Blog Request: Compiling Your Manuscript: Part 4 - The Final Revisions

From "It's 2 in the Morning, Do You Know Where Your Manuscript Is?"

In looking back over some of my older posts about creating my manuscript, I found this one about revising your final manuscript and things to ask yourself.

The main thing I want to stress about these ideas is that they are NOT to do early on in the creation process when the manuscript is still figuring out what it wants to me.  For me, this is something that helps near the very end of finishing a book manuscript.

So, here's some ideas that might help you as you revise--

Write a P.O.E.  (Paragraph of Explanation):  A paragraph that explains the main ideas, topics, concepts, and or subject(s) of your manuscript.
(Oh and by the way, this is SO not a technical term, so don't say it to your editor - Hey, do you want me to write you a POE? Or you'll look like a jerk.  I just made up the term for myself.)

I did one of these for my poetry manuscript, but I'm thinking this would also be useful in preparing a memoir manuscript as well.  I think it helps someone who has a mind that might be more spiderwebbed--everything just stretches out from one thing to another--and you can better wrap your mind around what you've just done.  I have a spiderweb brain, so this helps me.

So, how did originally come up with a P.O.E.?

Because I was so nervous for my big book release reading at Open Books, 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-- Again, 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.

So what to do?
Writing everything out--For me it helped me understand why my sections are sectioned the way they are to why the order of the poems-- it 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 in the morning and of course, the main one--  What is my manuscript doing? 

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




  1. M'am,

    Very interesting and helpful article. But what do you do if you write poems on random things? I have three which follow one idea and two which follow another? What do you do if you are a writer of poems in english in a market which has very limited readers of poetry? Am from India. It will be very kind of you to answer this query of mine.

  2. Thanks for sharing; this is good information. What do I write about? Hmmm... With poetry, it is so tough to get a handle on themes at first. For me... :grin:

  3. Ashwini's comment is intriguing: I immediately thought, "I would love to read a manuscript called "Poems on Random Things"! Would the "things" be grouped into categories of things, or follow an arc (such as moving from exterior things to more interior or private things?)? Does one thing lead to another thing (the way our thoughts flow by associations and remindings...)? I suspect that what would unify random poems about things is what stance or question about . . . "thingness" . . . connects the poems into a unified collection. To be truly random, perhaps that book needs to be printed on cards that can be shuffled--then read in any order! --Nancy P.

  4. Dear Anonymous/ Nancy P, M'am If you are reading this, thank you for taking out your time to answer my query. You have given some very good advice, I shall definitely keep all your ideas in mind. Many thanks once again!-Ashwini

  5. Ashwini, I DID read this :)

    I thought of your questions again a couple days ago when I was reading a book review by Elee Kraljii Gardiner. Her review (of the book "God of Missed Connections" by Elizabeth Bachinsky, in Canada) begins with these sentences: "The best books of poetry build a self-contained world of reason and meaning through the order of the poems. When two poems come into contact via their placement in a manuscript it leads to "parataxis"--the creation of a third meaning." I belive this "third meaning" happens even when the poems themselves might have been written at random, on disparate topics. Anyway, I am still thinking about your interesting questions. --Nancy P.

  6. Ashwini--

    But what do you do if you write poems on random things? I have three which follow one idea and two which follow another? What do you do if you are a writer of poems in english in a market which has very limited readers of poetry?

    ***I believe even writing about different subjects, there are always common themes-- loss, love, sadness, happiness.

    Poems don't all have to be about the same things, but can carry similarities.

    Also, I think one comes to poetry without readers, no matter where they are from, so that does not worry me. I believe it's about writing well and crafting the poem.

    Good luck to you!


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