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The Long and the Short of It: Revising Your Manuscript

By Caren Stewart

The other night, I was lying in bed, ruminating on what I might write for my next posting. As I began to drift off to sleep, I thought about my husband’s hair and how it was a metaphor for the manuscript revision process. No, I wasn’t just floating in that place between consciousness and unconsciousness–let me explain.

Over the course of our marriage, my husband has had a long and arduous struggle with his hair. When I first met him, his hair was a light brown color and fell almost to his shoulders. Even though it didn’t have a lot of style, it was one of the things I really liked about him.

When we began to get serious, and he was nearing the end of his college years, he decided it was time to have a more professional look in order to find a good job. Naturally, his hair had to be cut considerably to reach a more manageable length. But it seemed to have a mind of its own, and in rebellion, started curling up in the front, making it necessary for him to experiment with various gels and texturing products.

Eventually, my husband became so frustrated with trying to force his thick hair to take on the shape that he had envisioned for it, that one day he shaved it all off completely (I hope by now you can see where I’m going with this).

For many years this was a pleasing solution; he could shave his head himself, he didn’t have to pay for haircuts or styling products, and he was able to save his dignity.

But one day, he became curious about his hair. What if he’d done the wrong thing? What if his hair had changed and he’d cut it all off for nothing? So he decided to let it grow once again and see what would happen.

I of course was holding my breath with my own doubts. What if all his hair didn’t grow back in? How would he deal with that? Although I certainly wouldn’t miss finding his shavings all over the bathroom floor.

This turned out to be needless worry however. All of his hair did grow back in and just as full as ever, but it was also completely silver–an unexpected development. I for one thought it was great, that people would take him more seriously, but I wasn’t so sure he would feel the same way.

One evening, after two months of hair growth, I was in the kitchen sweeping up some spilled spaghetti noodles. My husband walked into the kitchen and made a comment that people at work seemed surprised by his hair. “It’s probably because they didn’t realize that I had blonde hair,” he said.

I stopped sweeping and stared at him incredulously, “Really? Honey, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your hair is silver, not blonde.”

He returned my incredulous stare, “What?” he said, immediately running to the nearest mirror where he scrutinized his short hair. His face fell, “Oh, I guess you’re right.” Denial can be a powerful thing.

When we begin writing, it’s important to just let it flow and not worry about structure or grammar. If we become too critical of our writing in the early stages, we won’t get very far.

But after we’ve had some distance from our initial work, we can focus more on sentence structure, punctuation, and vocabulary, giving it a little finesse, helping to prepare it for others to read.

If we go back and feel it’s not working as well as it should, we may also decide to cut parts of the manuscript–maybe a paragraph, maybe an entire chapter or more. The process of starting over can be very cathartic and oftentimes leads to something even better.

Usually, we are so close to our own manuscript that we’re in denial about changes that need to be made. This is the time when it’s critical to allow our fellow writers in on the process by having them read and discuss our work.

In the end, my husband decided to go back to shaving his head, accepting that it was the way he felt most comfortable. Sometimes too, a manuscript simply can’t be revived, and we need to move on to another project. Just keep that manuscript safe somewhere cause you never know when you might get the chance to Rogaine it.

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