Ten tips for achieving manuscript happiness

By   Hannah Bickerton 3 min read

Jenni Davis has been working in the publishing industry for over twenty-five years, eighteen of which she has worked freelance as an editor, copyeditor, proofreader and writer. Working on a broad variety of genres, Jenni has a particular love of history and heritage. Here she provides ten invaluable tips for perfecting your manuscript!

1. Know yourself! If you’re the sort of person who is reduced to panic by deadlines, set yourself a generous schedule and stick to it, or you’ll end up producing less than your best. If, on the other hand, you produce your optimum results under pressure, set yourself a tight schedule, cancel all engagements, and hunker down to burning the candle at both ends…

2. Discover how to overcome writer’s block. Identify an activity that stills your befuddled mind and allows creativity to resurface. Suggestions: gardening, baking, dancing embarrassingly badly to your favourite track – anything physical that diverts your attention but leaves a smidgen of headspace for inspiration to sneak into.

3. Go with the flow. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, there’s much to be said for allowing evolution – for example, if a brilliant plot twist presents itself that trumps your original idea, or research for a work of non-fiction sends you off in a thrilling new direction. Remember to square it with your editor, however!

4. Keep some means of recording with you at all times – your phone, or a notebook (and a means of writing in it). There’s nothing more frustrating than the perfect sentence constructing itself in your head when you’re miles from your trusty laptop. Inevitably, it will refuse to resurface with such brilliance later on, so record it immediately and carry on, smugly, with whatever you were doing.

5. Read your manuscript out loud, if only in your head. This is useful on so many levels. If you’re writing fiction, you can ‘hear’ places where dialogue sounds unnatural, or clunky, and rework it into what someone would say in the real world. In both fiction and non-fiction, reading out loud identifies sentence construction that trips off the tongue (good) or trips you up (bad) and, in the case of the latter, enables you to rework it in a more elegant and engaging way.

6. Learn to love Thesaurus. There are millions of wonderful words at your disposal, and when you have one in your head that’s sort of right but not quite (or you’ve used it far too many times already), trawling through Thesaurus can lead you to the perfect alternative.

7. Make every word count. You owe it to your reader not to cheat them by being endlessly repetitive or using sentence construction that is awkwardly wordy, simply because you have a word count to meet and you’re falling short. If you’re writing fiction, look at where you can round out descriptions of people or places or feelings. And if you’re writing non-fiction – find more facts.

8. On the subject of word counts – if your publisher/editor has issued a strict word count (and this is especially important if you’re writing something in a series with an established design style), be vigilant about sticking to it: it’s there for a reason. It’s no good hoping no one will notice those extra five thousand words – they will.

9. Know when to leave the reader wanting more – and when not to. If you’re writing fiction, it is of course essential that the reader is left feeling either bereft and looking forward to your next book, or – in the case of a series – dying to know what happens next. In the case of non-fiction, however, the text always needs to be rounded off to avoid an abrupt finish. If in doubt – find a quote. There’s one for every occasion.

10. Factor in a ‘cooling-off period’ before you present your manuscript to your editor/publisher/whomever. Tempting though it is to write the last word and dispatch it with feverish haste, it’s far better to step away from it – for a day or two, or even just overnight – to allow yourself a ‘cold light of day’ review.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.