Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Great Manuscript Exchange

After Rachel complimenting me on rarely talking about myself on this blog, I’m now going to… talk about myself. What else! Yesterday I bussed myself to the Canongate for a quick lunch with Andy Philip.

We talked quite a bit about poetry – the live scene, the current state of the publishing landscape – and we swapped the latest incarnation of our poetry collection manuscripts. Well, at least, I gave Andy my MS, but Andy had run out of reams of paper and emailed me his MS later. I’ve printed it out this morning (my office is a mess, but the paper is sticking out from beneath a mound of something).

My MS is radically different from what it was six months ago. Over two-thirds of it is new and rewritten material. Even I can’t believe this, but when I compared them a few days ago, that’s what I found. I think the changes have been much to the good, but I’m sure I’ll be told in no uncertain terms if I’ve messed it up.

In any case, Andy’s MS, now lying on my floor in funky yellow paper, is printed off and ready to read. It is fun playing at making manuscripts. Sooner or later, we will really have to send them out to publishers, although ‘later’ is the more frustrating but, no doubt, saner option. If a manuscript keeps getting significantly better, that’s a sign that it isn’t ready. If it can’t get any better, that’s a sign either that it is ready or its author is delusional, but readers like Andy Philip will be of help in assessing which applies in my case.


Cailleach said...

The life of a MS does evolve as does the writer who produced the poems. Someone once told me that a collection is like a snapshot of you, and you look back on it and think, 'what was I thinking, wearing that - and why did I wear my hair that way...?'

Arranging the MS is one of the most excruciating jobs there is - even when you do spread them all out on the floor and consider the links, it's very hard to tie it all together.

It's good to hear about your ms progress, even if you had to end up talking about yourself!

Rachel Fox said...

I hope I haven't made you self-conscious! I think I commented on 'the writing about oneself' business because it's such an odd offshoot of writing. I write because...I do, because I have to, because I like it, because some other people like it...but then you have to do a certain amount of self-promotion to get the poems out into the world and you can end up spending time on that (instead of writing) and, every now and again, hearing yourself and thinking 'what a bore, who wants to listen to you!'
So I'll shut up. Good luck with your book-to-be.

C. Carter said...

I have a MS that I've been revising, and I think Ms. Smith is exactly right about it feeling like a snapshot. Stepping away from one's work to get perspective can make the return feel like opening a time capsule.

It's also odd to note the things that seemed so vital and appropiate during the initial writing that seem unnecessary now. Sixth months away can make our own poetry seem like the output of a stranger, though one with whom we feel a bit more solidarity than other poets we critique.

How do you evaluate this manuscript yourself, outside of having friends review it? Do you read it out loud, take forced breaks, read it all at once and make comments, or just devote specific sessions to specific poems?

- Carter

Rob said...

Cheers, everyone.

CC, I tend to work with individual poems. I always read them aloud, even if my neighbours through the walls think I'm going crazy. I do try to spot links between them and shape my manuscript accordingly. At the moment, I still have work to do on the order. The ms I gave to Andy P was ordered in quite a slapdash fashion.

Getting distance from poems is vital, I think. So often, lines I was so pleased with myself for writing at the time become easy to scrap months later - with obvious benefit to the poem.