Manuscript Impossible: Taking Control of You and Your Work

Written by Brendan O’Meara

A show I can’t get enough of is Restaurant Impossible on the Food Network. Chef Robert Irvine visits dilapidated restaurants in need of a facelift. He. Gets. Brutal with the owners and staff. He has two days and $10,000 to give them a second chance. It’s Extreme Home Makeover for restaurants.

Many of the restaurants have dingy carpets. Smells hit you in the face. Staff is unfriendly and unknowledgeable. Trash, clutter, and waste fester in kitchens. It’s a look inside the cluttered minds of these restaurant owners.

Robert blitzes in. He’s like Gordon Ramsey and Simon Cowell with Mr. Olympia biceps.

Here’s the show’s flow chart:

1. Establish how futile the restaurant is
2. Charts a course to save the restaurant, though can’t see how it’s possible
3. Atomic bombs the menu
3a: Brings in design team to make the restaurant over on tight budget
4. Work
5. Address underlying issues/Raise the stakes with staff and owners
6. Marketing new food to Chamber of Commerce
7. Re-open “new” restaurant. Tears flow (Yes, I get misty here. So does Robert: the drill sergeant becomes Pooh Bear)
8. Robert coaches the kitchen, iron out kinks on the fly
9. Epilogue: did the restaurant make the changes stick? Most do, some fail and fall back into the same habits that brought out the failure in the first place.

As I watch, I get motivated. Robert’s passion is undeniable for food and restaurants and he finds it insulting when others don’t take their craft seriously. It made me think: Am I doing what I can to uphold the craft of writing?

I too get insulted by people who do say they “would like to write a book some day,” as if all it takes is a little time and nothing else, just something they can squeeze in between lattes and knee surgery.

My manuscripts feel like the dingy restaurants, with complacent sentences hanging there because they can. Just because this sentence is written, doesn’t mean it’s great; just because it’s readable, doesn’t make it acceptable.

Whatever the manuscript and whatever the length, you can put yours through the ringer too: Manuscript Impossible. But you have to get brutal. It’s not enough to murder your darlings, you have to draw and quarter your darlings, put them on pikes outside bridges to deter invaders. Gruesome? Well, do you want to get on the right path or not? Good.

1. You’ve got a manuscript. Great! Also: B.F.D. Big fuckin’ deal.
2. It’s bad. You know this. But what must happen?
3. What scenes (in nonfiction, are there scenes? Do the Yellow Test) must go? Enhance?
4. Start trimming. It’s probably too long. This piece was 646 words. It’s now 601.
5. Evaluate work habits. Trash clutter as clutter leads to procrastination.
6. Allot time for social networking and promotion. Connect with readers and writers in your genre on Facebook and Twitter. Set a kitchen timer for one hour every morning and tend to this garden (visit and comment on related blogs. This feels like a waste of time, but it’s an investment. Bloggers = reviewers. We ain’t getting’ into the New York Times Book Review)
7. Wow. Look at that slim manuscript! It looks pretty good. You never knew it was in you!
8.But it can be slimmer. Every. Word. Show. Let’s not waste anyone’s time.
9. Epilogue: TBD

I’ve used this quote before. I think it helps in all areas of life, not just in writing:

One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.

—Bruce Lee


Now let me know what you’re up to in the comments.