A writing friend and I were discussing our manuscripts the other day. She’s a bit newer to the whole path-to-publication madness than I am, and she was bemoaning what she perceived as the shortcomings in her Work In Progress. “I read mine,” she said, “and then I read your manuscript, and I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to write that well.”
Now, I am not telling you this story to shamelessly brag on my writing. Rather the opposite, in fact. Because my answer to my friend was basically, “I don’t think I’ll ever write that well either.” You see, my manuscript, which my agent has out on submission to several publishers, is not what I wrote. My writing, quite frankly, is not nearly as good as what ended up in my manuscript.
So, what happened? My writing appeared in the first draft, lo, these many months ago. Then I edited. And re-edited. And sent it out to beta readers. And re-edited. And then did some major rewrites. And more re-editing. What the editors are reading (and hopefully falling in love with!) is not exactly my writing. It is my writing after extensive plastic surgery, weightloss, and a professional makeup job.
Really, have you ever seen those photos in the grocery store tabloids — Celebrities Without Makeup? Some of the most gorgeous women in the world look a little — or a lot — less appealing in the cold hard light of day, sans makeup, hair, and designer clothes. For example, take the incredibly gorgeous, incredibly talented Sofia Vergara. I love her in Modern Family, where one of the running jokes is how her over-the-top gorgeousness affects men. But I recently found a photo where Sofia was — how shall I say this? Not quite over the top. Here it is:
After you get over the shock, though, you can see the improved version of Sofia lurking somewhere in there. The woman in the first photo has great bone structure, good hair, and all the other things she needs. At this point, though, those natural attributes need to be polished to bring her up to the level we know and recognize as “Sofia Vergara.”
Your manuscript, hot off the first draft press, is the unmade up, greasy-haired, sweat-pants and tee-shirt version of your story. Don’t compare it to other people’s writing until you’ve hired it a stylist, done its makeup and coiffure, draped it in borrowed jewels from Harry Winston, and shoved it into Spanx and a beaded evening gown. When it’s ready to hit the red carpet, it’s ready to submit.