Writing / Editing Tips

How to finish your manuscript in 3 steps

How to finish your manuscript

That’s right. 3 steps. You’re probably reading this thinking I’m off the wall crazy.

So let me explain.

The ideas that influenced one of my first complete novels, which I finished (first draft anyway) in 2014 and will debut in 2018, came to me in 2004/2005. I wrote several prologue type scenes, several pages of the story itself, exploring different characters, different POVs, even exploring different genres, but I couldn’t really nail down a solid genre, nor could i nail down a solid story line. Part of the problem was, I would continually go back and edit EVERYTHING I wrote. 

This was a continuing problem for several years. It wouldn’t be until 2010 that I would actually finish my first manuscript: a YA adventure novel, which is currently still in revision (mainly because I’ve taken time away from that to write a 3 book Christian Romance series) But the important bit here is that I finished it from beginning to end.

How did I finally finish my YA adventure WIP? How did I bust out the first draft of my soon-to-be debut novel in less than 6 months? By writing the first draft in its entirety, and editing later. 

How to finish your manuscript in 3 steps.

#1 Outline/free write – to get an idea of your story, where you want it to go. Some writers are more organized, some are more into pantsing free writing and letting it organically develop

#2 DON’T edit – for better grammar,  better sentence structure, better word choices, eliminating passive words etc. DON’T do it. Yes, you’ll have to make changes as you go like character names, settings, plot direction. But whatever you do, don’t nitpick the thing to death.

#3 Keep writing until you’ve written The End!

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 Once I sat down to write and kept these steps in mind as much as possible, I was able to finish, not only the YA adventure, but also my debut novel manuscript, and two other corresponding manuscripts in a relatively short amount of time.

I have read so many authors’ posts and comments on Facebook writing groups, saying. “Oh there’s no way I can do that, I have to edit as I go,”  Maybe it works for you. I’m not saying it doesn’t work for some people. But for me, the bigger problem wasn’t even the constant editing, it was the fact that going back and editing dragged the process out so long that it became discouraging for me and I continued to lose motivation. Somewhere along the line, I stumbled upon the advice that your first draft is not meant to be amazing. It’s meant to be a work in progress, that’s why it’s called a work in progress. Tweet: Your first draft isn’t meant to be amazing. It’s meant to be a work in progress, that’s why it’s called a work in progress #amwriting

Without this advice, I would not be where I am today. So, I write this post today to tell young writers what I wish I had learned years and years ago.

The best part about allowing yourself to write straight on through? Your writing will become organic. The more you write, the more ideas will spring forth as you write. For me, the most exhilarating part of the process of writing is blocking off those long stretches of hours where I can sit and write and allow my ideas to branch off of each other. My characters become more realistic, deeper, fuller. My plot becomes fuller, the scenes more authentic, built off of scenes beforehand. If I stop and edit every chapter, or every handful of pages, I miss out on that flow.

Will my draft be perfect? Nope. Will my ending or even my beginning be the same? Maybe. Probably not. Will I have to go back in fill in holes, transitional scenes? Of course. Will I have to edit like mad to fix grammar, plot holes, inconsistencies? Absolutely. But Editing is usually done in three segments, and the first one is developmental, which means looking at the entire body of work as a whole. So you may have edited chapter 5 like 100 times, but then end up cutting half of it when the book is written in it’s entirety. Or, as I have done multiple times, you may change your beginning, or change your ending, and any nit pick editing done prior becomes moot.

All that little nit pick editing doesn’t matter, until you’re completely done with your first draft. And guess what? The more complete manuscripts you write, the more your writing will improve! The more your writing improves, the easier your newer manuscripts will be to edit after you’ve finished the first draft. But that first one or two or five will probably be awful, and you know? That’s okay!

Your turn: How did you finish your first draft? How long did it take you?