretty thing. I’ve been on this writing journey long enough to know that I have to trust my instincts when it comes to staying true to my vision for the story, even if it might go against someone’s advice somewhere along the way (eek!).

So, here’s another reason why no one else can fix your story for you. Unless you’re working with someone who reads every single draft and is inside your head–ok, that’s impossible–your CPs and betas don’t know the origins and significance of every subplot in your manuscript. Stay with me a second here and let me see if I can explain this without it being completely confusing.

I had a particular subplot in my current manuscript that readers had commented on in each draft–not as a major issue, more as the kind of thing you swat at like a fly. It was a distraction from the main story. They’d say, “I don’t really like this, but it’s not a deal-breaker, so … ” And the thing is, when I really sat back and looked at it, I realized that subplot was supporting a storyline I had eliminated after my second draft. It was this thread I’d unraveled from the main story and forgotten to snip off. (Now I’m mixing metaphors :).)

Anyway, my point is that this is one of the reasons other writers can’t fix our problems for us–because they don’t know why we wrote it that way in the first place. That plot point was there for a reason that no longer existed. That’s why it seemed out of place to readers in the current draft–because it no longer made any sense with the current flow of the plot. And that’s why I’m the only one who knows how to fix it. Sure, my readers can make suggestions, and it’s helpful if they do, but really what their suggestions did was highlight that I needed to eliminate that subplot altogether.

A reader only knows what’s there, not why it’s there. Sure, they can speculate. I do a lot of that when I read for someone else. In fact, I ask a lot of “why” questions. And it often turns out the answers aren’t what I speculated, so that’s why (see what I did there?) I can’t fix someone else’s manuscript for them.

I am never offended if someone throws out my suggestions because they’ve come up with a much better solution on their own. I’m just excited I’ve helped them figure out how to make their own manuscript work, exactly the way I’m figuring out my own. So thanks again to all of my CPs and betas. You help me flip the right switches in my brain!

Responses to “Only You Can Fix Your Manuscript”

  1. Becky

    When I first set out on this writing journey, I foolishly tried to follow nearly every suggesting I thought had merit, but it didn’t always work for my story. Now I prefer that my readers simply tell me what they think doesn’t work. If they have suggestions for fixing it, I’m open to that. But I very rarely actually USE their suggestions. This is true for picture books as well as novels.

    • Michelle I. Mason

      Well, sometimes the suggestions DO work. It really depends on how well they know you and your story. In general, though, I still find value in suggestions because they often spark an entirely different idea for me that does work. It’s that whole kernel of an idea that grows into something more. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Greg Pattridge

    I will sometimes get opposite opinions from two different readers. One is thrilled with a section I wrote while another feels it would be better to add or drop something. I’m 100% in agreement with what you say. Take every piece of advice as a suggestion. In the end we have to be at peace with the words we’ve written.


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