How to Write a Manuscript

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Writing a book is a complex, demanding, and wonderful process, but the blank page can sometimes be overwhelming. The work starts long before you type the first word on that page—a good story requires a coherent and carefully devised outline to lean on, and you need to thoroughly flesh out your plot and characters before you can create the outline. 

From sorting and sharpening your ideas and defining your character arcs to finding a literary agent and publishing your book, writing is much more than what readers see on the page. And that’s what they want—for the hard work to be hidden from them so it feels effortless. However, it doesn’t mean that, as an author, you get to skip the hard parts, like writing your manuscript. 

If you’ve already finished your draft, check out our professional manuscript critique services to get high-level feedback about your work. If you’re just starting out, where do you even begin?

Write an outline

Outlines will look different for each writer, and though not everyone likes doing them, outlines can be incredibly helpful when writing a manuscript. They can contain all sorts of information depending on your genre and topic. They might not follow a traditional “skeleton” structure, but they have to work for you and your story. Since they’re really just a guideline to assist you as you write the manuscript, you just need to determine what works for you—that may be different from what works for your fellow authors. 

The purpose of an outline is to help you stay on track, remember important details, maintain your pace, and remind yourself of your main story and mission statement. It’s basically your guide to writing your manuscript, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, a poetry collection, or any other work. It keeps everything organized and consistent, helping you remember small but important details that you may otherwise forget to include.

Don’t worry: Your outline isn’t set in stone, and you can always change your story halfway if your original ideas aren’t working the way you hoped. That said, having an outline guarantees a starting point. Actually, creating a refined outline helps you gauge your satisfaction with the overarching development of the story, and since you haven’t started writing yet, it’s easy to make radical changes with minimal effort. Plus, it’s a great way to spot plot holes before they crop up. 

Even if you’re still unsure where your story is headed or how your characters will develop, an outline lets you explore and ground your ideas so that you have a clearer path to follow once you tackle that blank page. It doesn’t need to include all the fine little details—that’s what the actual manuscript is for—but it should provide a solid picture of the main events in the story.

Don’t give in to writer’s block

Most successful writers don’t believe in writer’s block. That’s because when they’re feeling uninspired, lost, or overwhelmed by the blank page, they will force themselves to write, even if it’s gibberish and unrelated to what they’re working on. Why? Because writing is like a mental sport, and the more you train, the better you’ll get at it. Motivation is fickle and fleeting, but discipline is unwavering. So, grab a notebook and a pen or open a new document on your computer and start writing without thinking about it too much or worrying if it’s any good. Just write. You can revise it (or have it professionally edited) later.

Once you start writing—about your day, a dream, a conversation you overheard, your frustrations with writer’s block—your ideas and words will flow more naturally, and you might find yourself suddenly inspired to keep working on your manuscript. You can also force yourself to write a scene you’ve been dreading because even if it’s not the best version of itself, it’s better than staring at that dreaded blank page. You’ll thank yourself later for doing it—an imperfect version of that crucial scene is much closer to perfect than an empty page. 

Setting yourself a minimum amount of time to work on your writing each day and giving yourself deadlines are also great motivators. Clear all the distractions out of your writing environment, too. Ditch your phone in the other room and turn off the Wi-Fi if you have to.

Whatever method works for you is the right one as long as you’re not using it to procrastinate. The most important thing is not to give up on writing because your muse isn’t hovering over your shoulder every minute of every day. Inspiration usually comes from working, not the other way around, so don’t use writer’s block as an excuse not to write. 

Ignore your inner perfectionist

Listen, nothing is perfect, and writers can find it hard to accept that they’re never going to write the perfect book. Embracing the idea of imperfection can be incredibly liberating. Yes, you’re probably still going to obsess over details like punctuation and spelling, maybe even formatting, but you can leave that to a professional proofreader or developmental editor, or at least worry about these things once you’ve completed your first full draft. After all, it doesn’t matter if you spelled some word wrong if you never actually finish the manuscript. Keep in mind that a draft can always be improved upon, but the only way to improve upon a blank page is by populating it with words. 

Perfection is boring anyway, so let it go. It’s natural to have a crystal-clear vision of each scene in your head and to want the words on the page to reflect it accurately. However, it’s virtually impossible for artists to bring to life the exact images in their heads. Don’t forget that when you’re wallowing in self-hatred because of all the ways your manuscript deviates from your vision, no one else will know what you had in mind and will look at your work objectively.

Writing can be scary and frustrating, but few things compare to the satisfaction of completing that first draft, so don’t get discouraged and keep writing! Once you’re ready to show someone else your manuscript, consider our critique services, which will help you get one step closer to publishing your book. 

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