Road to Published – Polishing your Manuscript

Write. Rewrite. Edit. Revise. Edit. Polish. Repeat.

Any writer worth reading after will tell you the creative process of writing is more often about the concerted effort of perfecting previously written words.

To that end, I have a library of books on the subject. I follow blogs of respected authors who address pitfalls. If you’re a writer, you should do the same thing.

If you’re just a reader, wanting to ogle a writer in their native surroundings, you don’t care about that stuff. You want to know about my process.

One of Many

PlotA gaggle of books have been written on this topic. (Did I mention I own an entire book case of tomes on writing craft?) My process isn’t the only way to take a manuscript from first draft to saleable pages.

My method is derived from the process James Scott Bell describes in his book Plot & Structure. I’ve detailed that in an earlier post.

I use several books to help me make each pass through my manuscript count. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Mastering Showing and Telling are two of these books.

Self-Editing devotes a chapter to the most common problems found in fiction manuscripts. There are exercises at the end of each to help you hone your editing skills.

Marcy Kennedy’s book gives a list of search terms to use in MS Word during the revision phase. When they show up in your manuscript, it’s a good indicator you’ve entered the realm of telling.  And we all know readers want us to show them what happens.

Start at the Beginning

Regardless of the process you choose, you’ll need to start at the beginning. You’ll need to face the fact that this revision, editing and polishing process is going to take longer than the actual writing.

Top three pages - the other 18 look just as lovely
Top three pages – the other 18 look just as lovely

That shouldn’t discourage you. In fact, experience writers tend to have a different view. After they’ve learned to effectively polish their manuscript, it helps them write a cleaner first draft.

Someday, you might write a cleaner draft, too. I know I haven’t reached that place with my novels, but when I wrote three short stories back-to-back, the third one had the cleanest of all first drafts.

I begin by printing out the entire manuscript. I read through it, line by line – aloud. I replace weak words using my thesaurus. Sentences that are clunky on my tongue get rewritten.

Those pages look like a mass of lines and scribbles. At the end of a chapter (or three), I take the cluttered pages back to my computer and enter the revisions while they are fresh in my mind. Sometimes, I revise these as I’m typing along.

Once I finish this, a minimum of three full days of work, I compile from Scrivener into a Word document. And let the searches begin.

I’m looking for all “to be” verbs and exchanging them for strong action verbs when possible. I’m eliminating adverbs and tightening all sentences to their barest.

After this stage, I usually walk away from the manuscript for at least a week. When I return, I can use the search function to eliminate repeated words. One of my published author idols tells how to do this in one of her posts. I recommend reading her whole “Gold Mine Manuscript” series.

When you’re finished – you’re NOT

Whew! All done.

Wrong.

Now, it’s time to reprint the manuscript. Read it aloud. Line by line.

Some people recommend starting from the end. I haven’t tried that yet, but if you’re already sick of your story, this might be a way to see it from a fresh perspective.

More scribbles appear on your crisp pages. Each day of grueling editing work is followed by the data entry aspect.

Eyes burn. Words swim across your vision. A woodpecker takes up residence inside your skull – rapping out a message in the middle of your forehead.

If you can convince someone else to proofread the manuscript once you finish this “polishing run,” your manuscript will be better for it.

Otherwise, plan to take at least a week away from it between the final red-pen pass and the proofing stage.

Write. Rewrite. Edit. Polish. This mantra repeats over and over for every story, article, and book I breathe into existence.

Publishing isn’t just vomiting a story onto the page and sending it out to be loved. Writing takes work.

Before your story is ready to step onto the stage of being marketed to agents or editors, or be independently published, you will never want to read it again.

I’m serious.

What is your favorite step in this process? Least favorite? Does anything in my process surprise you?

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.