Manuscript CPR

Last night I slept on the couch.  DH wasn’t mad at me.  Rather, Middle Son was feeling a bit puckish.  On the whole, Middle has more tummy aches than there are species of insects.  When he gets sick, it’s almost always, “I’m gonna puke.”

Eldest, on the other hand, runs high temps.  105 is not unusual.  He almost never runs a fever under 103, and they typically last three or more days.  And that’s with Motrin and Tylenol switched ever four hours. 

My Dear Daughter was a strep throat sickie when she was little, and Youngest is a croup kid.  Dear Hubby almost never gets sick, but when he does, influenza puts him down and out for a week at a time.

It’s funny how different people are more susceptible to different illnesses. 

As writers, I’m sure we put our manuscripts at risk for specific illnesses as well.  I know I’m guilty of flat, supporting characters and misused prepositions.  THAT is a killer for me on rough drafts as well.  Because of these things (and more), my work is cut out for me during the editing process.

I go into an edit knowing I will have to perform CPR on my manuscript.  I will have to tackle some pretty major issues that keep my writing from being strong and healthy.  If I don’t, my novel will flatline.


  • C: Chart.  Diagnose your manuscript and chart the symptoms that need treated.  What are your weaknesses?  How can you fix them?  When I look at a character that needs some more life, I read my manuscript through with an eye only to that character.  I jot notes about what works and what doesn’t.  Take Mama in my chapter book.  She was simply there with no personality of her own.  After a lot of thought, I figured out she should be fastidious.  I charted the characteristics I wanted her to have: dusting and sweeping. 
  • P: Proceed.  Once problem areas have been pinpointed and charted, we need to treat the symptoms.  It’s not enough to diagnose our writing.  We must be proactive, no matter how daunting the task may be.  The next pass through my manuscript involved putting a broom or dust rag in Mama’s hands. 
  • R: Rediagnose.  The worst part about treating an illness is that the manuscript may still be sick.  Fixing one or two problem areas does not always give our writing a clean bill of health.  Sometimes, we have simply cleaned up peripheral problems that allow us to better see the underlying disease.  Other times, by treating one symptom, we get unexpected side effects that need to be addressed.  It does no good to clear up the fever, only to have a nasty rash take its place. 

How do you resuscitate your writing?  What diagnosis does your writing most frequently have? 



14 responses to “Manuscript CPR

  1. Excellent advice. I have one manuscript that probably could have done with some CPR but instead I shelved it and moved on because I just didn’t feel it could be saved. Maybe later on I’ll look at it with a more careful eye and come up with a diagnosis but it will probably just be the perpetually saved computer file.
    Thanks for sharing this post.

  2. I think that diagnosing is the hardest part. Once I’ve figured out what to do, I’m in good shape. Great post!

    • Layinda,

      The hard part is targeting the problem and deciding how to treat it. Oh yeah, and the motivation to get treat it! I’m sure you rock the house on this.

  3. I have my pesky little habits that creep into manuscripts. However, I am getting a bit better about some of them. Which really means, I’m switching that issue for a different one most likely. 🙂

    • Lisa,

      At least you’re making progress. I swear I have the same darn “tummy ache” every time I write! I wish it were as easy as taking a shot of warm soda and downing a couple of saltines! No, my prepositions haunt me and my supporting characters are flatter than Flat Stanley.

  4. I have to do surgery on my ms’s, cutting choppy stage direction sentences. So and so got up, went to the door, opened the door, went out….and so on…..forever….zzzzzzzz

    • Barbara,

      At least you know what you need to work on. And, those are easy enough to fix. You are better off just getting them down in the first place and revamping after your manuscript is completed.

      Best luck with the surgery. I hope your malpractice insurance holds up!

  5. CPR – I like it! 🙂

    I’m getting so much better at recognizing my weaknesses. I love Wordle for those overused words. And thank the writing gods & goddesses for Find & Find/Replace.

    • Jemi,

      I still haven’t tried Wordle, but love looking at my fellow bloggers word clouds when they post them. It looks like such a neat feature that I may have to try it sometime.

      Find/Replace can be a Godsend. If used right!

  6. I think a lot of my revisions are about filling in gaps. Adding foreshadowing, making sure I set the scenes well, checking the pacing, stuff like that. I actually really love revision because now I feel like I have a scaffolding to work with.

    • Kate,

      Like you, I adore the editing process. Sometimes it’s hard to hold off on editing until the manuscript is written. If your blog is any indication of how methodical and conscious you are of your writing, I bet your manuscripts rock.


  7. For my sickly MSs, I go back to my redneck roots and, well, what do you do with a sick hog?

    Yeah. I bury it, well away from my other work to prevent infection, start a new revision, and write it better the next time around. I rarely resuscitate or patch up a sickly MS or story.

    Once it is healthy, then I’ll add the finer points and comb and brush it.

    Perhaps my method would be considered the taming of a wild story, rather than the healing of a sick story.

    There’s a difference, you know.

    – Eric

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