Everyone has that one manuscript that really gives you a run for your money. I nicknamed mine Mr. Problem Child. I’m not sure how many revisions it endured, but it was a lot. My early drafts were riddled with plot issues, and my critique partners (kindly) called me on it. As I worked to address those issues, I somehow created new ones. I felt like I was playing Whac-A-Mole with my manuscript: every time I’d resolve a problem, two more would pop up.
When I finally got the plot in decent shape, my critique partners told me they weren’t emotionally connecting with the story. I struggled to infuse heart into a story that was heavily focused on humor. Every time I’d think, “There, I’ve done it!” my CPs would say, “Hmm… not quite.” Eventually, I set the manuscript aside. Maybe I’d pull it back out at some point, or maybe it would stay stuffed in the dark corner of my “drawer”, where its naughty little pants belonged, for all eternity.
In January of 2019, I won a mentorship through Tara Luebbe’s Picture Book Writing with the Stars contest. I knew that this was an incredible opportunity to have my mentor, Jason June, take a look at Mr. Problem Child. I wanted to put my best foot forward and send the manuscript in reasonably not-awful shape, so I dove back in during a #firebuttchallenge. (What in the blazes is that, you ask? It's a one-day writing challenge created by Katie Frawley and Michal Babay, and you should sign up! Info at the bottom of this post.)
First, I added (what I thought was) a hilarious plot twist. One of my most trusted critique partners told me it felt like it came out of the blue. Bummer. I tried writing in first person instead of third, which got a resounding NO from everyone who read it. I felt like I was losing a months-long wrestling match. Mr. Problem Child may as well have been sitting on my chest with his tongue sticking out.
I could’ve given up on this manuscript. I’ve given up on plenty before, when it seemed like they just weren’t coming together in the way a story should. I wondered if perhaps my efforts would be better focused on the manuscripts that weren’t making me dizzy? But in the back of my mind, I knew that it was a strong concept that was worth seeing through.
After a few more revisions, a lot of frustration, and a hefty dose of stress-chocolate, I settled on a draft to show Jason June...
Jas provided AMAZING feedback. He felt that one scene in particular wasn’t working, so we brainstormed ways to improve it. Low and behold, when we were done working together, Mr. Problem Child had somehow transformed into Mr. Might-just-be-the-best-thing-I’ve-ever-written.
Now, here comes the drumroll: when it came time to query, THIS was the story that landed me my fantastic agent, James McGowan of BookEnds Literary. I know, right? Whowouldathunkit?
It’s hard to have your work critiqued. You’re putting your heart… No! your blood, sweat, and finger cramps… No! your baby, out there for criticism. It’s easy to say, “Well, they’re wrong. The book’s good as it is; I’m not making any changes.” But if my critique partners hadn’t been honest with me, if they’d simply said “Oh, I love it!” and patted me on the back, I probably would’ve felt pretty good about myself, but I’d also have a terrible manuscript. So here’s the takeaway: assuming you trust your CPs (which you should!), ask them to be brutal. If they’re good critiquers, they’ll also point out everything they love about your work. Then, take your collective insights and make that manuscript shine!
Want to learn more about #firebuttchallenge? Visit www.katiefrawley.wordpress.com