After the frantic rush of drafting a 113,000-word novel from NaNoWriMo 2013 to March 2014, it’s time to stumble through editing the manuscript. Three funerals (one of which was my father’s) and two weddings (one of which was mine) later, I have finally come back to pick my baby up and care for it. The next step of this regime is to cut the manuscript up. Physically.
For a few weeks, I planned and re-planned how I was going to do my first revision. I was at a loss as to how I should get my manuscript into top shape. A few months ago, before the wedding madness set in, I put the manuscript in the hands of a few trusted Readers, asking them to share their feedback with me by the end of August. I gave them a fly-by-night beta reader questionnaire I invented. Meanwhile, I had to start chipping away on my end.
With the wedding over and all excuses vaporized, I needed to start taking my tools to the sculpture myself. But I floundered and played mind games with myself for weeks. And then I stumbled upon this lovely little volume: Blueprint Your Bestseller by Stuart Horwitz. After weeks of procrastinating out of fear, I closed my eyes and just got down to it – I removed this book from the Books I Buy But Never Read shelf. I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to try following some guidance from an experienced professional.
Whom I choose to follow for this adventure: Blueprint Your Bestseller, by Stuart Horwitz
It walks you through a process called the Book Architecture Method. Here are the six reasons I like it so far (aka by Chapter Three):
- It’s a method, not a formula, that has stages and reasonably clear action points (though at some points, it could be a bit clearer)
- It’s systematic – it has diagrams and charts fit for purpose and a clear roadmap – I like sensible diagrams, charts and roadmaps.
- The roadmap is like a mountain, and the author describes it as such. You climb up it and come down on the other side. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy, but all the time it’s worth it. I like that Horwitz doesn’t pretend that book revision is easy.
- There are anecdotes from clients, which makes me feel like I’m in the able hands of an experienced guide.
- There’s a working example (The Ugly Duckling), which makes it easier to follow action steps because I can see the
- The things it’s asking of me give me the heebie-jeebies. That means it’s pushing me out of my comfort zone, and for this I will ultimately love it or hate it.
I don’t know how it will end up, but for the moment, I’m in for the ride. I don’t know if I’m doing this correctly. Mr. Horwitz reassures me that “Your book has 72 scenes, or 138 scenes, or another number that you won’t know until you’re done.” My book has 228 short scenes. Holy shit. That’s a ton more than 138. Oh well. I forge through.
Give your scenes names, he says. I do it. All 228 scenes.
Print the manuscript out, he says. I had never done it before because it’s expensive to print 247 pages (0.34 USD per page). SFT (working title) had never existed as a physical book. But I finally print it out last week – 247 pages of creative juice printed out on 62 sheets of paper at 4 pages per sheet. It was much more cost-effective that way (22 USD for the whole thing at the local internet cafe), and yes – I could still read it.
The SFT draft manuscript: 247 pages printed 4 pages per sheet onto 62 sheets of paper
And here we come to the heebie jeebies. What’s that, Mr. Horwitz? You say I am to chop my manuscript up?
Off a Cliff or Right on Track?
It’s like that time I rented a manual car in Fontainebleau to drive to the south of France, but didn’t really know how to drive a stick shift car. In previous iterations of attempted manual driving, I always – always – stalled the car. I eventually discovered that (1) French streets are not so straightforward without that GPS I was too cheap to rent and (2) the place to which I was going was, in fact, in the mountains. So at 2 am, I found myself on that high ridge in Gordes in the middle of a three-point turn (because I had gotten lost and had to turn around) with my poor Clio’s ass hanging off a very steep mountainside, needing to shift gears without stalling. Otherwise, well… you get the picture.
This is how I feel now. I’m only on Chapter Two – the foothills of the Book Architecture mountainous method – but I already feel like my ass is hanging off of the side of a cliff. It makes me nervous that I’m about to cut my manuscript up. It’s my very first book! I only just printed it out! I’ll lose the order of scenes I painstakingly used The Force (TM) to craft!
So I did the only thing I could do. I delayed the process by three days just so the book could exist as a physical, printed-out book for 72 hours.
Why Use This Method to Edit My Book?
But wait. If I’m so wary of taking the next step, why have I decided to subject myself to this anxiety? Of all the hundreds and thousands of self-help and resource books on writing, why this one? Well, I was initially looking for what to put in a beta reader questionnaire, but then I lost myself in the rabbit hole of the internet and typical distractions and Googled “revise manuscript”. This one came on top because of its subtitle: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method. How did I pick it?
- I looked at the reviews and thought that I was of like mind with some of the reviewers who gave the tome five stars (e.g. appreciates something new, not formulaic, keeps to a clear objective: readability).
- It was relatively cheap.
- It had the words “blueprint” and “architecture” in the title/subtitle. Creativity mixed with structured geekery. It was too good to pass up.
- I like to experiment and go on adventures. This would be one.
Onward and Upward
With all of that said, today’s the day. Today is the day. After a few glasses of various Spanish wines, I take up my trusty Max scissors and cut my bebe up. After this, I paste each scene on an index card and see where the wind (and Mr. Horwitz) takes me next. It takes a lot of trust! I don’t even know what this guy looks like! But I’m warmed up with some Spanish wine and tapas and guitar music and there are blades in my hand.
A glass of Condado Reserva 2008 and my Max scissors.
So how am I editing my manuscript (please excuse the mixed tenses)?
- Will. I decided I needed a professional method because left to my own devices I would flounder
- Means. I found a method
- Discipline. I’m sticking to it, no matter how counter-intuitive and work-intensive it might be
- Accountability. I’m documenting my progress (here) to establish accountability and keep on going
Clearly, I survived the mid-cliff gear change – I used to always stall because I could never completely let go of the clutch, so I couldn’t balance it out with the gas. But this time, I had to. So maybe I’ll survive this revision. The journey’s far from over, but the key lesson I have in the learning is:
You have to let go of your precious first draft and put it through the works.
Trust that out of the other side will come something infinitely more awesome.