Can you have the perfect manuscript?

Is getting your manuscript perfect stopping you from moving forwards with it? Is a fear of it “not being right” preventing you from submitting to agents and publishers or even self-publishing?

Here’s why the dream of “perfection” might be holding you back and why good enough, is good enough.

When you are writing, who are you writing for? Writing for yourself, to tell a story is an excellent starting point. You write because you have something to say. That’s often where the passion in storytelling is. But maybe you write for your readers too.

Whether you are established and have a firm fan base or you are starting out, it’s always a great idea to have your readers in mind. But readers are fickle creatures! That book that you loved and told your friends to read … they only said it was okay (which you know meant that they hated it and are just sparing your feelings). The book that got the critics panting but left you cold.

I can’t think of a universally liked book. (Maybe you can and you’ll let me know in the comments below.) So even if you have your readers in mind, chances are you are not going to please them all, all the time.

And this is something that you have to let go of. Five-star reviews are great but don’t expect them from everyone. Some of your readers, for a variety of reasons, won’t connect with your book – but that’s okay.

Of course, before it even gets in front of a reader, the fear of it not being perfect can lead you to overediting your manuscript. Fiddling with little bits here and there, constantly changing details, reworking sentences and abusing the thesaurus for synonyms all present their own dangers.

There’s always a chance that, by toying too much, you’ll introduce inconsistencies or errors that will spoil your story. It’s why copyediting and proofreading are essential tasks and, ideally, done by a professional.

Endless editing can be a comfort. If you’re editing, you’re not putting out your work out there. No one can criticise and no one can point out the flaws of the story. Of course, it’s a fine line. Too little editing and, maybe, your story won’t be publishable. But too much self-editing and you will never get it published!

Sometimes, putting your manuscript to one side for a period of time can help you see the manuscript more clearly and help you to make more meaningful edits. Looking at your story with fresh eyes and a new perspective can help you to see what is necessary.

If you’re stuck in the endless loop of fiddling and editing your manuscript, take a moment to look back and see what you’ve achieved. You’ve written a whole story. That’s more than most people will ever achieve! Well done. You can be immensely proud of yourself and genuinely call yourself a writer.

Getting a “perfect” manuscript is impossible. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take the opportunity to improve each time you write. At the end of a writing project, take some time to reflect on what went well and what you could do to improve next time.

Was there a recurring comment from your editor? What could you learn from their feedback?
What was the feedback from the readers? What did they enjoy? How can you build on that?
What would you like to achieve next? How did you meet that this time? What was missing?

Make sure you keep these at the forefront of your mind as you begin your next project, building on feedback and learning each time means you will be getting better and better each time. Of course, there will be a next time! You’re a writer now; you’ll always be writing.

Remember, professionals can offer you feedback that is based on training and experience. Do make sure you take advantage of professional editors and proofreaders. If you’d like to see a sample of my work, get in touch today and request a free sample edit.

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Editor and proofreader specialising in LGBTQ+ writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

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