Alright so you did it. You “ate the elephant” and wrote a book. If its anything like my first draft its pretty lame. Well…parts of it are good and parts of it aren’t, but overall its not ready yet.
I’m no best seller, but my book was a finalist in a statewide manuscript contest in Texas (and that’s a big state friends). So I have at least some ground to stand on here, besides the fact that my bff and my parents thought it was a good book 🙂
Well here are 7 few tried and true tips on how to make your manuscript better:
1. If its not great don’t panic. Its a first draft, it SHOULD be messy. Messy is the beginning of awesome.
“Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
2. Attend a writers conference. I learned SO MUCH at my first writers conference. This can be an pricey venture, so I wouldn’t make a big habit out of going to these (unless you have bank rolls then by all means knock yourself out). Otherwise, pick one that really interests you, save up and take LOTS of notes.
3. Leave your work alone!!! Yes. Put it away. Leave it alone. Step back for no less than 3 months. If you really just cant handle that, try one month. It is AMAZING the improvements you’ll be able to make when you read your work a month from when you wrote it. It will be like looking at it in the sunlight when you wrote it at dusk. I rewrote my book at least 4 times and I took at least a 3 month breaks in between each rewrite and sometimes more. Mostly this was due to life: graduating grad school, getting my first job, getting married…you know, small details. All the same. My book got vastly better with each pause and rewrite. Breaking allows time for a new perspective next time you rewrite.
4. Get a freelance editor. Yes its pricey. But its worth it. This is someone with an objective view of your work. My freelance editor did wonders for helping me pull out what was great in my book (the humor) and helping me cut what was just extra and not meaningful to the reader. This is especially important with a memoir, because all of it is probably important to you. Its nice to have an unbiased reader point out the readers perspective.
5. Get your friends and family to read it too. They also will have good input. Don’t let haters read it. An unfinished book is no place for haters.
6. Don’t be afraid to cut. I cut probably a third to a half of my book out before publishing it. The truth is, I just wanted to publish my very, very best stuff. I know it feels like you’re chopping off a limb, but your book will be better after some pruning. I promise.
7. Writers digest has LOTS of great webinars that you may want to look into. I took a few myself.
Alright. Now if you’ve done all the steps and your work is still not where you want it, start this list again. Trust me I did everything on this list multiple times.
And don’t forget – the secret to finishing a book is dedication.