10 things to do when you “finish” a manuscript

Hi, peeps!

By now some of you are no doubt lamenting the Super Bowl. Others are celebrating. And still others are thinking, “Oh, the Super Bowl was on? Huh.”

And then there are many others who have been working on writing projects. Some of you may actually have FINISHED a project! Glory! Hallelujah! So…what now?

There are actually any number of things to do when you complete a manuscript, but the point here is to start with a basic list and then you tailor it to your own specs and hopefully, you’ll then have this little ingrained checklist in your skull that becomes some kind of sick ritualized habit that you engage in when you finish a manuscript. Heh. That’s the idea, friends! Start making good habits now, so you incorporate them into your world.

Okay. So you finished your story/novel! GO, YOU! How much awesome are you carrying around because of that? LOTS! Go ahead and pour yourself a tall glass of awesome juice, because you earned it. So what now? Short of posting your glorious news all over social media? Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 3.44.41 PM

1. Put that project aside. You heard me. Take a timeout from it. I generally give my completed projects at least 5 days of what I call marination time, but I think a week or two is ideal. I don’t think about it, brood over it, develop cold sweats and bad dreams over it. It’s out of sight, out of mind and I either take a complete break from writing or I work on other projects. The point is, you’re making a break so when you go back to it, you’ll have a fresh set of eyes, if you will.

2. Okay, your timeout is done. Open the file and read through it, beginning to end. Fix boo-boos (typos, spelling, weird grammatical constructions, missing words, repeat words, inconsistencies). And chances are, you will find these and you will think: “WTF? How did I miss that?” Easy. You’re close to your own work, and when you’re immersed in it day after day, it’s harder to catch mistakes. No biggie. Every manuscript has boo-boos.

3. Put it aside for another couple of days. This will give your brain a chance to distance from all the tweaking and tinkering you did, refreshing your self-editor.

4. Change the font after you open the file following your second timeout. I recommend Courier if you’ve been writing in Times New Roman or a variant thereof. Why do this? Because when you change something’s appearance, you’re tricking your brain into thinking it’s something new, and your brain will thus catch things that it didn’t in the original font. Your brain got used to seeing it one way. Changing the font will kickstart your brain into thinking it’s a whole new project, and you’ll thus catch things you didn’t in the last incarnations. Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 3.49.10 PM

5. Read through again, in the new font. You will probably find boo-boos. That’s okay. Fix them. Be on the lookout, especially, for repeat words and phrases that you seem to use quite a bit. If you suspect you’re repeating words/phrasing, do a global search in the manuscript and when those words/phrases come up, change them.

6. Switch back to your other font and read through again. By this time, you’re probably so freaking sick of this project that you’d like to throw it out a window or sacrifice it to whatever deities you think might care. Welcome, my friends, to (re)writing.

7. Read through again, pages out of order. NOTE: This one’s optional, actually. I don’t do this, though I will go to various chapters (if it’s a novel I’ve finished) out of order and read through that way. If, however, reading pages out of order helps you find things that aren’t working in addition to other boo-boos, then by all means, do it.

Once you’ve gotten another read-through done,

8. Now you’re ready to send the project to trusted readers. I recommend 3 outside readers. Any more and you’ll end up with a herd of cats and probably not a good sense as to what you need to do. That means, readers who will tell you if something’s not working. These readers should have a good knowledge of the genre in which you’re writing. They don’t necessarily have to be editors (though that helps), but they do need to be able to articulate clearly why something doesn’t work, whether it’s your characterization, your dialogue, your plot arc, your subplots — whatever it is. So your readers should not be your friends or relatives who think you’re the most holy gems in the scepter of the monarch. You want critique, not warm and fuzzy “everything about this is so stupendous it makes me want to roll around in daffodils and clover and run through fields of wildflowers with fat laughing unicorns.” No. That’s not what you want. You need to know what works and what doesn’t. Trusted readers versed in critique will ensure that you address problem areas. This means you need to be prepared to do more re-writing when your trusted readers are through with the project.

9. Use your trusted readers’ advice as guidelines and go through your project again. NOTE: this is ultimately YOUR project, so you don’t have to do what your readers suggest, but if more than one reader is pointing out a particular thing in your project that isn’t working, chances are, it’s not working. So do some more mechanics on your project and then send it back to your readers to see if your latest incarnation works. Most likely, it will, because your readers have pointed out to you, in stone cold writer-terms, why X didn’t work so you have a clear path to fix that.

10. Prepare for lift-off. This comes after your trusted readers have said that yes, your re-working (if applicable) has helped and yay, you! Read through again to make sure you didn’t miss anything your readers wanted in the second go-around. All done? Okay.

So depending on your publishing situation, you have some options as to what lift-off means. If you are working with a traditional house, you are now prepared to send your manuscript to the publisher, who will then send it to an editor. Whew. You get another timeout, which means when that manuscript comes back to you, you’ll have refreshed eyes. If this project is an indie publishing project, you are now prepared to send it to a professional editor and hopefully, you’ve got someone in your network that you’ve worked with before. If not, well, we’ll go over finding an editor in another post. Let’s pretend for the sake of argument that you do, in fact, have a professional editor and you can thus send your project to him or her. Yay!

Now get crackin’! Happy Monday!

Words and design by Kathy Jeffords. link
Words and design by Kathy Jeffords. link

7 thoughts on “10 things to do when you “finish” a manuscript

  1. Good advice, Andi. For the “out of order” read, I start at the end of the document and read up, screen by screen. This way I know I’m giving the end of the story as much attention as the beginning, before story fatigue can hit. I’ve found some amazing things–two characters with the same name, a plot hole, etc. By reading back to front, I also don’t get so caught up in the story that I start to skim and fill in blanks (aka errors).

  2. I like the “change the font” advice. I just went through this process with a friend. 6 months the ago manuscript was 500 pages long, and now it is 280 (including footnotes).
    I promised one more read of the page proofs this week. I think that I will take your advice and read them backwards!

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