I’ve Finished the First Draft of My Manuscript. What Now?

Good feeling isn’t it? Enjoy it, because writing the first draft of your manuscript is the fun part of being a writer. The hard work of turning your book into a saleable product is next. Yes, it is hard work.

The next step in the process is for you to rewrite your manuscript. For me this means rewriting the manuscript four times.  I know upon reading this you have let out a loud groan, perhaps followed by a string of epithets. On one hand the rewriting process is tedious. On the other it is very rewarding because you see writing mistakes you made; ways to improve a sentence or paragraph; spotting a character who is in a scene he or she shouldn’t be in; time issues; and an infinite amount of other problems you need to correct—and learn from. You may even feel yourself growing as a writer.

Rewriting complete, the next step is to ask fellow writers, family, and friends to be beta readers. Beta readers are folks who are willing to read your manuscript and give honest—and I mean brutally honest—reviews of your book. If you’re lucky enough to have fellow writers go over your work, that is a huge plus. They should know what to look for. To other beta readers I recruit, I tell them to be brutally honest and assure them I can take the criticism, because only honest critiques will help me make my work better. I tell them to point out scenes they don’t like, passages that are boring, characters that don’t resonate, parts of the book that are confusing, and other similar issues. Remember, you need to have the skin of a rhinoceros to be a writer.

I try to recruit eight to ten beta readers, knowing I’ll only get four or five responses. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just human nature at work. The responses I do get back are usually golden and help me make my book much better. Why? Because when we write we are alone in our head, mucking about in our own little world. Our brain writes a great novel with vivid scenes and roaring action faster than the speed of light. Our fingers can’t keep up on keyboard, but our brain still inserts its version into the text, but it’s only visible to us. Beta readers are outside our head. They apply the real world to our story and see what is missing or doesn’t make sense. Of course, the responses from beta readers means more rewriting.

When I’m through rewriting based on my beta readers input, it’s time to send the manuscript to a professional editor. When I say this to new writers the usual response is, “I can’t afford a professional editor.” No, you can’t afford not to use a professional editor. Every time you publish your work, you are defining yourself as writer. If you publish a shoddy product, it will adversely affect your reputation as a writer. It’s hard to overcome a bad first impression.

There are five kinds of editing:

  1. The acquisition editor. This editor works for a publisher and edits submissions for possible publication. This editor is mainly looking for a good story and that the author has writing talent.
  2. The developmental editor. This editor edits the work for story development. He makes sure all elements of a good story—character, tension and conflict— are present and fully developed. Sometimes the developmental editor will work with the author to write the manuscript.
  3. Line editor.  A line editor makes sure every sentence, scene and chapter moves the story forward. They are looking for the way you use language to communicate your story to the reader. They ensure your writing clear and easy to read. They help you make sure the story is moving forward with the proper emotion and scene setting.  
  4. The copyeditor. There are three levels of copyediting. They are light, medium and heavy. What level of copyediting you need depends on how clean of a  manuscript you present. A copyeditor looks for spelling, grammar, syntax and consistency. Copyediting can overlap with line editing and proofreading.
  5. The proofreader. A proofreader looks for any and all mistakes left in the manuscript. This includes spelling, grammar, sentence structure and formatting.

You most likely won’t need all of these kinds of editing. The truly essential one is the copyedit. A trained and experienced editor knows what to look for and what corrections are needed.

As you can see, getting your book ready for publishing is hard work. If you are serious about writing, you need a high level of dedication. In the end it will pay high dividends for your writing career.

The Writer’s Journey

Ever have those moments when you say to yourself. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” When I retired in 2009, I started my third career. I became a writer. Since then three of my novels and several short stories have been published. Over these seven years, I have attended seminars, conferences and talked with writers. I would hear words and phrases describing writing techniques and would ask about them and get vague answers.

One day I was talking to one of my writing friends for whom I have high regard. I asked about a description of the sentence she mentioned earlier at a critique meeting. She couldn’t remember what she said, and I was doing a terrible job at describing what she said. Finally, out of frustration I asked her, “What is the most important book on writing?” Without skipping a beat she replied, “The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler.” I bought the book and after reading the first chapter, I knew she spoke the truth.

Vogler explains storytelling. He tells the reader about the Hero’s Journey, the basic structure for all stories in some form or another. The author explains how the structure works, and the different ways it can used. An understanding of this structure is crucial for writers.
He explains the character archetypes and their functions, such as the Hero, the Mentor, the Threshold Guardian, the Herald, the Shapeshifter, the Shadow, the Ally and the Trickster. Through examples of stories in novels, movies and television, Vogler illustrates these archetypes and shows how to manipulate them to make your story better.

Next is the Stages of the Story. These stages consist of the Ordinary World; Call to Adventure; Refusal of the Call; Meeting the Mentor; Crossing the First Threshold; Tests, Allies and Enemies; Approach the Inmost Cave; The Ordeal; Reward; The Road Back; Resurrection and Return the Elixir. You can see the flow of a story in the names for the stages. This does not mean Vogler suggests a formula. Knowledge of how the stages work, will give you the ability to better manipulate them with your own creative power.

I wrote for seven years without the wisdom of this book. My first stories would have been better had I only known. It’s not that I didn’t use archetypes or story stages. I just didn’t understand them enough to use them in the most effective way. Now you know about this book. I highly recommend every fiction writer read A Writer’s Journey, Mythical Structure for Writers (Third Edition) by Christopher Vogler. Your storytelling will improve if you do.