Eight tips for writing from first draft to finished manuscript

Here are eight things that I have learned over the past few years about how to push a writing project through from concept to completion:

1. Work on multiple projects

While this might not work for everyone, I find it helpful to have multiple projects underway at different stages. I generally have the following on the go:

  • One novel in planning/first draft stage
  • One novel with readers/re-writing/editing
  • One (at the moment actually multiple) novel/s resting in a drawer

That way even when one story is resting or with readers for feedback, I’m always writing. Every. Single. Day.

2. Write across genres or styles

To manage multiple projects, I work on stories with quite a different ‘feel’ and voice, so the writing doesn’t get muddy and confused.

Although I know lots of people don’t recommend it, I work on multiple genres simultaneously, because I find the distinction of genre allows me to easily switch from one project to another.

3. Let the first draft rest

I am not able to look at a first draft in any useful way for at least another three to six months, though in some cases it takes a year or more before I’m able to see my work clearly enough to start to redraft it.

4. Treasure your re-reads

Here’s one thing I wish I had understood sooner. I’ve learned this the hard way. Your re-readings of your work are unique and valuable.

One day you might wish you could read something with fresh eyes, and it might just not be possible because you’ve overcooked the writing.

Don’t ever waste a re-reading. Be strategic about how and when you re-read, be protective of your engagement with your story, and get maximum value out of each time you read your manuscript.

5. Rewriting and editing are critical

Rewriting and editing are the most critical part of the writing process. They are hard work and sometimes feel unending. Keep going as long as your gut or your readers are telling you there are things that don’t quite work.

6. Readers are your back-up brains

I used to be terrified of getting feedback from readers. Now I love it beyond words.

When I work until I can’t work anymore and my brain is no longer providing any useful information, I can pass the work on to somebody else and get their brain onto the job too. This is absolutely fantastic. Find readers you trust and treasure them.

7. Edit on paper

Edit and proof-read on paper. It’s amazing what you see when you’re reading from a hardcopy that you miss on the screen.

Also there is a special joy in being able to point to a big pile of printed pages covered with words and say: I made that.

8. Celebrate all the milestones

Celebrate all the milestones along the way – small and big.

Celebrate word-count milestones, celebrate finishing the first draft even if you feel like the ending is so bad you want to bury yourself in a hole, celebrate redrafting milestones and celebrate the hell out of the moment when you decide the book is actually done.

Whatever happens from there, the fact that you made it that far is absolutely worth celebrating.

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