The Two Manuscript Dilemma

by Darcy Pattison

Did you know that when you write something and type the end, you really have two manuscripts? There’s the manuscript in your head and the manuscript on the page and they don’t match up.

The manuscript in your head is what you intended to write. It’s the pie-in-the-sky manuscript, perfect, moving, capable of evoking tears and contracts. It is nuanced and comprehensive. We know more than we can put on paper, always. We intend more than we actually put on paper, always.

The manuscript on the page is the result of trying to translate the ephemeral thoughts, intentions, emotions of a story. In the translation, we have to deal with word choices, sentence choices, paragraph choices and all the interactions that occur among those choices. We deal with creating a living, breathing character that has unique, compelling motivations and emotions. Add to that the choices the characters make that work together to create a plot. Multiply all that by a couple subplots. And add in the spice of creating a great voice that leads the reader through the story in a compelling way.

Wow. It’s hard to match up the thing in your head with the thing on the paper.

That’s why revision is essential. The purpose of a first draft is to get something on paper. The purpose of a revision is to match up the story in your head with what you put on paper. Sometimes that means you need–desperately–a reader who can tell you what they understand from the story: did your thoughts get reproduced EXACTLY in the reader’s head? No, didn’t think so. That’s the job of revision to make your thoughts transfer exactly–through the medium of the written word–to your reader’s mind.

Don’t look at revision as a chore, but as part of the process. The only good writing is revised writing.

Darcy Pattison is an Arkansas children’s book author and writing teacher. In 1999, she created theNovel Revision Retreat, which she now teaches across the nation. Translated into eight languages, her picture books and middle grade novel (listed below), have been recognized for excellence by starred reviews, Book of the Year awards, state award lists and more. She is the 2007 recipient of the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Award for Individual Artist for her work in children’s literature.

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