Manuscript: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

First, some advice: don’t you dare publish your work without it being thoroughly edited, read through, rewritten, edited again, and read through again. At least.

If you don’t, it’s easy to spot and makes your work look unprofessional. I think, and this is purely speculation on my part, part of the reason independent writers aren’t taken as seriously as the house publishing is due to quality control–or lack thereof. It’s very easy to spot when someone hasn’t read through and rewritten their work. There’s a lack of consistency, except in errors, and the flow is disjointed.

There is no reason, and quite frankly, no excuse not to comb through your manuscript multiple times.

On the opposite end of the spectrum you will never, ever, be completely happy with it. Eventually you will have to put it down and move on.

This is just another prime example of finding that perfect balance we face as writers.

I’m going to post, in order, my own method for working and reworking my own manuscript. I’m very thorough, which, I can honestly say I’m guilty of never putting it down.

Pre-1st Draft: Detailed Outline. (I used to be a pantser, but no longer!) I put every little thing into this outline. Including, who’s in the chapter, where it takes place, even the time of day and weather. I also mock up calendars and moon phases, it’s a lot of work at the beginning but it really gets you in the mood for the world you’re building (if you’re building one) and if nothing else ensures that you will be consistent. I also make up character binders for consistency (I have a tendency to forget eye colors for some reason). I create a simple map and a draft of basic culture (gods, holidays, etc.). Then a very brief history of the world (unless it takes place in ours). Yes, I think that’s it. I know, it’s a lot! But it makes for less of a headache later on, believe me. The outline alone is over 30 pages on DB:C, but it has helped out so much.

1st Draft: Just write it, seriously. If you veer from your outline, it’s more than okay. Go with what’s natural and keep going, you can make adjustments to your outline later. Try to do 1k words a day, you’ll pop out a novel in a couple of months without realizing it. On the days you go for more than 1k, celebrate a job well done. On the others you don’t, that’s okay. Just pick it back up. If 1k a day is too much, try 500 words instead.

2nd Draft: I make final changes on my outline that reflect any notes made while writing the 1st draft. Then, I look at the overall picture. I take a lot of time to read over the outline for each character, watching for inconsistency of place and time. Do I have any large gaps between sightings of main characters? Then, is this scene necessary? If I have two scenes together in the same place with the same people, I merge them together. I check for plot holes and action. I read through, thoroughly, and make notes of what I want changed and improved on. Such as, lack of detail, fluidity, plot holes, etc. I gather all of those notes together and make the changes to my outline. I also see if I have left anything out, such as an important plot point. I make room for new scenes and I make decisions on cutting out those that are slow and unnecessary. Then, I prepare for the rewrite.

3rd Draft: By rewrite (as advised by M and M), I mean a sit down, start from scratch rewrite. But wait! I just wrote out the first draft and tidied up the 2nd. What do you mean? Well, the easiest way to say it is this: have your 2nd draft opened up on the left and your 3rd on the right, each taking up half the screen if you can. Side by side, begin to rewrite it. You can copy down (not cut and paste, but retyping) what you have on the left to the right, but in doing so you catch things. Things you wouldn’t have noticed just reading. Something may feel strange, or out of place. You fix it. Rewriting in this manner ensures fluidity and that your voice isn’t disjointed throughout the novel. We all know that our voice can change in the span of a year. When your novel is very long (like mine) it’s best to do it this way. Be sure to read some of your work the previous day to get back into your voice. Is it more work? Heck yeah it is, but it will absolutely pay off. I resisted this version of a rewrite because it felt so intimidating, but I have no regrets. It has increased my time spent on my manuscript but goodness, the difference is huge! The 3rd draft/rewrite is also the time to add in those extra scenes, and they fall right into place naturally. Continue to edit and cut, make the changes as needed. Do this to your whole novel. Start on the first page and end at the last. Some people mistake rewrites as only rewriting portions of your novel that need work, but this is a different creature. It’s a whole makeover.

4th Draft: This is the time to do line editing. Read through checking for spelling errors (not just using word spellcheck either), grammatical errors, formatting, and anything else you may catch. This is the final stage before sending it to an editor/beta reader. Then, you wait.

5th/Final Draft: Once you get back your work from your editor/reader, time to set about making those final changes. No matter who reads your book, they should realistically have constructive criticisms and point out inconsistencies and problems throughout your novel. As always, you can take or leave whatever advice is given. Something to be said though, is if more than one person brings an issue to your attention, odds are you should look at changing it.

Five drafts seems like a lot, but if you’re going for quality it isn’t. You have to be your own team of editors to crank that baby out for publication. If you’re like me, and don’t really have groups of people at your disposal to ensure the success of your novel (I do have a hardcore handful of people though <3), it’s really up to you. It’s always best to clean it up as well as you can before handing it off to anyone to read. Not just professionally, but even a local writer’s group would appreciate a sweep through on the most basic level. It’s a courtesy. Show yourself and your hard work more respect than that.

I know, it’s your baby. It’s mine too. My debut novel isn’t out yet and I’m mentally bracing myself for bad reviews (not everyone is going to like any novel). There are bound to be some, if not many. I comfort myself with knowing that even the most successful of authors get bad reviews. The most beloved of worlds aren’t appreciated and that any attacks on my book aren’t an attack on me (even if they are I’ll tell myself they’re not). That being said, I can rest well knowing that I did my best. Combed through every detail and prepared my manuscript. If I seem a bit preachy, it’s because far too many times (as a reader, not just someone who does this daily) I have seen wonderful stories with the best potential ruined by poor editing or grammar.

I’m hardly an expert. I’m not an award winning or New York Times bestselling author. This blog is about my own journey towards what it takes to get out there and just do it. I’ve been writing for as long as I could hold a pen (no exaggeration, I have proof via sloppily written stories on wide-ruled notebook paper). It’s a big step to go from the privacy of my own mind to letting others read and scrutinize. I’ve been a writer all my life, and now I’m hoping to share some of what I see, some of the places I escape to in my darkest times, with the world. It’s a very vulnerable and terrifying experience. It’s not just about supplementing an income or trying to be a recognizable name, (in fact, success terrifies me truth be told), but about following in that tradition of most sacred kindergarten rules: sharing is caring.

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