It's 2 a.m. - Do you know what your manuscript is doing?

It's currently 2:04 am and I'm awake from a mixture of too much chocolate mousse, too much excitement from my reading and just enough poetry.  But since I am awake, I want to tell you one of the most important things I learned while preparing for my reading that I think might help you if you're working on a larger manuscript -- the paragraph of explanation.

P.O.E.  (Paragraph of Explanation):  A paragraph that explains the main ideas, topics, concepts, and or subject(s) of your manuscript.

Now while I did this for my poetry manuscript, I'm thinking this would also be useful in preparing a memoir manuscript as well.  Maybe a novel, but it's too early in the morning to think about that...

Because I was so nervous for this reading, I did something I do not normally do in such detail while preparing -- I sat down at my laptop and wrote out every word, thought, idea that planned to say at this event.   The interesting thing that happened is that while I wanted to explain how my collection came about, what all the poems meant as a whole, what my underlining idea or concept was in putting together this manuscript and what was I trying to achieve, I learned a few things about this process and about my manuscript.

And in doing this, I realized how helpful this would have been to me to do at about year two of my manuscript.  (BTW, this is really something to do when you find your manuscript is at a place where it feels "solid" to you and that you feel have a good manuscript-- I don't recommend doing this at the beginning stages when the work is just being created.)

Around that time (at about year two), I could see a manuscript coming together.  I could see how I wanted the poems ordered--  what I didn't understand is what I was trying to do in the manuscript.

Writing everything out--from why my sections are sectioned the way they are to why the order of the poems-- helped me in a deeper understanding of my manuscript I could have used early on in the revising-part of manuscript process.

I realized things I already knew, but in much a much greater view-- like how much Alice in Wonderland, Emily Dickinson, and certain images or ideas appear in my work.  I see it now (and did see it --though not as strongly--as I was putting the manuscript together) but when my manuscript was young, these connections were not as obvious, nor was the bigger picture of what I was trying to share or explore in my manuscript.

Sometimes if you apply for a grant, you have to deal with this early on.  Usually when you apply for a grant they want to know exactly what will you use the money for and what is your manuscript about.  It makes you stop and think and to really pinpoint your main ideas.  While I don't feel a manuscript needs to be a small pinpoint in a night of stars, but I do think writing out your thoughts as you move deeper into writing and revising your manuscript can be helpful.

Here are some things you might want to ask yourself--

1)  If someone were to ask me, what my manuscript is about, do I know?  How many sentences does it take to answer:  What is your manuscript about?   If it is only a collection of your favorite poems you've ever written, know that.  If it about the idea of loss based on an experience you had, know that.   It doesn't matter what the answer is here, you just need to understand for yourself, why you have chosen the poems you have chosen.

2)  Why have I ordered my manuscript the way I did?

Ideas for ordering a manuscript:
Narrative arc
Emotional arc
By theme/subject
By emotional/theme subject
Some completely different way
A few of the ways above combined

3)  Why do I have the sections that I have?

4)  Why did I choose my title?

5)  What do I want to reader to take away from this collection?

These are the main questions I think of at 2 am and of course, the main one--  What is my manuscript doing?

If you don't know, I'm not sure your reader will know.


So those are my 2 am thoughts after a wonderful reading tonight (er, yesterday).  I think I will pretend my creative non-fiction/memoir based book I'm working on is already published and pretend I'm giving a reading on it and try to explain what I am doing.

I will definitely do this for my next poetry manuscript, probably once I think I have a strong enough manuscript and have made it through the *creation* part (a part where I'm not sure too much knowledge is good), but during the revising part when sometimes writing our thoughts out can help us connect things in a stronger way.



  1. Worded differently, these questions could be a way for students to learn how to approach a collection to review and understand it.

    Diane Potter has a good post this morning titled "The Arc of Teaching a Poem".

  2. Thanks for posting your thoughts on putting together a stellar reading, er, stellar book. I agree 100%!

  3. First of all, CONGRATULATIONS on a terrific reading at Open Books, Kelli. You created a wonderful experience for all of us, generous and joyful. Secondly, thanks for this post, which comes at a particularly helpful time for me, as I re-order and re-title my manuscript for what feels like the millionth (but needs to be close to, if not THE, final time). Good questions to send me into my day. Thank you for that, and for LETTERS.

  4. Thanks for the good notes.

    I'm hoping this made sense as I don't normally write my blog posts at 2 am in the morning.

    I think I will reread it and see if it needs to cleaned up!



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