“Just write it,” they said. “It’ll get easier once its on paper,” they said. Fine. You’ll just write it. But their advice isn’t working. Everything you write sounds like junk.
Time to dump your failed manuscript off the nearest bridge.
Or maybe you can hang onto that “failed manuscript” a moment longer, because I have a secret: Everyone’s first draft sounds like junk. Quit thinking that you’re some special failed-case. You can still be a great writer!
Writing is a process. “Just write it” is the first step, not the last. Once you understand the process, you can turn your “failed manuscript” into a story to be proud of.
Step 1: Write it
Yes, the first step is “just write it.” It doesn’t need to be pretty. It just needs to exist.
Resist the urge to backtrack for editing or revising during this stage. Now is not the time to be a perfectionist. The goal is to have something that resembles your final piece. You can fix it up later. It’s called a “rough draft” for a reason.
Step 2: Fix it
Before you start this step, take some time to step away from your story. If it’s a short story, you may only need a few days. But if it’s a novel, take a whole month. Yes, a whole month.
Once you finish your story, you’re either emotionally attached and consider it perfect, or you’re so frustrated that you want to start a bonfire and burn every last page. Taking a break gives your mind a rest and lets you look at your story more objectively. With a fresh mind, you can better revise your story.
Have a nice break? Good. Time to pull out the red pen.
Take everything you know about writing technique and apply it to your story. However, this isn’t the time to fix typos. Right now you should focus on revising–rewriting dialogue, strengthening your plot, removing unnecessary characters and scenes, etc.
Repeat as often as needed. Sometimes, a second draft is enough. More often, you’re not satisfied until draft 10.
Step 3: Polish it
Imagine you have a job interview. How do you dress? I hope you don’t show up in pajamas.
First impressions matter. Just like you want the interviewer to see you as professional, readers and editors deserve a neatly formatted, typo-free story.
Grammar errors, typos, auto-correct’s pesky respelling of your fantasy characters’ names–they need to go.
Make your computer work for you by using your word processor’s built in spellcheck. Next, do a careful read-through yourself. Computers don’t catch everything. Ask a friend to proofread your story, too, so it gets a second set of eyes. They will find errors that you missed and enjoy a sneak-peek at your latest writing.
Also, pay attention to formatting. Many editors reject manuscripts simply because the author failed to follow the formatting guidelines. (Think a would-be bank teller showing up for the interview in a Hawaiian shirt and flips. Not going to work.) Before submitting to a publisher, check for any special formatting requests they may have and then follow their instructions closely. Many magazines want their short stories in Standard Manuscript Format.
Step 4: Share it
Many hesitate to share their writing. J R R Tolkien almost didn’t publish The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was too long and an unpopular genre at the time. Aren’t we glad he shared his story anyway. Tolkien’s work paved the way for fantasy to enter the mainstream.
Every story needs fixing and polishing and perfecting–but one day, you must share it!
Several years ago while talking to a mentor about my writing, he asked me, “Has anyone read it yet?”
At that point, I’d written plenty of short stories and the second draft of a novel, but kept them all closed to me–practically under lock and key. There was still so much to fix. Of course no one had read it yet! “It’s not ready,” I said.
His reply struck home. “Talents are meant to be shared. Your stories won’t do anyone any good until they read them.”
Don’t let fear of imperfection immobilize you. Don’t hold back the gift only you can give.
Four steps: write it, fix it, polish it, share it. Every successful writer uses this writing process. In fact, many hire professionals to coach them through the process (aka editors).
And don’t ask me how many drafts this poor blog post went through.
If the writing process seems simple, that’s because it is. Use it. You won’t believe the wonders it works on your writing.
Esther Davis writes family-friendly science fiction & fantasy. You can read her stories on this blog and in her book A Dog, 3 Cats, and a Dragon available on Amazon. You can subscribe to her blog above (or below for you mobile users) and follow her on Twitter / Facebook / Instagram.