And They Called It Manuscript Love

Wednesday, February 05, 2014
I’m working on a new manuscript—a picture book—and when I wrote the story, all 400 words of it, I was beside myself. Dang, I thought, isn’t this story just about the cutest picture book ever? I mean, I absolutely fell in love with this brand-spanking new manuscript, and I could not wait to show it off!

Which is pretty much exactly how I felt when my brand-spanking new puppy arrived. I saw those tiny little paws and the precious little whiskers and the adorable wagging tail, and I was totally smitten. I failed to notice a couple other things. Like the tiny little claws on the paws and the exceedingly sharp teeth beneath the precious whiskers and the not so adorable accidents from the wagging tail vicinity.

I suspect that the astute writer will see where I’m going here. To wit, as cute as my picture book story was, I might have overlooked a couple things in my first moments of manuscript love.

Did I have a conflict? Was my main character walking on to stage first? Had I established the tone from the beginning? Did I have a great hook?

And I was just warming up. I also needed to consider word choice, word count, themes and titles. Research of other picture books, similar titles, and similar concepts, too. Oh! And the color-coded system that identifies all sorts of elements! I hadn’t even broken out the first highlighter.

You see, whether I literally check off my Things To Do list or mentally check the list as I proofread, there is a process I put my work through before submitting. It’s all about sending out my best work. But this picture book—oh, it was different! I loved this picture book—it was such a cute story—and I was in a hurry to get this story going!

As I cleaned up my puppy’s latest accident, I realized that it would be a while before she was trained well enough to go out in the world, visiting friends and family. I needed more time to instill a little doggie discipline so that people would love her just as much as I do.

That, ironically, was the moment when I knew that as much as I loved my latest picture book story, it needed work before I sent it out into the world. And I wondered how many times writers fall in love with a story and rush to get a manuscript out before it’s ready. And then feel miserable when no one else (like our critique group or an agent or editor) loves the story like we do.

So I’ll rein in this love affair with my picture book and get out those highlighters. And the next time you’re tempted to dash off your words, take a moment to ask if the work is really ready. After all, love is patient, whether applied to writing—or puppies.

~Cathy C. Hall


Sioux Roslawski said...


Although puppy accidents sometimes smell--they're easier to fix than our writing messes.

Good luck. I am in the midst of slashing an "epic" of a picture book (almost 3,000 words long) to get it to more like 1,000.

(And I'm still jealous of the puppy. It's been close to 2 decades since we had a puppy in the house. I still have a chair with a gnawed-on leg to prove it.)

Anonymous said...

And another great parallel...the more experience we have with our puppies (and manuscripts) the easier it is to get past that starry eyed stage and into the clean it up, get it trained stage.

Missionary Mayhew said...

Oh. My. Goodness. Could that puppy be any cuter??! No wonder you're in love. And you must be a writer if you can connect doggie accidents to manuscript submissions! Thanks for a great post!

Linda O'Connell said...

I know exactly what you mean about premature submissions. I just advised a new writer of such things. Your puddle maker is a cutie.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

You are right, as usual. Does that ever get old? :) Love little Libby. She's a cutie-patootie.

Margo Dill said...

Your doggie is so cute. And I bet your manuscript will be even cuter once your highlighters and brain do their magic. I hope you know I mean this next comment in the best way possible (so no one gives me any grief) but this reminds me a little of the "Oh, I need another baby" baby stage I went through when my cousin had twins and one of my best friends had a baby this past spring. Luckily, my husband did not have the starry-eyed look that I had and said, "We are lucky to have two healthy kids." Yes! Yes! We are but babies are so cute--their little chubby cheeks--and as he pointed out they keep growing and although still cute take a lot a lot of work. :) SO, then I said, "You are right. I will be the best aunt/cousin, etc possible to these babies. What about a puppy? They are so cute. .. "

Anonymous said...

Here's another thing I learned about puppies and writing: You can write about dirt or mufflers or cheese or manuscripts, but if you put a pic of a cute little puppy up? You're golden.:-)

(P.S. Margo, I know exactly what you mean!)

Renee Roberson said...

I am "awwing" all over the place here. My daughter has asked for a doxie puppy for her birthday in June so I might have to find a way to incorporate that picture into a blog post, too!

I know what you mean, though. I've had major manuscript love for two books and the feedback I originally got for both of them was far from that! Luckily I've stepped back and tried to let sensibility take over before sending out any more submissions:)

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