Journey of a Manuscript

I always enjoy learning about other writers’ processes and experiences, so having just completed the third draft of my current WIP, I thought it might be fun to share my book’s journey so far: from idea to third draft.

March 2020

I’d just received beta feedback on the 3rd draft of my YA WIP when the first lockdown kicked in. With my family permanently at home, I couldn’t focus on the next stage of edits, so I put the book on hold and threw myself into homeschooling and housework.

I lasted two weeks! Without writing, I felt suffocated. If joining the 5am writers club was the only way to write, that was what I was going to do. Knowing that I wasn’t going to be on top form at that time, I didn’t want to ruin my YA, so I decided to start a new project: an MG fantasy that I’d been daydreaming about over never-ending domestic chores. Because 5am is absurdly early for humans to function, I decided I’d need a strict, structured approach to writing this book, and so I started to plan. Premise. Character want. Character need. Inciting Incident. End of Act 1. Mid-point change. All is lost moment. Gathering the troops and storming the castle. Climax. Resolution. I’d never planned in such a methodical way, but it helped my weary, pandemic-stressed brain to focus, and, armed with my plan I was finally ready to get the story out of my head and onto the page (screen).

Tip: Unless ‘pantstering’ is the only way your inspiration flows, I strongly recommend spending time on planning – even if it’s just the key plot point scenes. This was the most rounded story I’ve ever produced in a first draft, and it was down to the planning.

October 2020

First draft complete! I put it to one side for a couple of weeks, re-read and realised that my traumatised main character often came across as unpleasant, and at one point, purely evil! I’d also let myself get carried away with descriptions and observations that clearly belonged to a 44-year-old writer, not a ten-year-old adventurer. Also, inevitably, as the story had padded out beyond the initial plan, a couple of minor plot holes had developed. The focus for Draft 2: to develop the MCs inner conflict so she no longer seemed evil, to give her a consistent voice, and to plug those plot holes.

Tip: My MS is written in close 3rd person. Slips in tone and voice are easily made when writing from this point of view. An author friend said that she sometimes rewrites scenes in first person, then changes back to third once she’s found the voice. This is a great tip. Whilst I didn’t actually write it down, I often paused to imagine each paragraph in first person as I worked through the second draft.

December 2020

Second draft complete! The plot holes were plugged, although I wasn’t entirely happy with all of my solutions. My MC was no longer evil, and her voice was developed. HOWEVER! I had given her a few idiosyncrasies and knew I’d gone over the top. I also had a character with ME and needed to know if I’d conveyed the condition realistically and sensitively. I am part of a great group on Facebook specifically for MG writers, so I put out a request for sensitivity readers with direct experience of ME. Immediately, I got two responses, and with a promise of doing a beta read for them in return, I sent my second draft off.

Tip: If you’re writing outside your direct experience, seek the support of sensitivity readers. If you’re not sure how to connect, do a search on Facebook or Twitter (or Instagram, but I don’t use this so much), and join some of the amazing communities of writers and editors. There will always be someone to help you, and you can offer to beta read for them in return.

January 2021

Sensitivity feedback received and whilst one reader felt there was very little to change, the other reader felt that my MCs Gran was insensitive and encouraged toxic positivity. And she was right! Having never suffered from long-term illness personally, I’d written the book drawing on my experience of supporting loved ones through illness, and this was the driving force of my MCs journey. I hadn’t fully considered this journey from the point of view of the character living with ME. Using the sensitivity reader’s feedback, I realised that both the MC and her sister with ME needed character arcs that brought them to the same point by the end of the book. With this new focus, I was ready for Draft 3.

Tip: Accept feedback with an open mind. Read it. Put it to one side. Mull it over. Then take on board the bits that resonate. My experience with the two sensitivity readers shows how feedback can vary, so you need to be selective in what you choose to incorporate into your next round of edits.

February 2021

Draft 3 complete! Character arcs in place and, most wonderfully of all, these enhanced character arcs helped to resolve the weaknesses in the plot. I also toned down the idiosyncrasies so they were apparent without getting annoying. Toxic Gran issues also resolved, I have whipped this MS into shape as much as I can … But I also know that there will be a million flaws that I’m blind to because it’s impossible to be completely objective with your own book.

And so, I’m resisting my urge to send it out on submission, and instead, it’s with my critique partners. And now the wait begins for the feedback that’ll shape Draft 4 …

Tip: Don’t send your book out too soon. You get one chance to make an impression with agents and publishers. Turn to beta readers, critique partners or editors to help you to shape and polish your MS, so it truly shines before you send it out into the world.

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