Big Picture Manuscript Mistakes | Losing Interest In Your Work

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book editor Adina PortmanAdina Portman

What are the most common bigger picture mistakes you see when going over a manuscript?

I enjoyed searching for my answer to this question, because it allowed me to return to old author correspondence, which jostled out stories that are locked back in my mind somewhere. What I noticed popping up most often was inconsistent narrative distance and point of view.

It may be tempting for the writer to share as much as possible, especially in a first draft, but telling too much, rather than just showing the essentials, can disturb the reader’s sense of place. As we read, we position ourselves around the characters. We are closer to some characters’ minds, and further from others. It’s important to be deliberate with the point of view and narrative distance you choose, because otherwise, even if the reader doesn’t know why, he or she will feel disoriented, unsure where to land. Point of view and narrative distance can certainly change throughout a manuscript, but only if there is a reason and it benefits the story. Most often, though, I find this to be a great tool for pinpointing larger issues in the manuscript as a whole.

Revealing too much comes from a generous place in the writer. We want to inform the reader as much as possible, right? The problem is that it often makes the story drag, repeats what the character’s actions and dialogue have already revealed, or simply makes it difficult for the reader to figure out what’s important. One of my favorite experiences of reading is the mystery that I’m forced to sit with. Mystery is truer to the life most of us live, the life filled with questions we’ll never answer. This limits what the author can share, but it is a great tool for picking out the most essential details. Too much information often distracts the reader and rarely serves its purpose as well as we expect. It may be better to allow the action and dialogue to stand on their own, because they often can.

Is it normal to lose interest in your own writing?

Most writers lose interest in their writing at some point. This is actually a good sign that it’s time to challenge your own process in a new way. It can be helpful to think of an author whose writing recently excited you. Read that author’s books, then find out what books that author reads, and read those too. A new reading list can jump start your awareness of what’s possible in a story or poem. You might be inspired by new voices or even observe techniques you’ve never seen before.

If you’re bored with a particular piece of your own writing, step away from it for a while. When you finally return, you’ll have fresh eyes that will likely recognize your old tendencies. You’ll see more clearly where things need to change.

You may find that your issue is simply that of repetition. There are certain words and phrases that we repeat without realizing it. It’s sometimes useful to do a search for certain words you suspect yourself of using too often. Count how many times you use them, then try to find other ways of describing that certain something. It’s an exercise every writer needs to do now and then. Even the greatest writers fall into habits as time goes on. We all have patterns, and our writing is a great place to recognize them.

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