My New Secret Weapon: Manuscript Workshops

20150209_BAS_My Manuscript Workshops
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If I ever manage to publish a book in English, the list of names on my thank-you page will be longer than a Leonard Cohen song, that much is already evident. But at this point, I actually believe I will manage to get a novel or two out there—because I have a wonderful support team of fellow writers and readers in my current manuscript workshops.

Regular readers of this blog probably know that I am currently working on the English adaptation of a novel I launched in German last fall, titled WHEN IF NOT NOW. At the same time I have started to work on my first original English novel and I am about 80 pages in. As the title has been changing about once a month, I’ll call it Project 2 for the time being.

What makes the first project so tricky is that as I am transferring the original story from Frankfurt to Seattle, so my characters are suddenly no longer German, but American—and have to show culture-appropriate behavior. And there are many more differences than you might think, starting from air kisses (Europeans do, Americans don’t) to what to give a good friend for her birthday.

The first draft was completed pretty quickly, but I was slow in getting back to it, knowing how much rewriting this project still required. And impatient as I am, rewriting is something I don’t enjoy too much. So I put it off for a while and got started on Project 2. I’ve had a few short pieces in English published in the past few months, but writing an entire novel in a second language is a different matter, I tell you.

So I decided to get myself some help, for both of these projects.

As regards WHEN IF NOT NOW, my plan is to turn the first draft into a decent manuscript by spring so that I can go ahead and hire an editor. This is usually the stage when I also ask a few people to be beta readers. The next step is incorporating the changes of the pro and the readers’ feedback—and the manuscript is pretty much ready to be pitched or published. (I haven’t decided which way to go yet.)

This time around, considering the special situation, I decided to add another step to the process: a manuscript workshop accompanying my writing of the second draft. So I asked a few girlfriends to be my ‘alpha readers’, giving me feedback chapter by chapter as I work along.

We have made our way about halfway through the book, discussing what does and what doesn’t work for an American audience over dinner and drinks, and this setup has proven so helpful I might stick with it for future projects. Plus, getting together with friends and talking about characters and storylines is just great fun. Every time I come home from one of these meetings, I feel totally inspired and usually go right back to editing—a task I usually despise, at least as far as my own manuscripts are concerned.

What I love, however, is doing development edits for other people’s works. (I am actually a trained editor, in case you should wonder.) So I decided to set up another manuscript workshop with friends: a peer review. So every week, I get together with one or two fellow writers, providing comments on the pages of their manuscript I have read the week before and receiving their feedback on my latest chapter in return.

If one of us feels they need more time to discuss an issue, they can ask for a one-hour slot during our two-hour meetings to go into greater depth. It’s my turn at our next get-together to discuss the outline of Project 2 so that I can drive both projects to completion pretty much at the same time.

Sounds ambitious, I know, but I am sure with the great support team I have built I will get it done. Here’s to a productive 2015!

Olivia de Winter is most of all an avid writer and reader. Though she likes to consider herself a cosmopolitan, she is quite European - or German, to be honest - in many respects.

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