Friday Speak Out!: What Can You Learn From a Pile of Poop?

Friday, April 11, 2014
by Sioux Roslawski

Okay, the truth is, perhaps it's not a pile of poop. Perhaps it's something salvageable. But no one's sure yet.

My first (and perhaps last) manuscript (a chick lit novel) is finished (finally). It's a complicated story (involving several “layers”) and I'm worried I'm so close (and so emotionally attached) that I'm unable to accurately assess its worth.

Too many parenthetical phrases, you say? I imagine the parenthesis density is due to my less-than-sure footing when it comes to this manuscript.

Currently, five writers have it. Three are reading it, one is using it as a doorstop, and the other is going to have a party soon and needs, to the shredder it goes. While I wait for their feedback, I'm contemplating the pluses of a finished manuscript, even if the stack of papers end up being one big minus.

What can I learn from a not-even-close-to-stellar manuscript? Ever the optimist, I think there's lots to gain from a gigantic pile of fecal matter.

• I've learned how to keep the momentum going. It's easy (okay—sometimes it's easy) to stay in the groove when a piece is 1,000 words long, but when you're shooting for 80,000, there's lots of times when you sit your butt in the chair—with no idea of what you're going to write—and you write in spite of that.

• I've discovered that when you allow yourself to freefall, you almost always end up making a safe landing. The cool (and the frustrating...and the scary) thing about fiction is when you're a seat-of-the-pants type of writer—like I am—you don't always know where your story is headed. But to finish it, and to be totally immersed in the characters and the plot, you have to be willing to round that corner...blindly.

• I found out that the pesky editor that resides inside my head has to have their mouth duct-taped shut—at least most of the time. To get that many words down on paper—to get that much black on white—a writer has to forge ahead the majority of the time. I would go back at times and tinker with parts, but if I worried about making every single line perfect, I'd still be on page one...after a year and a half of working on it.

• I've learned to appreciate honest feedback (although really, this wasn't a recent discovery). At least one of my beta readers promised that I will need a crash helmet, that her editing will result in a bumpy ride for me. I love that. Hearing what is great about one's writing won't make anyone a stronger writer. However, when weaknesses and areas that could be improved are highlighted, that strengthens our craft.

So, I'm still here—on pins and needles. No feedback yet, but I'm feeling fine—no matter what kind of hurling is hurled onto my manuscript, it has proven to be an invaluable experience.

* * *
Sioux Roslawski is one of the founding members of the WWWPs, an infamous writing critique group in St. Louis. Her stories can be found in nine Chicken Soup for the Soul books, along with several volumes in Publishing Syndicate's Not Your Mother's Book series. For more of her musings, go to

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Margo Dill said...

Isn't this also a title of a picture book (or at least a theme)? Katie also has a book called, POOPENDOUS! Msybe your manuscript is actually POOPENDOUS, Sioux. :)

I know how you feel. I'm currently in the same boat as I am putting my ALREADY PUBLISHED novel in the hands of teenage readers, whom it was meant for, and getting reviews from them. Adults seem to love it, or do they love me? What about my target audience? And if it's already published, there's not much I can do if no one likes it except learn from this pile of poop.So, we'll see how it goes. Hopefully no one will need that much confetti!

BECKY said...

I just knew in my heart that this post had to be written by Sioux when I read the title on my blog roll! Lots of great info and you have accomplished a fabulous feat! -- you finished a manuscript, and it didn't take you forever, like mine. I wish I could shut up my inner editor! Congrats and I hope it will become a book soon. Can you tell us the title?

Val said...

Well...worst case scenario, you can put a clothespin on your nose, pick up a shovel, and work on your complete pile until you have it smelling like a rose. Best case scenario, people worldwide will congratulate you on doing your doody.

You are WAY ahead of those of us who are still dumping our pooper-scoopers and building a story one piece at a time. Bravo!

Linda O'Connell said...

I am sure that your manuscript is far from crappy. remember what Ann Lamott said about the first draft. Congrats on completing your novel.

Bookie said...

Good for you for finishing. Good for you for letting others handle your "baby" and being open to criticism! You are on a roll...keep going...

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Congratulations on finishing that draft! Remember that first and foremost, this is an amazing accomplishment. Besides, you can't make it better if you never get it down in the first place. Hurray for you!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Poopendous. I love it. That is EXACTLY what my manuscript is.

(What a brave soul you are to give your book to teenagers. They can be like jackals, but you want that, if you want to be sure about your book. They will definitely give you an honest answer.)

Becky--Right now it's "The S.D. Society." But the title smells just like the manuscript, so that will change...

Val--Like a rose? I will be happy if I can get it to smell like a #2 accident in an elementary school after the custodian piles his magic wood shavings on top of it.

Linda--Thanks. I wouldn't have had the courage or the momentum without the WWWPs...not to mention the critique nights full of laughter.

Claudia--Why are you talking about my rolls? I know, my gut is quite poochy right now, but really...Seriously, you're right. I've gotten some feedback already--even though no one has gotten to the end--and am anxious to rewrite the whole shebang.

Sue--Thanks, and you're right. I hadn't thought of it that way. Dur. (And I just commented on your post.)

Lynn said...

Sioux it's always a scary thing allowing someone else to tend to your baby... but it's in good hands. Bravo for finishing and letting go!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Lynn--My baby needs wiping, diapering and burping...

But you're right. It's in GREAT hands.

Renee Roberson said...

Oh, Sioux, my very first novel was such a stinkerific pile of poop that I'm embarrassed I even sent it out to a few agents and had the first 100 pages professionally edited. I was lucky enough to realize over time that it needed to be completely rewritten, re-classified into a different genre and taken from 80,000 words to 50,000. I learned so many valuable lessons from that experience and think I'm finally on the right track. I'm sure you are, too! I am so proud that your novel is now with beta readers! I'm getting ready to do that soon with my YA and am already bracing myself for the feedback. Good luck!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--"Stinkerific pile of poop" is another gem.

How many ways can a writer say "poop"? I guess the more we write, the more ways we can say it.

Yeah, the little feedback I've gotten so far lets me know I will have to completely rewrite it, from a different perspective, and include segues (hey, are those REALLY necessary) because it's a bumpy ride in spots.

Good luck with your feedback, once you send it out.

Tammy said...

You really inspire those of us who are still digesting and sitting around waiting for it to come out on the page!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Tammy--Yes, but once you (you, Tammy) have "digested" it and your lower intestines have finished with it and it "emerges," it's perfectly-formed poop...ready to be bronzed and sent off.

Anonymous said...

You finished a novel! That's worthy of celebration no matter what happens. Considering the vast numbers of people who claim they want to write a book, the percentage of those who see it through is small. You're already ahead of the pack! :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Lisa--You're calling me a "head case"? Oh, sorry. You're saying I'm "ahead of the pack."

Ahead of the poop patrol, perhaps...;) But seriously, thanks.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Oh, poop! I'm late chiming in on this post.

I'm impressed that you have finished your novel. I know for a fact that others who began novels (um, that would be me) still haven't finished!

If you were poop, which you definitely are not, you'd float to the top!

Sioux Roslawski said...

But Donna--You ARE going to work on finishing it, aren't you? (Sioux said as she gently twisted Donna's arm.)

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