Is your manuscript ready for a copyedit? Check this handy flowchart to see.

Getting to the end of your first draft is a momentous achievement – definitely one that deserves celebration. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that your work here is done and it’s time to send it off to an editor.

I often receive very raw drafts from writers asking for a  copyedit. So I’ve created this super professional flowchart to give an idea of the level of work that needs to go into a manuscript before it’s ready to copyedit.

This is not a definitive process, but it’s indicative. If you’re not sure what to do next once you’ve typed ‘the end’ for the first time, this could be a handy guide.

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Good luck intrepid writer.

Please feel free to share if you found this useful or know someone who might.

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Smooth transitions can help your story flow

Do you feel you need to account for every moment and movement in a scene? I’ve found a lot of new writers do.

But look at this extract from Emily Bitto’s beautiful novel The Strays. The young protagonist has just moved back into her parents’ house after a traumatic experience. She wakes after a deep sleep:

I saw that my suitcase had been brought into my room, and I got up, my head throbbing, and changed my clothes.

My mother was in the kitchen.

‘You slept a long time. You must have needed it.’

What an elegant transition. The writer doesn’t need to tell us that she goes into the kitchen after she dresses, it’s clear – and cleaner – without it.

Here’s the rest of the scene:

‘Where is everyone?’

‘Gone to church.’

‘What time is it?’

‘Almost eleven. Are you hungry?’

I nodded and found myself abruptly in my new life.

Wonderful.

In early drafts it’s likely that you will include more detail than is needed. This is perfectly understandable; you are still working out what’s going on and what’s important. But as you review your work, keep an eye out for where you can pare back information to allow the key elements to shine, and to let the story flow.

Good luck intrepid writer, and enjoy the adventure.

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You’ve written your first draft. Now what?

Woo hoo! You did it! The first thing to do is feel super smug and a wee bit proud (or should that be the other way round?) Either way, not everyone gets that far, but YOU HAVE.

Once the euphoria and the effects of the celebratory chocolate/champagne/insert-treat-of-choice binge have worn off, it’s time to plot the next step.

Unless you are some kind of genius magic writing-robot, your first draft will probably be overwritten and underdeveloped. The next step is to identify where it needs work. Here’s my recommendation.

  1. Wait at least a week before you look at it again. Preferably a few weeks. You are so close to it you won’t be able to see it properly without a break.
  1. Format your manuscript with generous margins and at least 1.5 spacing. Either print it out or save it in a format that can be annotated on a tablet (I use Goodnotes). If you don’t have a printer or a tablet, invest the $15 or so to print it at your local stationers, it’ll be worth it.
  1. Set aside a good chunk of time – at least one and a half hours – to start reading it. Chose a quiet comfortable place where you won’t be interrupted (bed, the library, the park). Turn off your phone and/or any notifications on your tablet. You need to have maximum focus to get as close to the first-read experience as possible.
  1. When you find bits that need work, circle them, make a note in the margin, then move on. If you get a brainwave, make a note and move on. Working like this will give you an overview of your book. It’s too easy to get lost in the detail when you are working on your computer; working on paper/tablet helps you see the big picture.
  1. Keep with this focussed reading pattern until you’re finished. Resist temptation to dive into the manuscript and fiddle. It’s not going to help. Trust your memory and your notes; they are going to help you decide what to do next once you’ve finished your appraisal.
  1. When you are finished reading, note down the jobs that need doing. For example, did you discover a subplot petered out half way through? Do you need to review your turning points? Are the stakes not high enough for your protagonist? Decide which of these you are going to tackle first.
  1. Congratulations, you are about to launch into your second draft. And you have a plan!

This is just one approach. What tips do you have for approaching the second draft?

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Did you make a New Year’s resolution to get back into that book you are writing?

Are you stumped? Not sure where to start? Here’s a suggestion for a way in.

1. If your chapters are separate files, shuffle them together into one document. Don’t worry if there are gaps, this is going to give you an overview of what work needs doing.

2. Format your manuscript with generous margins and at least 1.5 spacing, then print it out. (If you don’t have a printer, invest the $15 or so to print it at your local stationers, it’ll be worth it.)

3. Set aside a good chunk of time – at least one and a half hours – to start reading it. Chose a quiet comfortable place where you won’t be interrupted (bed, the library, the park). Turn off your phone.

4. Read it with a pencil in hand (not a pen, a pen is too harsh, trust me on this). If you find bits that need fixing, just circle them, make a note in the margin and move on. If you get a brainwave, make a note and move on. Working like this will give you an overview of your book. It’s so easy to get lost in the detail when you are working on screen; working on paper helps you see the big picture.

5. Hopefully after your first session you’ll be chomping at the bit to keep reading. Even if you feel a little disheartened, if it’s not in as good a shape as you remembered, or there’s more work to do than you hoped, FOLLOW THROUGH. Read it to the end. Trust your memory and your notes; they are going to help you decide what to do next once you’ve finished your appraisal.

6. When you are finished, note down the jobs that need doing and choose which one to start with. Give yourself a break and pick the easiest one.  This will help you ease back into the writing groove.

This is a process I’ve used a couple of times to get back into a novel after a big break. It really worked for me, I hope it works for you too.

Good luck intrepid writer. I salute you.

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