3 Really Hard But Necessary Ways to Improve Your Novel Manuscript

3 Really Hard But Necessary Ways to Improve Your Novel Manuscript

3 Really Hard But Necessary Ways to Improve Your Novel Manuscript
Photo by wokandapix / via Pixabay

3 Really Hard But Necessary Ways to Improve Your Novel Manuscript


How do you write a solid first draft? Why waste time with significant edits when you can write a solid first draft and save yourself the trouble? Who wants to spend months and even years editing a manuscript? I don’t. I want it done right (or close to) the first time so I don’t have to spend countless hours revising a manuscript that doesn’t work.


Sometimes we just need to write novels that will go nowhere. That’s perfectly acceptable. Many writers have manuscripts stuck in folders that they’ll never take the time to edit into polished manuscripts. That’s okay. Most of us cringe at the thought. All of that time and effort put into producing a story for what purpose? If it’s just going to go down the drain, why do it?


But the thing is, it takes time to learn to write well. Everyone can write. But not everyone can write a compelling story that will interest readers. That’s where the greater challenge comes in. We must learn how to write engaging stories with dynamic characters who live lives greater than our own. When we learn to write a great story, we learn to tell a story that makes sense, one that ties up the loose ends and fills in the holes, one that gets readers to care on some emotional level.


Hang in there. It’s going to take time to write a great story. For some writers, this comes more naturally. But for others, it takes a lot of effort and practice. The moment when we think we know everything is when we do a disservice to our work. There will always be ways to improve our writing. Whether we like it or not or even want to admit it. Writing well takes time, effort, practice, and study.


If you’re serious about your writing work, then here are three really hard but necessary ways to improve your novel manuscript…


1. Learn the Writing Craft

It’s a no-brainer to learn the writing craft if we want to get really good at writing. But sadly a lot of writers miss this part. Why? Why won’t they put the time and effort into learning how to craft a great story before attempting to publish their work?


You don’t need formal training in writing to get really good at it. But if you’re looking to find an agent and submit your work to a big publisher, unless you have the right connections, it’s going to take some time to polish your story and find someone interested in taking it on.


One of the big misconceptions of writing is that we have to learn everything there is to know about writing before we can even start writing a novel. But that’s not entirely true. We need skills, yes, but we don’t need to know everything before we begin.


My best discovery earlier this year was that after just a couple months of consistent training, a writer can drastically improve her writing skills. Want to know the time commitment?


One would think that a writer has to devote hours upon hours to studying the craft. Unfortunately, that belief often leads to discouragement or exhaustion.


If you have the time to devote several hours a day to learning the writing craft, that’s fantastic. I believe that would be extremely helpful. But many writers work full-time jobs and take care of their households on top of all that. Then whatever spare time they have left can be devoted to writing. How will they ever get any writing done if all they’re doing is studying the craft? They’ll eventually find themselves burned out, out of ideas, discouraged, and ready to give up or to push their writing dreams aside until they have more time.


There’s a better way.


Instead of learning the craft in huge time chunks, focus on spending just 15 to 30 minutes each day reading a book on writing and taking notes. The note taking is a must. As silly as it sounds, don’t skimp on this part. It’s the most important part of this process.


If you keep this up, eventually you’ll notice your writing skills have improved. If you’re at a loss for which books to study, here are 12 writing reference books to get you started.


2. Focus on Quality

You want to get the first draft done so you can revise it, but if you whip it out, you’ll likely find yourself with a bunch of words that you can’t use. To focus on quality means that you’re thinking about ways to improve the writing as you write it because you’re putting new techniques and skills into practice as you go.


If you’re following Tip 1 above, you’ll be thinking about how you can improve your manuscript as you write it. This is a huge time-saver, especially for writers who hate editing their work. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. 🙂


3. Work Out the Details

Brainstorming is an absolute must when you’re writing a novel. You need to have the basic structure in mind as you write so you don’t end up needing major revisions later. If you want to start writing without a clear plot in mind, that’s fine, but eventually you need to know your plot structure and understand your characters and their motivations before getting too far ahead.


Mapping out the plot structure is helpful in keeping you on track. If there are events or foreshadowing that need to occur prior to certain plot points, you’ll want to know ahead of time so you can write them in as you go. Plugging them in later can be a bit more challenging, especially if you’ve been working hard on the word flow.


For more details about the basic plot structure, check out Larry Brooks’ book on story engineering. And for character motivations and conflict, check out Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St. John.


If you focus on these three tips, you’ll improve your novel manuscript. They aren’t the easiest, but if we’re being truly honest with ourselves, they’re not that hard either. They’re just a vital part of a writer’s life. Learning the craft, focusing on quality, and working out the details… those are just part of the job.

Jody Calkins
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