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What Is a Manuscript?
A manuscript is a draft of a writer’s work—whether it’s a memoir, a novel, a collection of poetry, a children’s story, a nonfiction book, or something similar. While the word “manuscript” used to refer to a version of a book that was written longhand or with a typewriter, it’s now used to refer to any unpublished work, including work written using a computer’s word processor.
8 Tips for Writing a Great Manuscript
If you’re interested in writing a manuscript—be it your first book or your tenth—here are a few tips to help you do it.
1. Set Aside Writing Time.
The most important part of writing a manuscript is simple: you need to write. While this may seem self-explanatory, there are so many demands and distractions in life that sitting down and writing consistently is usually the biggest challenge most writers face.
If you want to complete a manuscript, it’s crucial that you set aside writing time to work on it. Ideally, you should set aside at least an hour a day, every day—that way, you’ll learn to expect it and prepare yourself for it. You could even establish a word count you want to hit each day.
2. Don’t bBelieve in Writers’ Block.
Even if you feel like you have nothing to write, you should still sit down for your writing time and try something. In the words of award-winning author Neil Gaiman, “People love … to talk about writer's block because it sounds … like something that you can do nothing about. ‘I have writers’ block. I cannot write. And it is the will of the gods,” Neil says. “And that, of course, isn’t true.”
Don’t succumb to the fallacy of “writers’ block”—when you feel stuck, try a few tips for getting around it:
- Distract yourself. Step away for a moment and go do something else—often your brain will keep working to solve the problem while you’re thinking about other things.
- Read you work again. Come back to your work and read it from the beginning, pretending you’ve never read it before. Often, you’ll be able to see very clearly where the story went in the “wrong” direction, and you can delete the part that’s not working and try again.
- Write the hard parts. If you’re feeling stuck because you’re nervous or unsure about the next plot point, write it anyway—you may find that it takes the story in a new and interesting direction.
- Give yourself a deadline. When you’re accountable to a specific timeframe, you’ll feel more motivated to get the job done.
- Write the next thing you know. Even if you don’t have a full outline for the story, you probably have one more place that the story can go. Write that point, and then see where the story can go from there.
3. Lay Yourself Some Groundwork.
Writing is a much more difficult task if you haven’t done a little planning first—whether that’s an outline, some research, a book title, or even just a quick written “mission statement” or goal of your work.
If you’re having a hard time coming up with an outline, try writing a cover letter for your manuscript idea: a one-page letter that pitches your work to prospective book publishers or agents. Don’t worry that you haven’t written the manuscript yet or don’t know how it ends—just try writing the pitch for your cover letter and see what you come up with. It may result in some interesting plot points you haven’t tried yet!
4. Don’t Stop at the End of a Paragraph.
When it comes time to stop writing for the day, try to leave yourself on a bit of a cliffhanger, rather than wrapping up the scene or chapter that you’re working on. That way, when you sit down the next day to write some more, you won’t have to start fresh with a new paragraph or a new page—you’re already in the middle of the action and it will be much easier to get right back into the writing.
5. Network With Other Writers.
A great resource for writers is a circle of other writers. Meeting other writers can help in a variety of ways—from getting good tips to develop better writing habits to having a reliable group of readers who can give you feedback on your project. You may even find a co-author for your manuscript. Another bonus about keeping in contact with other writers is that they can help keep you accountable for writing, which will help encourage you to set aside your consistent writing time.
6. Worry About the Manuscript Format Later.
Title pages, indentation, chapter titles, page numbers, scene breaks, endnotes, double or single spaced—manuscript preparation can be a dizzying task, and if you’re doing it all for the first time, you can easily get overwhelmed. That’s why it’s a good idea to worry about the formatting later, so that right now you can spend your time focusing on writing interesting descriptions, strong characters, and compelling plots—not worrying about Times New Roman versus Arial. The only thing that matters right now is readability.
7. Resist Perfection.
Many fiction writers get caught up in reading and re-reading what they’ve written, so that they can revise, copyedit, and proofread their manuscript—but try to resist that urge. The best thing you can be doing to finish your manuscript is to write it, and you should worry about making it perfect later. Try to make it a goal: don’t go back to the introduction section or the first page until you’ve finished.
8. Keep Writing!
Manuscript writing is a long process that can wear even the best writers out—but don’t get discouraged! If you want to finish your project and see your first novel on bookshelves in New York, then the best thing you can do is to just keep writing—and then get ready for manuscript submissions.
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