Finish Your Damn Book
Too many writers (including myself) have wasted way too much time looking up how to become a writer instead of just sitting down and…well…writing. Look, I get it. There’s an infinite amount of distracting noise out there. But YOU need to ignore that crap and work on YOUR story…because no one else can.
Stop researching what literary agents are looking for, stop going to Reddit’s r/books, r/writers, and r/self-publishing, stop Tweeting that you’ve just written 200 words with the hashtag #amwriting, and…hell, you should probably just press pause on this Guide as well. Just sit down, write, and get that draft done. You’ve got nothin’ until your book is finished. Period.
Oh, and I swear to god if you post an image of your unfinished draft with the caption, “Big things are coming”……. Sorry, blacked out there for a second. 🙂
Crafting something you love and that you will be proud of takes time. A LOT of time. And nearly all of it is spent alone. My first draft of Man, Kind took about a year and a half to complete. Destination Earth took even longer in total. Some days I wrote for 5 hours, some days I wrote for 5 minutes, but I always made it a point to avoid the distractions above until I was finished. Remember, no one out there has written your story, so no one out there can give you advice on how to write it.
Processing Which Word Processor…
This is another thing that I think writers spend way too much time thinking about: What word processor should I use? There are a zillion out there that claim to make your writing more streamlined, faster, and easier to organize. I’ve tried a few of them and always found myself back on good ol’ Google Docs. My opinion: why spend dozens of hours learning some new software when you could be spending that time crafting your story? G-Docs is free, and you may already have some version of Microsoft Word, so just use those. Trust me, you’ll wish you had that $50+ later on in this process.
All that being said, use whatever gets you to the keyboard and keeps you typing away. You do you!
The Draft Is Done!
You just did something that many will never do: finished your damn book! Pat yourself on the back, take the day off, have a drink (or, if you don’t drink, grab a treat!), give your significant other a smooch, pet your pets, and forget about your draft for a good day or two. You’ve earned it!
Alright, I’m Ready
Welcome back! Now the real work starts. There is no defined order of operations here, so I’m just going to tell you what I do at this stage.
Note: Get used to labeling every file clearly now so you don’t hate yourself later!
- This is the stage where you will (hopefully) catch most of your mistakes, plot-holes, and grammar/spelling errors, so take it seriously. I like to use a three Doc system:
- 1. The First Draft – Example: “My Title” – Draft One
- 2. The Second Draft – Example: “My Title” – Draft Two
- 3. A blank page for notes. (If you already have a notes page, either continue that one or start a new one with a clear title. Example: “My Title” Notes – Draft 2)
- Next, you will copy a single chapter/section from Draft One and paste it in Draft Two for editing. In Draft Two you will, and I cannot stress this enough, read each chapter OUT LOUD to yourself. This will help you get a sense of how your readers will be processing your literary voice as well as forcing you to hear those glaring mistakes. If it doesn’t sound right to your ears, it probably ain’t right!
- Continue this chapter/section copy/paste formula one-by-one until you’ve completed Draft Two.
Start Shaking Your Cup
Draft Two is done, you have a superior story, you’ve built up some confidence, and you’re ready for another pair of eyes to read your masterpiece. Well, as it turns out, the only way to do this is to ask!
If you’re a writer, you’re probably a reader as well, so you should have a good grasp on which of your friends/family/mentors are fellow book lovers. Reach out to them first. (Direct calls/texts/emails work great, just consider your communicative relationship with each individual.) But here’s the kicker: don’t overthink it. Just explain to them what you’ve written, that you would be honored if they tore it apart, and that you’d like to have their honest feedback within a month or two. Everyone I’ve asked directly was more than happy to help, and nearly all had a quick turnaround time with solid feedback.
Since more eyes = more help, you can also blast your request on social media. Just keep in mind that many will request a copy and most will never read it. And that’s totally fine. Life is busy!
Lastly, some may want a PDF or print copy, but that’s up to you. If you’ve written in G-Docs or Word, you can quickly export an ePub file that’s easy to attach and send out. An ePub file will work with most eReaders and eReading apps so there should be no trouble. You DO NOT need to be an expert in ePub files…yet.
Quick Tip: Label said ePub file something like “Your Title” by “Your Name” – “Reader’s Name” Preview – “Date”. That way you’ll always know which version is circulating with whom. Who? Doesn’t matter.
The Results Are In!
It’s been a couple months and now you’ve gotten so much feedback it’s pouring out your ears, right? RIGHT? Well, at least you’ve got enough to get started on your…drumroll please…MANUSCRIPT!
Before you get started, here’s how to interpret feedback without losing your damn mind:
- Grammar and misspellings. Hopefully you were provided with A LOT. Attack these right away. Go to “MY Title” – Draft Two and get these all CTRL+F’d before you change anything else.
- Do not take offence to any comments/questions/concerns. If your readers didn’t understand something, it’s because YOU didn’t explain it well enough. Brainstorm ways of presenting these topics/themes/scenes in a clearer way. It could be as easy as an extra line of dialogue, or as tough as reworking an entire chapter/section.
- Character motivations and world building. Did one character do something that they normally wouldn’t? Is there a fat hole in the world you built that needs to be patched up? Your readers will spot them, and they will comment. Either attack it now, or wait for some stranger to rant about it in a negative review later. 🙂
- Be sure to thank everyone for how IMMENSELY they helped you out. You can even send out a questionnaire for specific things you were hoping to get across in your story and they’ll be happy to respond.
- Example: Did you feel this way when this happened?
Repeat my patented “Three Doc” process above, only now copy/pasting from Draft Two to Manuscript – Master. That’s right, label it “My Title” – Manuscript Master. This is important because the Master will be your living document. It will always get the latest updates, changes, and corrections, then those changes will trickle down to your other formats. (I’ll refer to the Master plenty of times in this guide.)
Reminder: Reading each line aloud to yourself will be your greatest ally!
Wow! Here you are some amount of time later. Has it been a year? Two years? Three years? Either way, you did it. You poured over every nook and cranny of your novel so many times that you could barf it all out with your eyes closed. You’ve written two (maybe more!) drafts, accepted your feedback graciously, polished it all inside a master document, and pumped out a perfect, sparkling manuscript. But, most of all, you’re proud of your work, you’re proud of your journey, and you’re ready to take the next step: Self Publishing
Quick Note: For those of you who are going to pursue traditional publishing at this stage, literary agents will require a certain format for your Manuscript. Google the exact industry standards, but typically they won’t even look at your work if it’s not Times New Roman, 12pt, and double spaced.
Now, if you’re still all-in, let’s take the next step together as you begin Part 2 of the Definitive Guide To Self Publishing: Editing