Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy.
-The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams , Double Day, 1922
Remember this classic? It’s one of my favorite books because, in addition to being a wonderful story, it teaches us some very valuable life lessons. And more than one of those lessons can be applied to manuscripts and the writing life. But since this is a blog, let’s stick with one of the most important of those lessons.
You can love your manuscript until it no longer looks like a book to anyone except you. Let me explain myself.
Manuscripts take a lot of time and energy. The more work you put into them, the more real the story becomes to you, the writer. But be careful. You can edit, revise, rewrite and change the story until it becomes unrecognizable and unsellable.
Think of your manuscript as a piece of beautiful fabric—enough to make one garment. After much thought, you choose a pattern for your garment. You sew and sew and sew and then you try the garment on. It fits, but there are a few places where it needs to be altered. You fix the hem, maybe take in the waist a bit, and then try it on again. Perfect fit.
Now, if you take the same piece of fabric, make a dress out of it, then you decide it shouldn’t be a dress, but maybe a pair of pants. So you rip out the seams and start again. Now that it’s pants, they’re too short, so you tack some extra fabric on the hem, but it doesn’t match the print. so you decide you’ll make your pants into shorts, only the zipper you put in the pants is too long. . .
See what I’m getting at here? You can love your manuscript to death. You can ruin it by working on it too much or by trying to make it into something it isn’t. I don’t mean you should just spit your words out and never revise. I mean you need to learn when you’ve reached the natural end of a manuscript. You need to know when to shelve it and start on the next one. Not every manuscript will sell. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. But don’t waste time, time you could be working on the new one, to beat a dead horse.