What Is Your Goal?


It’s not as nutty as it sounds. If you find yourself tinkering, obsessing, waking up at odd hours of the night, and overall re-editing to ad nauseum, you may need to check into the Betty Ford Finish the Damn Manuscript Clinic. Of course, conscientious writers go over their manuscripts a ton of times to make sure it reads exactly the way they want it to – but they also realize when it’s right and ready. This isn’t what I’m talking about. This is the author who messes about structure, organization, voice, and the story itself. Yikes.

Many years ago I had an author who simply couldn’t let her manuscript go. She refused to finalize it so we could go to print. She wanted to change this, rearrange that. The manuscript was perfect, and her changes were beginning to warp the original voice and pace. She wouldn’t listen, and I couldn’t go to print without her permission, so we reached a rectal/cranial inversion impasse. We were dangerously close to missing our deadline, but she kept her claw-like grip on her work.

Not having any choice, I canceled the project. Yes, it cost me dearly, and I was beyond pissed off, but I realized the author had no intention of ever finishing. I’m not sure if writing her story gave her a reason to get out of bed in the morning, or whether she’d invested so much of her soul writing this particular story that she didn’t know who she was once it was finished. But I suspect there were underlying issues that prevented her from psychologically letting go.

6 Responses to What Is Your Goal?

  1. ericjbaker says:

    She didn’t realize she was allowed to start a second manuscript, I guess. I’ve been known (by me) to flog my prose, but that sounds like a psychological problem.

  2. Oh, she knew – and I made the suggestion more than once – but it was this story she didn’t want to finish. Yes, she was an extreme case, but there are varying degrees of finishing a project that may be getting in the writer’s way.

  3. Like many authors, they think of their manuscripts as their children, and don’t want them to ever leave the nest (because they have so much emotional investment in them.. I’ve known several (unpublished) authors who to this day (many years later) are still messing with the same old manuscript.

  4. I do, too, Todd. I had a woman pushing her manuscript at a writers conference for four years. It broke my blackened heart.

  5. It’s probably fear of success that drives people to tinker rather than let go.

  6. Or rather, fear of failure, which they’d take personally because that manuscript is their baby.

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