My Revision Process for Manuscript #2

For what seems like months, I have been fretting over revising my second manuscript. With Underlife, I felt I had “lived” with many of the poem for a while. I was comfortable with the order, and only made minor tweaks down the line. This time around, the process seems accelerated—like speed dating!

I started putting together manuscript #2 in June 2009, and then last month I blew it up. I added more recent poems. During the first go-round, I left out poems to avoid certain painful topics. But just like life, I can’t leave anything out. By leaving out poems about divorce, the first version seemed as if it was missing something. Then there was the "Misery Islands" long poem—I must have started it in September '09. It was ambitious, beginning with great sound and fury. At some point, backed away from it. Maybe I was too close to the breakup to really work on it.

So last month, I dove into these projects in earnest. (All those times I said I was working on the long poem or the manuscript—I wasn’t. Not really. Not like this.)

If you know nothing else about me, you know I am goal oriented. When Jennifer Jean and I decided to go on our writer’s retreat, I put a stake in the ground with a deadline. I started what is now the working copy of the manuscript.

Here are a few bullet points about my process, because I’m tired of paragraphs:

  • This iteration has 55 poems/ 63 pages. That’s trimmed down from 77 poems/85 pages.
  • I laid out all 77 poems on the floor and took out poems I didn’t want to include.
  • Because I write about the same themes from different angles, I chose the best poem(s) on similar topic for inclusion.
  • I’ll keep the others for future projects.
  • On the second pass, I put them in their current order.
  • I have two out of eight sections of the "Misery Islands" poem to finish.
  • One-third of the poems, including "Misery," needs revision.
  • No title for collection #2 as of yet.

Jennifer was my first reviewer. I needed her input to let me know if I was on the right track. I’ll take the next few weeks to rework then revise. They I’ll send it out for review to six or seven poets for the second round in August. Getting multiple critiques helped me immensely the first time around. I take the feedback that makes the most sense to incorporate into the next round. And then, I’ll pass it to a smaller group for feedback. This group will be a broader group of writers and non-writers. You know … readers! Finally, I hope, it will be ready to submit. No firm timelines here but I’d like to have it ready by October for submission.

There are no guarantees the second time around. I just hope the second collection conveys growth, and a certain strength of character. Don’t know why that’s important, but it is. And, I'm happy with the quality of work, and the depth and range of subject matter.

If you’re working on a manuscript, what is your process like? Do you have multiple readers before submission or do you go it along? How’s that working for you?


Rethabile said…
I'm working on a manuscript. I still feel it's not the end of the process, yet. I've been writing poems for a while, put together a MSS three years ago and submitted it. Then the crunch hit, and several houses, some of which had already accepted it, pulled back.

I'm glad they did, because in the time since then, I have written more poems, grown a bit more, and re-read and revised with more insight.

The manuscript was 50-something poems long. It is now 40-something poems long. Size doesn't matter (pardon the cliché). I want to have poems that I like in my book, I want to have a book I would have enjoyed reading.

If I have 40 good poems in a book, I'll be happy.

Following your suggestion, I spread my poems on my dining room floor and pondered them. Thought of organisation, theme. And I did find a suitable order (this was three years ago, about). I don't feel I should section the MSS; I'd just like to group some poems and have them follow one another, trying to keep some kinf of coherent flow to the book.

I need time. I need time to grow and read more and learn more and live more, so that I may reflect all these in my work.

I showed my MSS to two poets I admire. I know that they liked some of the poems therein, but I also know that I think some of them aren't "complete"...

The urge to have a book out is strong, but I need to bottle it long enough to write good poems. I think I will be ready with a MSS in 6 months to a year.
DJ Vorreyer said…
Interesting for me to read about this. I always struggle with trying to decide whether or not a manuscript really needs a cohesive thread through the whole thing -some collections I read have it and some don't.

So far, I have only put together chapbook manuscripts, which are usually more focused since there are so few poems.

I have the goal of working on a full-length collection over the next year. I write mostly shorter poems, so for me the number of poems is significant as most houses want anywhere from 48-80 pages.

Thanks for the insight into your process - I look forward to reading more.
January said…
Thanks DJ. I like reading about how others tackle big projects, so reading about process is helpful to me, too.

I like having a cohesive thread, and sections, but there's certainly nothing wrong with a collection (meaning: a grouping of poems not bound by themes or arcs).
January said…
Rethabile, sounds like your manuscript has had an interesting journey. Your process will lead to a much stronger collection. Take all the time you need to create something you’re proud of.

I want a strong collection of poems—no weak spots, no transition poems to maintain the theme.

Nice to hear that you're not rushing to produce something you're happy with. And I’m sure once it’s out there, it will be picked up right away.
mareymercy said…
I'm just now working on ms. #1. I'm reading the book "Ordering the Storm," which is helpful. I must admit your archives of your first ms. process have been helpful as well. All I've done so far is winnow the poems down to a big stack that I think are decent - step #2 is to narrow them down and come up with a order. Then I have two friends lines up to review it, and I'm sure I'll add at least two more people to the list. As far as WHERE I will send said ms. I do not know. Will figure that out later!
evelyn.n.alfred said…
Wow, your process is great to hear (or read rather).
January said…
Evelyn (et al), Check out Diane Lockward's post on her experience with book contests and reading manuscripts as a reader/judge. Seems appropriate for this conversation:
January said…
Twitches, you have a good process already. Putting together is easy compared to sending it out and the emotions that go with putting your work out there to be judged.

I have no doubt that you'll find a publsiher when ready.
Jessie Carty said…
thanks for sharing your process in all of this!

my 2nd manuscript really took a lot of turns as I tried to shape it. the version it is in now is actually the original overall order that I had, funny how i returned to it. I actually took it out of its original form because I was reluctant to have sections. I went back to the sections.

When i started to realize I might have a 2nd manuscript was when I noticed how many individual poems I had published. Once I had close to 50 that weren't in the first book I started trying to look for themes. It took a while but eventually I realized I had a good 4 solid sections that all seemed to work together.

I weeded through mine in much the same way you described, just looking at them and grouping them, letting go of ones that weren't as strong.

I had 3 people read the first version and then the more revise version only went to 1 or 2. I don't have as wide of a number of people that I would feel comfortable burdening a whole manuscript with.

The hardest decision for me was deciding how to proceed with the 2nd. I sent it to contests for a while but now I'm trying to decide if I want to keep doing that...I might have some news soon about it though..sooon :)

Good luck with yours!
January said…
That’s interesting, Jessie, that you went back to the original order. I’m amazed at how many poems you publish—just incredible.

Keeping our fingers crossed for your next book!
Unknown said…
Hello January! My name is Ann and im in prof. Jeans class at Salem State College. I enjoyed your poems and your readings in class. I never knew that the revision process was so intense. I have written many poems and to be honest I've only revised two of them. For some reason I cant get myself to revise them or change them. I like them the way the are. When I wrote those poems I wrote them just to have fun. Some of them because I had a lot on my mind and writing helps me express everything that I had in my mind. Maybe someday I will like to write a poem book and include some poems but how will I be able to revise them if I think they are just fine the way they are. Thank you so much for sharing your revision process I know that its reall going to help me!
January said…
Hi Ann. I will post a response on the blog later today. Thanks for your question.

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