Writing Process
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Progression of a Manuscript

A while ago, I wanted to see how a manuscript changed from its first draft to final version. Couldn’t find an example back then, so I’d like to show you what happened with mine.

Here were the first forty words or so from my first draft:

My stepfather taught me how to take a punch, but he taught me how to throw one too. I pushed Lee’s buttons because if he didn’t come after me, he’d go after mom.

At this point, the story was set in present day. I spent several months writing the first draft, and somewhere between the second and third draft, I decided the story would work better in a futuristic setting.

The opening changed to:

The first time I met my biological father, I said the only thing that came to mind: “Seaweed?”

“The smell’s not so bad,” he said, his eyes kind. “You’ll stop noticing it in time. The company I hired to facilitate your reassignment uses this shuttle to transport produce from Samsara to Empyrean.”

Lee (the stepfather) isn’t gone, but his role was rewritten to fit the new setting.

I hired a developmental editor. He pointed out quite a few things that weren’t working (ARRGGHH), and part of our discussion centered around the opening scene. He thought the reader needed to better understand where the protagonist was coming from. His suggestion? Start the story earlier in time.

The first two paragraphs changed to:

The door of my pod hissed open. I squinted. The lights along the ceiling had been kept dim to keep from blinding my eyes, but I’d grown accustomed to the pitch black of limbo. Any light, no matter how dim, seemed too bright now.

I threw my legs over the edge of the pod and slowly stood up. I’d been locked in limbo long enough to forget what it was like to move. The pod keep my body from atrophying, but my spine still cracked and my muscles protested as I stretched to my full height. I sniffed my hair. Even after all this time, I still smelled like smoke.

Another round of line edits turned the opening to:

The door of my pod hissed open. I squinted. The lights along the ceiling had been kept dim to keep from blinding my eyes, but I’d grown accustomed to the pitch black of limbo. Any light, no matter how dim, seemed too bright now.

I threw my legs over the edge of the pod and slowly stood up. The hem of my hospital gown brushed against the back of my calves, and I stared at my bare feet. I’d been locked in limbo long enough to forget what it was like to have limbs or even to move. The pod keepkept my body from atrophying, but my spine still cracked and my muscles protested as I stretched to my full height. I sniffed my hair. Even after all this time, I still smelled like smoke.

There you have it. Those were the kinds of changes that went on throughout the whole process. It took a year and a half for me to write and revise on my own. The rest took another six months.

Here is a brief e-mail conversation I had with my editor after reading his first round of notes:

Me: I need to hook myself up to some sort of device so that every time I use a cliched phrase, I get an electric shock to the brain.

Editor: I am that device.

Yes. I’m addicted to cliches. I also can’t tell the difference between lay and laid, and I didn’t know that toward was spelled without an S. At least, I used to! Having someone point out my flaws was difficult, but I’m grateful too. Now I know what needs to be fixed, and that’s a pretty good sign that I’m getting better at this writing thing.

Source: Image by djgary (cc)

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