I’ve talked about starter manuscripts on the blog before, but not in much depth. I’ve seen a few other writers blog about them in passing; I figured now was a good time to dedicate a solid post to the subject.
Last week, I defined the term based on my own experience:
A starter manuscript is, effectively, the first full-length draft you write and bury somewhere. Although perhaps intended for publishing initially, it allows the writer a space he or she desperately needs: a space to write. A space to make mistakes, create shitty characters, blunder through metaphors, and construct plot holes with reckless abandon.
I think it’s that last part that I find most important. A starter manuscript is about practice. It’s honing the craft and giving the writer a format free of judgment. I may not be proud of the product, but I’m proud that I wrote a first novel of 80,000+ words. I know I’m capable of putting in the time and effort. I achieved something. I may not have medaled, placed, whatever – I showed up.
Those that have attempted a new workout regimen or athletic endeavor know where I’m coming from here. You’re not setting a new personal record (PR) every freakin’ day. Some days, all that matters is that you carved out the time to be present, active, and sweaty. It’s what sets you apart from the version of yourself that would have binge-watched Netflix, or made excuses, or simply said I can’t.
Ask any writer what matters and its that you write. Doesn’t matter where, when, how, or why, it’s that you show up and wage war against the blank page. Some days you will hate what you wrote. You will feel defeated, exhausted, and worse than when you started.
Why bother? Because throwing yourself on the mercy of your creative energy makes you a stronger writer in the long run. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be next week. But it will make you better. It’s about practice, about finding the limits of your creativity and surpassing them.
I’ve had interest in my starter manuscript, back when I went to more writing conferences and pursued literary agents. I chose not to pursue anything farther because I knew I could do better. I didn’t want to put that out into the world, to cross off options before I was ready.
I look back at some of the earlier things I self-published on this blog and I know that I have grown as a writer in the last couple of years. I did that. I did it with the assistance of others (an eternal thank you, always, to the 1:1000 team!), but I gave the time, then energy, the creative output.
When I began revising my starter manuscript, initially intent on finding representation, the voice in the back of my head said This is not your best. This is practice. Don’t settle. Push more. Work harder. Hustle your own damn talent.
Do not mistake fatigue for the finish line. Allow it to make crossing the finish line feel that much better.
(Note: Additional links from other blogs on the original post "The Starter Manuscript" @ manuscripts & marginalia)