Do you feel a draft? It’s time to revise your manuscript

Do you feel a draft? Whether writing a 500-word column or 400-paged manuscript, there comes that satisfying moment when you hit the final keystroke. The sound echoes, in slow motion, reverberating through your body and outward, catching anyone within a three-mile radius in its ripple effect.

Outside your window, traffic comes to a stop. Drivers and pedestrians join together, taking time from their day to cheer, applauding so loud and hard their hands turn pink.

And wait — is that a tear I see glistening in the eye of the Fed-Ex driver?

It’s embarrassing, really.

But who can blame them?

Your own brilliance is looking back at you from the monitor! How clever you are!

Especially that line about how being a parent is like training donkeys, and there are thymes when your children just need a swift kick in the asss…

Hold the phone.

“Asss?”

…And what is THAT…?

“Thymes?!”

This brings us to the next moment following that final keystroke, when the applause subsides, and you suddenly notice that the cleverness looking back at you from your screen is spelled “cleaverness.”

Is that a draft you feel on your exposed backside?

Yes, it is.

And, depending on the size of your manuscript and how much time you have — and whether you’ve gotten up and closed the window — it should only be the first of three drafts you’ll need to complete before submitting your piece for publication.

Which isn’t to say you can’t do more than three. In fact, when it comes to book manuscripts, expect at least three drafts before you can, once and for all, be asked to change your story from third-person to first-person in order to add a sense of immediacy.

At which point you will, with total immediacy, seriously consider a job in public sanitation.

But let’s suppose the head of public works tells you, in no uncertain terms, that things are backed up in the sanitation department. And let’s suppose you manage to keep a straight face long enough to return to your computer and continue pursuing a writing career, even though you can’t shake the feeling that you are now on a “watch list” for suspicious flushers.

Then it’s time to start the next draft of your manuscript.

As I’ve mentioned before, in addition to being a columnist, I’m also a firefighter. When you get down to it, putting out a structure fire is also a three-draft process:

Initial Attack
Overhaul
Clean-up

I’ve adopted these firefighting terms for the three phases of my writing and editing routine. Not only because I think they accurately describe each phase, but also because they sound way cooler than:

Draft one
Draft two
Draft (yawwwn) …

See what I mean?

The Initial Attack phase is exactly what it sounds like. You have assembled what you need, know your plan of action, and are on-scene with your nozzle wide open, flooding the page with your ideas in a steady stream without interruption.

Except now I have to use the rest room…

Thanks for waiting.

The Initial Attack is when you don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or other grammatical concerns that will slow down your progress in getting thoughts and ideas on the page.

The Initial Attack is what writers — and firefighters — live for.

Next comes the not-so-fun, but equally important, phase of the draft process: Overhaul.

This is when you take a deep breath and look around to see what the fire has done, what dangers remain, and take care of anything that could flare up again later.

As a writer, the same rules apply. Take a look at your pages as if they’re rooms in a house. And if your house has 400 rooms, the IRS is looking forward to your manuscript.

Go through each page, line by line, and look for obvious errors — typos, misspelling, run-on sentences, improper tense changes, etc. As you do, keep a red pen handy to write notes as you go. I often get additional ideas, or think of better phrasing, as I go through this process. Write them down and refer to them by page and paragraph so, when you go back, you can refer to them easily.

Once you’ve made your grammar corrections and implemented your revisions, take a break and clear your head.

On a fire scene, it’s easy to get tunnel vision after a while. Especially if you’re extinguishing a car fire inside an actual tunnel.

The same thing can happen during the draft process as a writer. So give yourself 30 minutes or so to get a fresh set of eyes before beginning the final phase: Clean-up.

At this point, you’ve gone through everything twice, corrected the grammatical “dangers” you discovered during Overhaul, and have made revisions to your manuscript that improve upon the original draft.

Clean-up is that final walk-through you give before telling residents — or publishers — “Hey, everything has been done to make sure you won’t get burned.”

Read through this draft out loud. If you can arrange to have it read back to you by someone else, such as Ben Kingsley, even better. Hearing your words read by someone else can reveal awkward phrasing your mind skips over because IT knows what you’re trying to say; someone else may not.

Regardless, read through it twice: once aloud and once to yourself. If you don’t find any “hot” spots, it’s time to clear the scene and secure your manuscript for publication.

If not, another draft may be in order.

Lastly, If you get frustrated and try flushing your manuscript down the commode, remember:

Someone from public sanitation is probably watching.

Next Week: Your questions, my answers — and probably a lawsuit.

(You can write to Ned at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com., or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Bx 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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70 thoughts on “Do you feel a draft? It’s time to revise your manuscript

    • LOL! Judy — You Rock! Thank you for spotting that. I just corrected it, thanks to the efficient use of our GPS literary blunder location system 🙂 Much appreciated!

  1. My head is now filled with, “you make it sound so easy,” and “but, what if they don’t like it?” I’m feeling very Friday’ish and probably need to grow some… bravery. 😀

  2. so, at minimum, doing something well, if you want something taken care of and have it done to everyone’s complete satisfaction, one should adopt the “do it at least 3 times” rule. it can be applied to so much more than writing…

  3. “…there comes that satisfying moment when you hit the final keystroke. The sound echoes, in slow motion, reverberating through your body and outward…”

    You could start your own genre: Humerotica. 😉

  4. Hi, Ned! As you know, I haven’t had time to read my favorite blogs very often lately, and I’ll be leaving Tuesday for California to meet my new grandson, so it will be even longer before I get caught up, BUT, I just have to try to read your Friday posts. This one was great.

    I have a serious question for you. (Yes, I CAN do serious. Sort of.) What if you are a writer who is a bit more…OCD…than most, and you find it impossible to produce a single chapter that hasn’t been, shall we say, tweaked, repeatedly before you can move on to the next? Or even after you have moved on to the next? Or the one after that, and the one after that? In other words, what if you are constantly tweaking, improving, and rewording as you go? Is that a bad thing? Because someone I know, who is writing her first book at a very advanced age and therefore pretty set in her ways, just can’t help it. What should she do? Is there a twelve-step program? Or should she just say “Neener, neener, neener! This is the way I do it and move on?

    Your expert opinion will be much appreciated. And possibly even listened to.

    • First, congratulation on your new grandchild! That’s fantastic 🙂 And as far as your friend, sometimes spending a little time tweaking over the last chapter can give you some momentum heading into your next round of writing. However, never more than 10 to 15 minutes. If it goes beyond that, then your revising and not tweaking; she needs to save the revisions for the next draft, when she can truly let her OCD go wild! It’s important that she gets her story on paper, imperfect as it may be, and save the fine tuning for the next round. Otherwise, in addition to getting stuck revising instead of producing, she could very well miss out on exploring the new ideas that will come with fresh pages. It’s hard to give yourself permission to NOT be perfect, but it’s sort of like learning to skate; if you concern yourself with looking good while you do it, you’ll never have the freedom you need to really skate well.

      Have a safe trip and enjoy that grandbaby, Marcia!

      • Thanks for the congratulations. This baby has been LONG awaited (7 years) and I’m eager to meet him.

        My friend says to tell you thanks for the advice. She swears on a stack of Dreden Files novels that she never spends longer than a few minutes at a time tweaking. She also says that rereading various chapters is exactly how she decides where she is heading in the next chapter, so it is the way she keeps all the voices straight in her head. (Okay, not ALL the voices. Some of them have nothing to do with this book!) But she does go back more than once, at various times, for various reasons. And anything that pops out as being worded wrong gets fixed right then, while it is still in her tiny little mind. And even with all these stops and starts, she is producing at least five to ten pages a day, which is what she has heard is a reasonable output. So can she be forgiven for these impromptu tweaking…or revising…sessions?

        And another question comes to mind. (Am I pushing my luck,here?) My friend says she notices you mentioned three drafts and then publishers in the same post, but nothing about professisonal editing. Does this fall under the general heading of publishing?

        And finally, one more question: Do you have Ben Kingsley’s contact information? Or better yet, Ralph Fiennes’? Oh, yeah. My…ahem…friend is pretty sure his mellifluous tones would be perfect!
        😀

        • Wow, seven years is a long wait! That baby must’ve weight 50 pounds! 😉 As for your friend, it sounds reasonable and makes sense. I know some people who will spend an entire day “tweaking” as a way to put off writing something they worry will be bad. You’re friend sounds like she has a healthy approach.

          And no, I didn’t mention professional editing, not because I’m against it, but because not everyone has that option. It’s definitely a good one, but you have to be careful with that; some companies or services aren’t scrupulous. They’re like the old ad, “If you can draw this donkey, you could be a professional illustrator!” They string you along and take your money. If you’re friend is serious about getting a good, honest professional editing job when she’s ready, I would truly suggest she check out http://www.gliterarygirl.com website. Not just because it’s one of the blogs I write for, but the folks there are fantastic, super nice and extremely talented. If nothing else, it would be a good place to start so she has something to compare with other editing services. They also offer book promotion, reviews, the whole ball of wax. Just a thought 🙂

          Oh, and I spoke to Ralph, and he said his schedule is way busy, but he could send his brother, Rico, who looks and sounds just like him if you close your eyes and wear ear muffs…

          • I already have a man like Rico, thanks. I don’t mind closing my eyes so much, but this is Florida. It’s ninety degrees today. The earmuffs are getting pretty uncomfortable 😀

            And the baby managed to squeak in at 8lbs 11ozs, rather than 50, thankfully. My daughter says for you to bite your tongue. 😮

            I’m glad you don’t necessarily consider my friend crazy to be thinking about an editor. And she says to let you know she has been carefully researching exactly what kind of editor she would want to work with, and is getting various recommendations. She will also add Gliterary Girl to her growing stack of ideas and writing sites worth looking into closely. My friend really doesn’t want her manuscript entirely rewritten to suit someone else’s preferences, but she would definitely like a professional to proofread for grammar and spelling, and those persistent typos that her tired, old eyes miss.

            Also, she is very interested in self-publishing because she’s pretty good with computers and she would like to get the book “out there” before she croaks. At her age, time is of the essence, you know. Seriously, the entire concept of being in charge of a book from inception to publication is fascinating to her, and she is going to try a small book of poetry first, as a trial run to learn the process as fully as possible before attempting it with her novel. (She’s a very BRAVE friend, if I do say so, myself.)

            Thanks for all the great advice! You are the BEST, Ned Hickson! I don’t care what anybody says!
            😀

            And I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to keep her questions in mind after reading all the comments on this post! I’m a strong, strong person!

    • You are today’s WINNER Julie! I will be spending 32 cents to send your your nickel, assuming we still have a Postal Service by then. Or, if you’d like, I can fax or email you your nickel if that’s easier 😉

      • what do I get for pointing out your error in the response to Julie? “your your nickel”

        I bet this is the comment that breaks through your calm, helpful literary demeanor and I get a slap for being wise. Oh well, such is life.

          • Aww man, I’m sorry, Ned. I’m an insensitive jerk when I reply to comments, sometimes it shows through. Look on the bright side, now I know your secret identity as a stuttering typist, which I will most assuredly keep secret, thereby granting you some form of superhero status.

  5. I have a hard enough time putting together a blog entry anyone can read, or would even want to read, and now you expect me to write a damn book?? Get off my back! I am busy being fabulous!

    • That’s terrific, and it really does make a difference. I love listening to my wife read my stuff; even though I wrote it, it’s like “seeing” it for the first time. If she’s giggling too much to read, I know I have a winner 🙂

  6. in the literary tradition of fairy tales, there is magic in the number 3. thanks for giving me another use for that number. happy friday and stay safe – beth

    • There is definitely something to that. So many good things come in threes. Three-day weekends, tri-fecta, the Three Stooges 🙂 And thanks for the safe wishes. I Always do my best 😉

  7. Ned, do you follow the three draft method for blog posts as well? I’m more of a “type, send, forget” style of blogger. Occasionally I’ll reread for typos and clarity, but mostly I don’t.

    Drafts and revisions are something I need to give more attention to. Sadly, I never thought I’ll ever get past/present tense down, he said. I also have trouble with first/third person voicing.

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