Editing the Manuscript: A Ballad

Of all the relationships I’m involved in, the one I have with my manuscript is definitely the most complicated.

If I’d known it would be like this when I started, I might never have gotten involved with it. Because now that it’s pulled me in, it’s sucking the life out of me. It’s got me all emotional one minute and completely exhausted the next. It’s an abusive relationship, in a way — violent, even. I fight it, kicking and screaming.

And it fights back.

This is what it’s like to edit a manuscript that is stubborn, obstinate, and unwilling to change. Some of you know a whole lot more about it than I do. But for those who are less familiar, I’m going to try to explain it the best way I know how: in the form of a ballad. A love song.

Or maybe it’s a hate song.

I’ll let you decide.

Once, you were young, as gentle as a thought, as tender as a dream.

I was taken with you then, enraptured by your beauty, enthralled by possibility

And the hope of what you could become.

The hope of what I could become, too,

If I gave myself to you.

And so I did. I gave you my hours, my days, my weeks, my years.

You took them from me eagerly.

You took them from me greedily.

But I didn’t mind. I gave to you freely, invested in you wholly.

When I wrote my words across your blank pages,

I gave you my heart. I offered you my secrets.

traded them to discover your delicate lines and developing shape,

To clothe you in syntax and adorn you with imagery.

And when I finished, I looked you over, 

I held you in my hands, and I realized then

That you were not what I thought you’d be.

I saw the flaws in your seemingly perfect form,

Heard the awful grate of your inconsistent plot points,

Felt the sting of your awkward dialogue.


You were not nearly as beautiful as you’d led me to believe.

Betrayal! I thought.

I wanted to cut you open right then,

To slice right through your split infinitives and double negatives,

Let you slowly bleed to death one run on sentence at a time.

But because I cared for you, I was patient, I was kind.

I rubbed my fingers raw caressing your rough phrases

And smoothing out your repetitive expressions.

My imagination ran dry rescuing your story line

And reconstructing the characters you failed to develop.

But after all that I’ve devoted to you,

What have I to show for it?

What have I gained, besides a stronger claim on obsession,

A closer glimpse of insanity?

Yet I am an addict. I cannot stay away from you.

I will keep coming back.

I will always return to you. I will keep trying to save you.

It’s not you that I love.

It’s the idea of you.

But maybe…maybe that is enough. 

Maybe, one day, that will be enough.


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