Alpha and Omega

PhotobucketSnippets from my life of late:

Sister: So, is it done?
Me: It’s done, but it’s not DONE done.

Friend: When are you going to get that book published?
Me: There are a lot of steps to take before that’ll happen, and there are no guarantees.

Random family members: Do you have a publicist yet, an editor, a graphics-intense website?
Me: I’m going to look for an agent first.

Son: You deserve to get your book published. You’ve been working on it for like a world record.
Me: If passion and perseverance count for anything…

Romans take the New Year seriously and will literally throw out the old (clothing, furniture, refrigerators) before midnight. In years past, it was common practice to throw these things out the window. The streets, as you can imagine, were wrecked by morning.

I had a similar out-with-the-old experience this New Year’s Eve, because at 11:20 p.m. I finished my manuscript*. This manuscript, as my critique buddies and family members will attest, has been my constant companion for, er, too long to admit. Sure, I finished it once in a different genre and turned it inside out at least twice after that; and yes, I used the characters and story as a stomping ground for my writerly growth, but those details are almost beside the point. Unbounded has been my wip for what seems an eternity, and now all I have left to do is get it out there.

I feel a little sad about this. A little worried. A little lost. Because what if, after all I’ve done to get to this point, after all of the craft work and the late nights and the steamy deep-think showers, it fails? I’m not so egotistical as to think that’s not possible, even probable in this industry, though I feel equally sure the story’s strong and unboxed and deserving of notice. (I have to have some confidence, right?)

That asterisk beside the sentence “I finished my manuscript,” means I’m still engaged in wip tidying. Hunting down random misspellings, unnecessary wases and weres. They are the debris after my Romanesque New Year’s, my wrecked road. Yes, this nitty behavior might be considered STALLING, but I believe it’s good to do a final check once you’re confident your story is as close to finished as you can make it. If you do nit work before that point, you are to some degree, as my friend Elena would say, polishing a turd. Doesn’t sound very pleasant, does it?

So here, a list of things to do to polish your DIAMOND:

Photobucket Do a full manuscript check for weak verb placers like was, is, were and are, and “ing” words, and swap them out for stronger verbs when you can.


Photobucket Check for intensifiers like truly, totally, very, really and completely, and get rid of the ones that aren’t in characters’ mouths–and a part of that character’s fiber. In fact, check for ly words in general to be sure you really (koff) need them.


Photobucket Swap feeling words like happy, sad, angry for action beats.


Photobucket Look for words that reign in your scenes, like “seemed” and “tried,” to see if they’re necessary or if your text is more powerful without them.


Photobucket Read your manuscript aloud to ID those one-a.m.-draft misspellings and any lingering clunkers that Word just won’t catch. Listen for repeated words, too, then swap one of the extras for a synonym.



Photobucket Take extra time to proof your newest scenes and other story elements you may have added in the 11th hour. Though they may be golden as is, they might also suffer from having had less review. Read them on a few different days, too. Sometimes I think text flows beautifully one day and find it tiresome the next, and the next, and the…


Photobucket Search your desk for any remaining notes, then clean off the dust and pour yourself a drink. Drink it.


Photobucket SEND IT OUT.


Oh, Lordy, what will I do with myself now? No, wait, don’t tell me: Out with the old, in with the new. Got it.

Next week: The dreaded synopsis.

Write on, all!


About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.


  1. says

    It’s a diamond, everyone. A freakin’ diamond…don’t let Therese tell you otherwise.

    But these are good reminders. Especially about the stiff drink. :-)

  2. Lauren says

    Congratulations and great advice. When I finally finished my novel a year ago, I contacted agents all excited. A year later, I have done a major rewrite and assorted revisions, and created a much stronger product, which is finally ready for me to start querying agents.

    I still can’t believe I was foolish enough to send queries off so early. I wish someone had listed the above items to me before I thought my work was done!

    The best of your advise – the drink part!

  3. Cath says

    Congrats on your achievement, Therese!

    Isn’t it hard to let your grown manuscript out of the nest to see if it will fly? Here’s one of the last nit-pickin’ tricks I use before I give my little birdie the boot: I read the pages from the bottom up to find missing words or misspellings. Because when I read from the top down, I seem to insert the missing word or mentally make sense of the misspelled word. I read what I want to see. Backwards, I’m not looking to make sense, just find errors.

    Good luck with the next step. Perhaps you should pour another stiff one to fortify yourself :-)

  4. says

    I like your term “feeling words,” and what to do with them. Methinks a Flogging the Quill post will address that one of these days.



  5. says

    I’m so happy for you! :D Congratulations on finishing it. Now good luck in the future!

    I’m currently trying to write my first novel (between studying for college and all). It’ll take a while but I’m not in a hurry. I just need to decide wether I want it published in English or portuguese, so I decide the language. Until then, I write two versions.

    Have you ever written any other novels in the past?

  6. says

    Congratulations on being so close on the manuscript and good luck tackling the synopsis!

    And I would *never* call your stories turds. That is a technical term more suited to my own early drafts. :)

  7. says

    Congratulations, Therese, and thanks for the excellent polishing points. It took my editor to point out to me that I’d made the protagonist’s skin prickle at least six times in my current ms. I was more than a little mortified that I’d done this without noticing – what lazy writing!

  8. says

    Hi Therese,

    I feel as if I’ve seen the photo on your homepage somewhere in Europe… Where was it taken? Thank you! ~Sylvia de la Sancha

  9. says

    Hi Therese,

    I surmise that the photo was taken in Roma and I was there about a year ago, so no wonder it looked familiar — happy new year! ~Sylvia

  10. says

    Hi all, Thanks so much for your encouraging words. Sorry for my delayed response here; I came down with a cold and spent most of yesterday lazing around with tea in front of the television. (Gasp!)

    Sylvia, do you mean the shot for this post? That is of Rome. (Part of my story is set in Rome!) The picture at the top of WU is somewhere in Europe too, I think. Kath and I fell in love with it when we were looking at WordPress packages for WU.

    Carina, thank you. Yes, I’ve finished manuscripts before, but not of this caliber. Actually, I have many, many picture book manuscripts in my cabinet. You can even read one of my unpublishable gems HERE. Best of luck with your novel!

    Cath, “bottom’s up” writing goes hand in hand with the drink part, doesn’t it? ;-)

    Juliet, YES, I should’ve added: Hunt down your personal cliches! That’ll have to be another blog post.

    Thea, you’re a sweet pea. Thanks.

  11. says

    Congratulations. Very few people can say they’ve written a novel. Fewer still can say they didn’t just throw together of a bunch of words, but sweated, polished, refined, deleted (sob!) and rewrote until it was really finished. Nice work.