notes on a read-through of my manuscript

It’s that time of the year again! I have some spare time, and I say “Alright, let’s work on these manuscripts!” only to run into the same issues again, as I have already talked about in an earlier post. Yet, as I read my work over and over again, and grow older with it, I am becoming more and more aware of the things I do as a writer and why I do them. So I’ve compiled some observations.

I read my own work differently than I read a book. I suppose this seems like a rather self-evident statement, but I noticed that when I read my manuscript on my computer or in print, I find that I am way more focused on editing and pruning that I would be with a book. I suppose this is because I can edit my work, while I can’t edit Native Son, but I also find that when I am reading, I am less concerned with the author’s convention, or the crafting of the narrative voice; I am less concerned with the craft of writing as it pertains to a faceless, eternally different author. I find that I am the same way when reading my friend’s work. I can’t help but read them into the text, and I don’t like this, because I don’t want people to read me into my texts, although that’s going to be impossible for the people I know closest who are reading my work. Without knowing the author and having a window into their mind, texts seem to exist only as consumable forms of media, and do not carry with them any contextual weight regarding their production.

Having Microsoft Word read me my manuscript helps. I suppose it makes things feel a little more real? There’s a function on Word 2016 (I’m not sure if it’s on older versions) that lets you read a document aloud. I ran Protean through it while I was a little down and self-reflective, waiting on my friend (who’s already on the path to writerly stardom) to respond to my rather anxious Facebook message. As I listened, I put away my laundry, and found that I was sinking into the story, less focused on that narrow, indistinguishably hairline boundary between good writing and overexpression. I just let the story unfurl, and I found that my anxiety was shifting from being weirded out by my own writing to being immersed in one of the anxiety-riddled sequences of the book. My works are imbued with a dark humor which makes me laugh (and I suppose that’s all that matters?) but this is to lighten a text which is nevertheless about being anxious. The entire story is about miscommunication, miseducation, mismanagement of emotions, of relationships. The sequence that the robot-person read aloud was quite heavy, but also quite immersive. I wonder if this is how people read texts… the robot voice put a distance between me as writer and me as reader, a necessary middleman. I find that I quite like the manuscript now. I just wish that I could find a voice that’s a little better at pronouncing the words and making them sound like human text.

My writing style is a little bizarre. Some would describe my writing style as biting. My characters, like myself, are often self-critical and sarcastic. They can vacillate between being quite mean towards other characters and feeling intense self-pity for themselves. I do not try to write my stories in order to reveal some sort of message or takeaway. My characters live their lives, beginning and ending at some arbitrary point, and it is not the destination which matters for them, but the journey itself. I have been trying to find work that mirrors my style, but the only work that I’ve read which comes close was NW by Zadie Smith. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid is also similarly biting.

 

I have too many projects at one time. I currently have about five active manuscripts; active meaning that I’m still working on them. I do not try to rush my work, and I give myself the time to reflect and come back to things with time. Works in the past that I have forced have come out uneven and not to my tastes (which are the only ones that matter in this situation.) I have a sci-fi-ish manuscript that I started writing in the fall, an ongoing project from my junior year that I don’t think I’ll ever finish (because it’s not very good), something I started writing when I was home for a break, my roman à clef which I never finished editing, and the attached manuscript about dissimulation that I, also, haven’t edited. I am hoping to finish up some of these manuscripts this summer and try to focus on maybe one project. I imagine graduate school will mean my writing will definitely hit some sort of snag, be it on this blog or in my creative work.

I write novellas, and have a hard time writing a full novel. I’ve written one novel-length work, and that barely met the margin. It was a novel I wrote my senior year of high school, and it wasn’t very good, although I’m not against the idea of having Word narrate it for me. I may find that it’s not as bad as I thought, although my writerly voice has grown a lot since then. Still, my most recent works are all within the range of a novella; very few pass 30,000 words, and I am worried that I will have some problems getting my works published. Some of the sites I’ve read have said that publishers will likely return it and say to expand on it, and my works usually finish themselves. In a perfect world, I can amass these works into a collection of novellas that is novel-length.

The lack of transparency in the publishing world is terrifying. Literature and its production are both an industry (insofar that there is a supply and demand) and an institution (insofar that literariness is culturally determined and subject to socialization). I am not at the point where my work is ready to be sent off, and I’m kind of happy about it because that is the most dreadful part of this. I’ve been getting rejection letters from literary magazines since I was in high school, but these were for poems and one-sitting short stories that didn’t have much emotional weight to them. Yet, these manuscripts which I’ve been working on for years mean a lot, and so a rejection letter (or a dozen) would have significantly more weight. And that’s not saying that they’re bad works, but that my work is perhaps not what the market is looking for, or that I haven’t yet carved a space for it. How I carve that space, I don’t know. I’m trying to write as much as possible, get this blog off the ground, educate myself, work on my writing, but my 16 year old self still is saying “wow, you haven’t met any of your (naïve, puerile) goals of publishing a novel at 21 yet.” I have pushed it back to 25, and then to 30, but I hope to get something out there, somehow. I have been entertaining this idea of cybersocialism (which isn’t the best name for this specific instance, but I digress), in which the architecture of the Internet as an inherently rhizomic space (everyone can see everything; very little is hidden) can allow for anticapitalist ways of community building and social engagement. As a writer, this means publishing my books online for free and allowing people to circulate them and engage with them, but I’m not sure how this would work. It’s a half-baked idea, and for a moment, I thought of just saving some nice formatted PDFs of my works and uploading them to my blog so people could buy them (with a pay-what-you-can model), but they’re honestly not ready for that kind of scrutiny.

Writing fiction is a skill I’m afraid I do not possess. With writing a blog, there are very few expectations; it’s almost automatist insofar that I just find a topic and just go with it. Especially these sorts of confessional bouts of introspection to which I am so annoyingly prone. I really didn’t expect this blog to become so unveiling, although I don’t mind it. There is a trend online about exposing the innermost self/selves for public consumption. I like it a lot, for I think the idea of privacy – or better yet, intimacy – lends itself somewhat dangerously to a Romantic rhetoric about the savior-lover, the person who will appear, out of nowhere, in your life and fix you like in that Coldplay song. The thing is: there’s nothing wrong with you, and there never was anything wrong with you. But I digress; writing fiction has its own conventions that I haven’t been trained to do. I suppose I haven’t been trained to write nonfiction or blog posts, but I really have academic writing in mind when thinking about how fiction is done. There is a story, and stories have conventions which we as authors and readers are able to break and mold to our liking, but the way that publishing works means that certain kinds of writing, certain manipulations of convention, are more preferred and profitable than others. I wish I could just write for writing’s sake and let my work meander about the publishing world, ending up on someone’s lap who will say “Wow, this Lee guy really is something” but I do not even know how to do that, and the market is so saturated that I’m afraid my work won’t really stand out. So I sort of just sit on my work, picking at it like Frenhofer, turning my work, which was fine from the start save a couple of typos and a bit too much flowery language, into a hodgepodge of descriptions and narrations which in its overwroughtness has lost its beauty. But who knows?

I hope academia will open doors for my fiction. Getting articles published, or publishing a dissertation may help to give me some credo in the novel-writing world. Maybe I’ll end up like DuBois; I’ll have works like The Philadelphia Negro or Souls of Black Folk which are still being read decades after my death while my novels, my Dark Princesses, rot away on the used bookshelves and in the African-American literature collections of university libraries. I would hate that, but if I don’t have the talent, there’s not much I can do. I’m not convinced that I don’t have that talent, though, but I am just so intimidated and turned off about publishing that I prefer to just not think much about it. I’d love to just make friends with some friends in publishing and just say “Hey, Tina, could you give my manuscript a look?” and have her pull some strings and bam! published. It doesn’t need to be on the NYT Book Review; I don’t need a Pulitzer. I just want to prove I can do it, and maybe even hear from someone (that I don’t know; who isn’t related to me by blood) that my book was enjoyable, or perhaps even touched them.  Maybe that’s too grandiose a dream.

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