On most occasions I write my first draft quickly with little idea where it’s going. In my opinion the important thing is to get the words hitting the page. Procrastination is for the hesitant!
* I write the first chapter without hesitation to get the story underway.
* I aim to have a ‘hook’ to capture reader interest within the first three paragraphs.
* By the end of the first chapter I have inserted another hook, in the form of a mystery.
* Each individual or minor mystery will not be resolved for at least two chapters.
* I have a friend and fellow writer who has been invaluable to me since the earliest stages of my first novel. I go no further than the first chapter until she has read and given me a critique of the story idea and the first chapter.
* As each chapter is completed in first draft, it is sent off for dissection by my distant friend.
* As soon as I have a working title and the first chapter is written and saved, I open a new folder, using the working title of the new story.
* I save my Chapter 1 file to that folder.
* I open a new file for each individual chapter.
* In each succeeding chapter I insert a fresh hook, or mystery, and in each case I aim to keep that particular mystery unresolved for at least a couple of chapters.
* Some of the minor mysteries will be maintained and possible resolutions will be dangled in the storyline, but the true revelation might not come too close to the end of the story.
* I try not to introduce too many characters too soon.
* I drip feed information about characters, including their description. Not all at once.
* Once the story has been completely written, I leave it aside for at least a week, but usually a month.
* If an idea comes to mind, I make notes in my current notebook, but don’t go near the story.
* I may come up with a new character, or a fresh twist for the plot, or a scene. I note it in my notebook – hence, the reason they are called ‘note’ books.
* The manuscript is still individual chapters in separate files and the pages are numbered.
I only worry about punctuation and grammar detail when I’ve reached the stage where the manuscript sounds good to me. I’ve used punctuation throughout as I write, but there may be a few too many commas, or perhaps too many exclamation marks.
My primary tool for dealing with punctuation and grammar is a programme called Grammarly. It is good, but having said that, it has some minor issues.
If a word choice is questioned and an alternative is suggested, the programme might occasionally leave the original word and add the alternative.
If a punctuation symbol is questioned, the programme may do as above and add the suggestion, but not remove the original.
The programme will on occasion suggest that a certain word order is not correct for non-fiction. I tend to ignore those items, because I don’t write non-fiction. Grammarly has now been updated and you can choose fiction / non-fiction document checking.
How do I avoid issues?
I don’t use the automatic amendment option. I physically delete the offending text or punctuation and replace with the suggestion, but only on occasion. There are times when I could end up with the same word being used four times in a short passage, so my word choice is made with variety in mind.
I save the document after each individual amendment; tedious, but advisable.
When I’ve used Grammarly throughout the manuscript I save the file, close it and have a coffee. I try to set the next date when I’ll have a full day to spend with a printed version to read aloud – with the dreaded red pen in hand.
Due to the time it takes to scan a document and report what it believes to be issues, I use Grammarly on the individual chapters – not later on the entire single manuscript.
* When the time has arrived, according to my diary/planner, I ensure I have no distractions and set about making the chapters into a single document.
1. I open a new file and give it the working title (My New Story) followed by ‘main’.
Why don’t I call it ‘master’? I’ll tell you later – that’s mystery and suspense!
2. I keep my new file open and then in succession, I open each chapter.
a) I copy and paste the entire chapter into the ‘My New Story – main’ file.
b) Immediately after inserting a chapter, I add three asterisks in the centre. ***
c) After the three asterisks I insert a page break.
d) I save the document.
e) The next chapter is copied and pasted and will start on a fresh page.
f) I repeat stages a, b, c and d, until all chapters make up a single document.
3. When the chapters have all been successfully added to what is now the main manuscript, I add ‘The End’ and save the document.
4. I copy the freshly saved manuscript to a different drive/device, like a USB stick, or my external hard drive.
5. I’m ready to work on ‘the manuscript’ with my ongoing drafts.
* I’ve come to realise that the opening paragraph in Chapter 1 is generally the first casualty of the first full edit. It will either be amended or exchanged with a different scene.
* Only when my amendments are made throughout, will I read through and see where things can be amended further, like dialogue changes, scene changes, character changes and so on.
* I may add a little detail to some scenes at this stage as ideas come to mind. I develop.
* The manuscript is put aside again for at least a month, or longer if possible.
* It’s only after I’ve read the entire story a couple of times that I think seriously about a graphic portrayal – for the front cover.
* I list several scenes that sound good to me and then I write an email to my only professional support – my book cover designer.
*I send her the jacket blurb, my idea for a strap-line, and a list of scenes written in brief to give her a starting point.
* From that point onwards we’ll exchange emails and she’ll send me several choices each time of what would be the main background. When I see the background that touches the parts that the others didn’t touch – I give my designer the go-ahead.
* The next session of emails are how she foresees the title, strap-line and author name set over the background, usually with some neat, but subtle visual effects.
* When the manuscript is brought out each time from the fourth draft onwards,
I amend and develop the story and the detail.
* I print the manuscript (in double-spacing) with my printer set to ‘draft’ quality, which uses approximately half the quantity of ink used for ‘normal’ quality.
* I ensure there are no distractions: music, TV, other people, etc.
* I have a red pen handy and commence reading through the manuscript again; aloud.
* I make brief notes and amendments directly onto the page where needed in red.
* On a separate sheet of A4 paper I make notes of dates and occurrences as I go through each chapter, to make sure that the dates, times, scenes all correspond.
* When completed, I go to the main manuscript and edit the file on screen from my notes.
* The manuscript is saved and then left alone again for about a month.
Each fresh draft is best done with a decent time period since the previous one. If I concentrate too hard on doing one edit after another, I know I’ll get into the story and miss something vital, or an area that could be improved.
Writing a story is easy.
Editing and taking out large or small chunks of previous effort is hard.
If I come across a scene I’ve become attached to, but it doesn’t work in the story – I file it in my ideas file and use it for some other project, like in a short story perhaps.
However many drafts a story might take, from the fourth draft onwards I follow my system of amend, develop, and check detail – then print and read aloud with red pen in hand.
After each draft, if I make a number of amendments in any given chapter I copy and paste that chapter into a fresh document so that I can give Grammarly a look at my work again. I always keep in mind that my amendments may have affected the overall section.
I deal with the section I’ve ‘removed’. I then delete that section from the main document and insert the refreshed and checked version.
Thick skinned or open-minded?
Since early 2016, I ask for other authors to beta read for me. We have many in the IASD group on Facebook who are not only willing to read and give a critique – they will offer suggestions on anything they don’t think works.
I perform beta reads whenever I can and, it’s a service which pays dividends to the reader and the author.
When the story has been written, amended many, many times, checked on Grammarly, had one or two beta read – it can then be formatted ready for publication. Remember away back at the beginning I mentioned ‘master’?
When the entire manuscript is completed and formatted – I copy it to a separate drive for safe-keeping. I rename the original manuscript ‘My New Story – master’. Why? In this way I know which one is intended for publication, or later for amendment. The copy which I keep somewhere else is for emergencies.
Away back when the whole idea kicked off I set an arbitrary date for publication.
So far with my books I’ve managed to get closer each time. For me, it’s not a race to publish – it’s an aiming mark for producing my best book.