Monday, March 17, 2014

So, you've printed a draft of your manuscript. What now?

Patty here

This past weekend I reached an important milestone in my writing. I printed a copy of the manuscript I’ve been working on since forever. It's a departure from the four novels in my Tucker Sinclair series. This book is about a female LAPD homicide detective. Big deal, you say. Well, yes. For me, it is.

I used to print copies willy-nilly because—you know—printing takes time, which means that while the HP is spitting out pages I don't have to deal with writing contrivances and sketchy character motivations. At some point, I began to feel guilty for wasting so much paper so I stopped printing copies and tried with mixed success to edit on the computer screen. Once I wade into the depths of the manuscript it’s difficult to flip back and forth between pages on the screen. I need to hear the scratching of my pen across the paper when I jot down notes, i.e. “Haven’t I written ‘she buttoned her coat against the chill’ fifteen times already?”

Each manuscript is printed on a different color paper so I know which draft it represents. The current copy is green. The next will be beige because it's the closest color to the white paper of a finished book.

Once I printed this current manuscript, I read through it as quickly as possible. That allowed me to spot word echoes and mile-wide plot holes. During this fast read-through, I didn't make many notes because I wanted to keep reading to make sure the story held together. The plot hit a pothole on page 369 when I realized that two scenes were out of order. The way I had written them was not organic or logical. One thing did not lead to another. Luckily, it’s a small change that makes the story stronger and opens several story elements I’d not considered before.

My able writing assistants Riley & Scooter
While reading, I also realized I needed to do a better job early on of foreshadowing an event that happens to one of the ancillary characters. Again, this isn’t hard to do. I have already written the story elements. I just need to lift some of the words out of their nesting places and drop them throughout the book to ratchet up tension and suspense.

During the next read-through I will question everything on the page: is it accurate; is behavior true to the characters I've created; is it organic. Once those changes have been transferred into my computer file, I’ll worry over it a while longer before printing out what I hope will be a polished copy. Then I’ll plead, beg, whimper and ask politely if one or two of my more talented writer friends will read and critique it. Any volunteers?

While I await feedback, I'll reread some of my favorite books on writing just for inspiration, including On Writing by Stephen King.

Here’s a great interview with King that includes his Top 20 Rules for Writers:
  1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.” 
  2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.” 
  3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.” 
  4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.” 
  5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.” 
  6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.” 
  7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” 
  8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.” 
  9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.” 
  10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.” 
  11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.” 
  12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.” 
  13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.” 
  14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.” 
  15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.” 
  16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.” 
  17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)” 
  18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.” 
  19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.” 
  20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”


  1. Thank you, Patty, for the insight into your process. I find I need to print out chapters as I go along (only to have to reprint them if I make changes, as inevitably I do), but I cringe at the amount of paper. My eye, though, is better with a pen in my hand.

  2. st, I print out chapters because I belong to a writing group that meets most Wednesdays. The paper piles up. I usually make the changes and shred the old chapters. Other writers groan when I say that. They think I should save everything until the book is published.

  3. Happy St. Patrick's Day, Patty. Thank you for sharing your writing process. I wish I could volunteer to read your draft but I do not live in Los Angeles. I have read drafts by friends in the SF Bay Area and they already were published ~ one was a mystery novelist (now she has 3 series and a 4th series is coming out this summer) and another wrote a historical fiction novel, which was fun for me since I was a history major at University. Look forward to reading your books. I discovered your books on this blog and I ordered a book by you.


    1. Diana, you are gifting your friends with something priceless. I'm sure they offered their profuse gratitude. I thank you, as well. Writers spend so much time with a book. They know the story and think readers will know it too. Having somebody take a fresh look is vital.

  4. Hooray for Patty! I am tickled green that your way is so clear. Am volunteering, of course.

    And thanks for the SK. I love that book, too. Great way to begin the week. That, and-for you-the earthquake. Did your able assistants feel it?

    1. My able assistants may have felt the EQ but did not bother to wake me up. Hmmm. Not sure how I feel about that.

  5. For our Naked readers, Mims has read each of my books and always provides a brilliant critique. She is also a gifted writer. Mims, I have a ream of colored paper I'm happy to donate to your cause. Just sayin.

  6. "Excellent post," he said, excitedly. Seriously, those are good tips from Stephen King about adverbs. (Elmore Leonard used to say the same thing). King's book should probably be read by everyone writing novels....repeatedly. I like your idea about different colored drafts. This is done in TV writing. Altogether, a fabulously post, I say, breathlessly.

    1. Did not know that TV writers use different colored drafts. Maybe I subconsciously stole the idea, which would of course never happen in Hollywood.

  7. from Jacqueline: Thank you for this, Patty. Hey, what with this post, with Jim's series, and posts on the writing process we've all written over the years, I think we might have a book here - "The Naked Authors Bare Faced Advice On Getting That Novel Finished!" I really appreciated this post, Patty - it took me out of the dark tunnel of a work in progress for a while.

    1. Beware of dark tunnels! Glad you resurfaced even for a bit.