How To See Your Manuscript With New Eyes

Cut up your baby to reveal its secrets.

There’s something about staring at the same ol’ manuscript on the same ol’ computer screen hour after hour, day after day, week after week (etc.) that blinds us. It’s almost as if our story gets wired into our brain just as it does in our computer. It’s filed away in our head in perfect order and in its perfect place. In other words, it’s stuck. 

When this happens, we get stuck. We lose our ability to see fresh new possibilities. That’s when this simple but effective exercise comes in handy.

First, clear the floor of a room in your house, (ideally one that won’t be disturbed by children and large-pawed creatures.)

Next, print your story and cut it up, scene by scene.

Now, lay the scenes out around you and play with their order.

You’ll probably discover some interesting things. You might realize that a few scenes are in the wrong place. You might notice that something is missing.

I just did this with my current project, Raven In Gray. In one scene the protagonist, Raven, tells her lover that she’s considering leaving her husband. When I was reading my manuscript on my laptop, I didn’t notice any problems. But after cutting it up I realized that this declaration seems out of context and out of the blue. Where is the scene that shows the reader what finally tipped her over the edge, inspiring her to make this life-changing decision? Kind of important, right? But it was totally missing.

That’s what I mean when I say we become blind!

There’s just something about having your manuscript in your hands that triggers the creative part of your brain. Maybe it’s because words are the domain of the left brain. The act of playing with different size pieces of paper, and arranging them in a pattern, activates your right brain. That’s where creativity lives.

Now, if your manuscript is already at 30,000 words or above, the promise of this being a simple exercise might be a falsehood. Sorry about that. But even if you are super far along in your epic manuscript, if you’re feeling stuck, this process is worth the effort.

Is this an exercise you already do? How does it help your creative process?