Whether you’re the next Hemingway or Orwell, writing your first manuscript isn’t always smooth sailing. Even the most talented creative writers find this process difficult when they first get started. Finding a clear plan that works for you is the first step in this exciting new journey. Luckily, there’s plenty of advice out there.
Liz Cooper, Archway Publishing author of ‘Granny’s Teeth: A Collection of Quirky Rhyming Tales’ wrote a blog post for Author Solutions on just this subject. Gaining a deeper knowledge of her process could help you to supercharge your next writing project. Whether you’re completely new to the world of writing or a seasoned author, there’s always something new to learn. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from her advice.
Step 1: Get Some Ideas Down
First things first, you need an idea. Chances are, you have a bunch of stories you’ve been toying with for a long time now. Rather than keeping all that creativity locked up in your mind, let it out. Of course, coming up with the core idea can often be the most difficult part of any project. If you’re finding it tricky to get this right, stick to the golden rule. Write what you know. For Cooper, that meant reflecting on her childhood and drawing upon that.
“I thought about my own childhood experiences at the beach and sleeping at my grandmother’s house where I loved watching her take her false teeth out at night,” explains Cooper. “As I reminisced, my imagination kicked in. What if the ocean was alive and tried to steal a boy’s sandcastle? What if granny loaned her homesick grandchild her false teeth in a jar to keep her company?” Why not take a leaf out of Cooper’s book? Take some time to consider the experiences you’ve had and how each of them can be used as the base of your next story.
Step 2: Start Planning
When you’ve had that ‘aha!’ moment, you may be itching to put pen to paper. However, before you rush ahead, you should take a moment to plan things out. The clearer you are on the story you want to tell, the easier it will be to write it down. You don’t have to have every detail of your story outlined, but having a base plan is smart.
“Make a plan, even if it’s jotting down a short summary of the beginning, middle, and ending of the story on the back of a napkin,” explains Cooper. “Some people like to type a formal outline or use a graphic organizer. Make an overall book plan before breaking it down further.” Needless to say, you need to figure out what works for you. You can use sticky notes, a notepad, or anything else you have lying around your home.
Step 3: Create a Draft
Next up, it’s crunch time. Once you have a plan to hand, you can start writing. Cooper explains that it’s important to get your story down on paper as ‘quickly as possible’. Of course, for all the perfectionists out there, this step can be a real challenge. You may worry about writing a story that doesn’t live up to the standards you have set for yourself. However, keep in mind that a first draft is never perfect. There’s always room for editing.
“Your draft doesn’t have to be neat,” says Cooper. “I like scribbling or typing as quickly as I can before I forget my great ideas.” Don’t panic if your first draft looks messy or even illegible to anybody but you. You shouldn’t expect yourself to write a masterpiece the first time you try. The important thing is that you have a decent starting point. Put simply, you will use this first draft as a jumping-off point for the rest of your manuscript.
Step 4: Revise Your Work
When you’ve got a first draft down, it’s time to start revising your work. Read your manuscript with a fresh pair of eyes and don’t be afraid to be critical. You have complete control over the finished project. That means that you can determine the path the story takes. Avoid looking at this step as a chore. It can be quite exciting.
“Revising is my favorite part of the writing process,” says Cooper. “I change words, add transitions, move things around, and attend to the details that make the writing come alive and ensure that the story makes perfect sense.” Keep in mind that you may have to revise your work several times before you get it just right.
Step 5: Edit Your Work
Once you’ve spent some time revising your work, it’s time to get editing. The truth of the matter is that even the best writers out there struggle to edit their own work. When you’ve looked at the same words a hundred times, going back over them to look for mistakes can be extremely tricky. Luckily, there is a simple solution.
“I highly recommend that authors invest in professional editing,” says Cooper. “I taught a college grammar course, and I still make mistakes! Errors in usage, punctuation, and spelling distract the reader and blur the author’s message.” Spend some time searching for the ideal editor for you and your work.
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