Writing a book: Good comes from bad

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Willy Stark, the main character of Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All the King’s Men, is a ruthless politician based on the real-life Huey Long. When he gets criticized for his ruthless methods, he says this.

“You’ve got to make good out of bad. That’s all there is to make it with.”

You can rip that statement right out of the novel and post it where you write. It’s great advice for writers.

The First Draft Is the Worst Draft

In popular mythology, the great writer sits down and cranks out a practically perfect draft without breaking a sweat. Real life is different.

For most of us, the first draft is the worst draft. Ernest Hemingway said that, “All first drafts are crap.” Other writers have said the same thing, some in even stronger language.

So, take this as an article of faith. Your first draft will not be nearly good enough for you to publish. What then?

Let It Rest

The best way to see your own manuscript with clear eyes is not to see it right after you’ve written it. Take what you’ve written and put it away. Don’t look at it for a few hours, or a few days, or even a few months. When you go back, you’ll get a more realistic view of what it is you wrote.

Revise and Then Revise Again

I have no idea who said it first, but great writing really is rewriting. Plan on doing at least two more drafts to get your manuscript in shape. Even that may not be enough.

Read Your Writing Aloud

When you’ve got the important points covered, it’s time to read aloud. You can really do this at any point, but I think it’s more efficient to make sure you’ve got the important things in the right order and good supporting material before you start paying close attention to the prose.

Reading your work aloud is great for a couple of reasons. It slows you down and forces you to pay attention to what’s there on the page. And, your mouth will stumble across things that your eyes think are just fine.

When you’ve got a good manuscript that reads smoothly and has all the information you want to convey, it’s time for the next step. If you’re going to have a manuscript evaluation or developmental edit, like a few authors do, this is the best time. When you think you’ve got things the way you want, it’s time for the beta readers.

Bring in The Beta Readers

Beta readers are people who will read your manuscript and critique it. Your beta readers should include some people who are like your ideal reader. They’ll be able to give you a good assessment of whether you’re making the right points and making them clearly. Your beta readers should also include some experts in your field. They’re likely to help you find little things that you got wrong that the casual reader might miss.

You’re Not Done Yet

When you’ve got all that juicy feedback from the beta readers, it’s time to revise the manuscript at least one more time. And then? Then you’re done, but your book isn’t.

This is the point where you send the book off for a professional copyedit. You can think of this as either the last stage of the writing process or the first stage of the publication process.

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