How to manage your manuscript...

So, when I’d finished writing the first draft of Spaghetti Head it totalled 90,000 words.  I closed the file for a month before again reading through it.  ‘Really?’ I thought, ‘had I written that brilliant sentence?  Followed by that page of total rubbish?’  I had, and it was clearly time for the red pen – or in my case, green pen.  Red pens seem angry to me so I always use the more calming and encouraging colour of green.

But how much should I cut?  And where do I put what I cut – and if I need to use it at a later date somewhere else in the manuscript how will I ever find it again? 

I opened a ‘first draft deletions’ file and chapter by chapter I pasted in everything that I ruthlessly slashed from the draft.  Some of it was well written, just not in the right place, so that went in a ‘first draft deleted but good’ file.  Was this how best to do it?  I had no idea – but it seemed a logical way to start.

Some characters excited me, others bored me.  I cut the ones who bored me and listened to the ones I liked.  If I found myself skipping over a passage I deleted it – it obviously wasn’t holding my interest.  And so on and so forth.  I was fleshing out and building up the areas that I liked at the same time, otherwise I’d have ended up with few words left!

The second draft was better.  The third better still.  I sent it to an advisory agency for feed-back and when the report came back with suggestions for changes I realised major surgery lay ahead.  But how?  How could I juggle 85,000 words into place?  If I changed something on page 95 then it would have an effect on everything that went before it.  As I sat wondering how I was ever going to get through this stage I realised one problem was that I didn’t know my story well enough.

I felt overwhelmed.  I googled for help, but none came: I had to figure this out for myself.  So what did I do?  I sat in front of my computer, opened my manuscript and I read, re-read and re-read.  I read it on-screen, I printed it out and read it, I read it in book format on my pc and I read it out loud until I was so sick of it I thought I’d never want to read it again.  But I got to know it inside out. 

The fourth draft was much better.  I wrote cards with the chapter names on and what needed to change within that chapter and I shuffled the cards around on the floor.  I developed time-line after time-line until I had everything happening in order. 

The fifth draft was good.  I read it into voice recorder on my iphone and listened back to it.  BAM!  That was a game-changer.  If it didn’t sound right listening back then I figured it wasn’t anything that a character would normally say to anyone – so it was changed or cut.  If it sounded good out loud then it was right.  Any characters that seemed flat were beefed up.  Any scene that I couldn’t see in my mind was changed.  If I got to a section that I was struggling with, I circled around it until I realised what needed changing.

The sixth draft was definitely getting there.  I sent it off to a professional editor and when it came back I went through the whole process again, incorporating all the changes.  It was during the last re-write that I felt I knew my characters inside-out and that was when I made the most significant changes..  Even when I was bored to tears of the story I kept re-reading.

I made up my own rules for how to re-write from the first draft to the seventh and final: there is no magic formula – just sit down and get stuck in!

Sarah Tyley