On Writing

After hunkering down for the better part of a year, I have finished my second novel.

I wrote the first draft four years ago. Then I left it alone, rewrote two, three times. I polished one more time before sharing with a trusted reader who is not a writer. I did that because it’s a complex novel with many moving parts and I wanted to make sure everything had come together. I rewrote one final time, left it alone for a couple of weeks, and polished again.

When you leave a manuscript alone, you read it again with the eyes of a stranger, as if someone else wrote it. You discover simple errors you made while correcting a sentence. You find that you didn’t erase every word, so the new sentence doesn’t make sense. You discover a quotation mark in the wrong spot. You discover an incomplete new thought or sentence. You discover a misplaced adjective. You discover transitions that make for an awkward flow. And so, you polish again. Even after doing the above, I am never satisfied, by the way. At some point though, you have to let it go.

If your manuscript is picked up by an agent or directly by a publisher, he or she will most likely have his or her own edits and ideas that will require another rewrite. You see, there is no special secret or magic to writing and publishing. Most of it is long, lonely hours spent rewriting and polishing, because the first draft is never good enough. In fact, most times, it’s awful. But inside that rough write-scape are flashes of brilliance, beauty and creativity waiting to be polished. Only the writer can do that. Sending out an unpolished manuscript is the surest way to get rejected.

Hopeful writers seeking publication by-pass the hard work. They send first drafts to published authors, thinking the author can get them published. First of all, writers aren’t editors. Writers write. Asking a writer to give up his or her work time to edit your manuscript is unfair and doesn’t work. Unless an author has undertaken to mentor you, he or she is likely to not respond or, at best, give your work a cursory glance and respond with a few platitudes. If you want to workshop your manuscript, the best thing is to join a writers’ group or form one where you read one another’s work and give feedback. There are many online groups as well, though I’d suggest investigating before joining one. Personally, I think writers should work alone. Too many voices can actually ruin a manuscript.

The other point is that a published author can’t make an agent or publisher love someone else’s work. Publishing professionals have only one thing in mind, making money, not making friends. They will take manuscripts they are convinced will profit them, or works by celebrities with massive following. Even if an author forwards your work, he or she can’t influence the outcome, and pestering his or her publisher/agent with poor work can be detrimental to said author’s relationships.

When your manuscript is ready, the internet should be your friend. There is a plethora of articles and sites that give guidance as to how to submit a manuscript for publication. Agents and publishers post their preferences. It’s imperative to follow their guidelines. If you don’t, you will come across as arrogant or entitled and will be ignored. You may also opt to self-publish. Sometimes you get a lucky break. I know fellow authors whose published, short stories drew agents to them. That’s what happened to me. After publishing a short story in McSweeney’s Quarterly, an agent reached out to me, offered representation and suggested I write a novel. I shelved my other project and went to work on Of Women and Frogs.

So, there you have it. A lot of hard work, moments of discouragement and doubt squelched by persistence and grit. That’s what it takes to produce a good manuscript. You can’t predict or control how it will be received, but you can produce your very best work. Have confidence, write inches by inches, and may strength stay with you.

P.S. I’m willing to bet there are errors in this post, or something I could improve.

Bisi Adjapon is the author of Of Women and Frogs, named top 15 books 2018. She has written for McSweneys, Washington Times. Brittle Paper and other journals

Bisi Adjapon is the author of Of Women and Frogs, named top 15 books 2018. She has written for McSweneys, Washington Times. Brittle Paper and other journals