My Manuscript Clean-Up Process – In 10 Steps!

So I finished my Snow White story and it’s off to beta readers. While I was finishing it up, I took notes so I would write a blog post on my MS clean-up process.

First, back in the middle of October, I decided I was finished with the rough story. My first draft actually includes making about 3 passes through the manuscript. I tend to write a very bare-bones first draft, because the story is coming fast and furious, and I just want get it down. My actual first draft was about 15,000 words. When I finished in October, I had added about 10,000 words. It was at that point that I set it aside.

Why set it aside? Back in the spring, I took an online course by Angela James entitled Before You Hit Send (well worth the money). Part of what she stressed was giving your manuscript time to just sit. You cannot effectively edit unless you have a fresh viewpoint. And you get that by giving yourself a break from it, for at least 3 weeks. So I did. I worked on my time travel story, plus I wrote 3500 words of a Beauty and the Beast story. Then, I went back to Snow White, printed it out, wrote all over it, and did another draft or two. I ended up with a draft of about 33000 words, plus a discards file of 5000 words (my smallest ever!)

That was kind of a long preface to the meat of this blog, but over the weekend, I did my manuscript clean-up. Here’s what I do:

  1. Remove scene titles. I make heavy use of the Document Map in Word (now called the Navigation Pane), and I name all my scenes so I can just point and click the map to jump to a scene. When I clean my doc, these are deleted.
  2. Ensure scene break formatting is consistent. Usually I’ll use a hash (the old-fashioned way), but since I know CP uses *** scene breaks, that’s what I use for stories I intend to submit there first.
  3. Ensure chapter break formatting is consistent, and chapter numberings are correct. There is no right way, just pick a way and be consistent.
  4. Name chapters. I did this for The Sevenfold Spell, so I needed to do it here. Make sure the chapter names are not spoilery. They should “go with” the beginning of the chapter, not the end.
  5. Skim for unnecessary scenes. These are the scenes that don’t drive the plot forward. I found one scene during my final clean-up that had to go, thus swelling my discards file past 5000 words.
  6. Skim for pacing. Page through the story by scrolling it with your mouse wheel. If one scene requires notably more srolls than the others, take a closer look. Same goes for short scenes. You might even want to zoom way out on your MS so you can just take in the scene lengths without getting distracted by the words. (Set your zoom to 10% and you’ll see what I mean.)
  7. Check chapters endings and beginnings. Do the endings end on a cliffhanger without seeming gimmicky? Do they flow? Do the beginnings progress naturally from the ending, and if not, do you have a good reason for it? I had to change the order of two scenes because I didn’t want to get through the morning, and then go back in time to an earlier point and get through the morning again for my other character.
  8. Fuss over the whole thing, backwards and forwards. Review the todo list that is in your mind, and get’em done. Try to think of any last minute tweaks you need. Make sure the tweaks don’t change the story more than you intended.
  9. Go into Document Properties and fill out the author, title and any other information you desire, such as the series title.
  10. Send to your beta readers. Yes, you have to be prepared to again sit back and wait. Find some good readers–they are hard to find–and send them off, and give them a good long time before you expect anything back. I gave my readers till the middle of January. In the meantime, I get to work on my other stories. Yippie!

Also, while waiting for feedback (an eleventh step!), I read the whole story aloud. This helps more that you would believe. My husband listens to me (and makes suggestions), but even reading by myself clues me in to so many voice problems.

What will I do when I get the feedback back? Another draft, of course! But this one–unless the feedback was “major work is needed”–is the final one before I submit.

5 Thoughts to “My Manuscript Clean-Up Process – In 10 Steps!”

  1. I’m all in agreement about letting it sit for a while and coming back to it with fresh eyes. There has never been a time when I set it aside and came back later that I regretted it. It’s always a huge help.

    I didn’t know I could title scenes in the navigation pane like that. I’m still not entirely sure I understand how it works, but the first thing I’m doing when I sit down to write tonight is pull out my Office 2010 manual and see if I can figure out how it works. It sounds like it will be a lot easier than the way I’m doing things. So thanks!

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Hi Katie! I actually wrote instructions for this here:

      It’s geared toward Word 2003, but you can still use much the same process in the modern versions of Word. See the sidebar for a whole series of articles about using Word for writing novels.

      1. Ooh! Awesome! I tried to figure it out on my own last night and it didn’t go so well, so this should help a bunch.

  2. Oh, I love writing process posts. I love how every writer develops her own system.

    Good luck with the story!

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Thank you! 🙂

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