Coming Clean: Revising Old Manuscripts

It's easier to start a new story than it is to revise an old manuscript.  So if you're not committed to the revision process don't bother dusting off that old tomb under the bed.

If like me, you've never completely abandoned  your characters and their stories and they come out to nag you every once in a while.  You might even have taken the time to read a few pages and think, "This isn't so bad.  I should finish it."  

Or maybe you break into a cold sweat at the thought of reading or sharing your first writing efforts and all the work it would take to fix those old manuscripts. 

A little more than a year ago I started thinking, if only I had the time I could turn some of my old manuscripts and partials into self-published projects.  I fixated on a western historical called Fall From Grace.  I knew going in that only 75 of 200 pages were salvageable.  Over the years I'd polished the first three chapters for contests until they shinned.  While the back half of the book was more trouble than it was worth, I could see this manuscript as a short story with a different ending.  Plus I had two other partials for books in the series and three more partials for a connected paranormal series.

Altogether that would be six novellas, two books.  Suddenly I had a very big project on my hands.  I mention this because self-publication is now one of the most common reasons for wanting to revise old manuscripts.

I whipped up covers on the drawing board in ClarisWorks.  Shouted, "Coming soon," to my readers and then began the revision process.  Or would have, had I not become overwhelmed by the process itself.  I had little spare time for this project to begin with and soon discovered I didn't have a clue how to go about self-publishing.  When it comes to going it alone you either have to become an expert or hire experts.  The big three expenses being covers, editing and formatting.  And then afterward there's promotion.

The next six months were spent absorbing everything indie.  It had long been a dream of mine to quit my day job in order to write full time and I made that part of my plan.  Something I never thought possible while chasing publishing contracts.  But I was committed to this project and started to revise in earnest, but revisions soon became a never ending circle.  Another six months came and went.

I abandoned the project at least three times.  Started a new erotica series under a pseudonym.  Wrote and submitted my next Superromance proposal, which  recently sold in a two-book deal.  I'd become a hybrid author, only I didn't have a foot firmly in place on the indie side.

In late December I quit my day job with the intention of picking up where I'd left off with my indie projects.  Time was no longer an excuse.  Writing was now my only source of income.  I scheduled projects and deadlines for the next two years to keep myself on track.

After years of being sleep deprived I felt energized.  There was one project I wanted to work on above all else and I'd scheduled it toward the end of those two years.  I tossed out my schedule for a 400 page manuscript called The Frogman, Prince.  I can still remember the first day I started the story, April 5, 1995.  Hard to believe that was eighteen years ago.

I'd revised it in '98, '00, '04 and '07.  Never could sell it.  But I still believed in the story and started typing a clean draft from three hard copies.  Got bored after a week and tried to merge everything into one document.  Made a mess that took another week to clean up, but wound up with a 460 page draft, which I could work with.

The rest of January went by in a blur as I started revising.  Dealt with disruptions and the distraction of social media in February.  But got back on track in March.  I spent every waking moment at the computer, but wasn't closer to finishing and my self-imposed deadline was coming up.  This sent me into panic mode.

I already knew from experience with contracted deadlines that revisions were my Achilles heel.  I'd muddled through in the past, but that wasn't working for the same reason that it's hard to revise an old manuscript:  We're not the same writers we were starting out.  We're not even the same writers we were yesterday.

We grow, we move on.  But I still didn't want to give up on The Frogman, Prince.  

Convinced all I needed was a better revision process, I asked around only to find my friends either didn't have one or theirs was similar to mine--which surprised me.  Because my process, if you'd call it that, was pure crap.  I started every day on page one.  I'd get as far as I could in an extended work day and the next day I'd get a little further.  Eventually, I'd get it done.

This worked when I was able to read a 300-400 page double spaced manuscript in 6 to 8 hours.  It no longer worked now that I was--dare I say it--older.  Older eyes, older brain, older body.  Enough said.  Besides it wasn't a process.  It was a series of bad habits that created a never ending revision cycle.

All the how to books and blogs seemed focused on what to revise.  If your looking for that kind of help try Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, recommended to me by my editor.  But I still needed help with my process, not just passive voice--though there was a time when I needed plenty of help with that, too.

I'm OCD enough about my writing to need a step by step method.  Putting big fixes before small ones means nothing if I can't even read through a manuscript without stopping to tweak.  It's a little embarrassing to admit I found what I needed on a parent/teacher website, ReadWriteThink.

read like a reader ~ read like a writer ~ read like an editor

I read that and something clicked.  Read like a...reader, writer, editor became my new mantra.  I was able to adapt a three draft revision method that works for me and my OCD.  Hopefully, you don't struggle with revisions like I do, but if you do here's a few tips you might find useful.

read like a reader:  

#1 Print a hard copy of your manuscript.  Or read from your computer screen, just don't be tempted by the keyboard.  It may help to divide the material over several days.  I can read about 100 pages a day comfortably.

#2 Read with a pen and notepad close at hand.  Tell yourself not to write on your draft.  No highlighters, no cheating.  No keyboard, no tracking.  You're reading for enjoyment.  You can take notes for later, but that's it.

read like a writer:

#1 Break out your notes and colored pens.  If you printed a hard copy you get to scribble all over it.  Otherwise, turn tracking on in your word processing program (after you've back up, of course).  Resist the temptation to tackle the manuscript as a whole at this point.

#2 Starting with chapter one focus on a chapter at a time.  Read and let the red ink flow.  You're going to be reading for Story, Scene and Sequel and Motivation/Reaction Units.  You can handle this as one round or three mini rounds.

~Read with Story by Robert McKee and The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler in mind and your notes in hand, making any necessary changes to the big picture.

~Read with Scene and Sequel in mind.  Your scene should have a goal, conflict and end in disaster.  The sequel should have a reaction, dilemma and end in decision.  If you're unfamiliar with Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain the best thing you can do for yourself it to become familiar.

~Read with Motivation/Reaction Units in mind.  Swain again.  M//RU are broken down into motivating stimulus, feeling, action and speech.

*I created a Swain cheat sheet for myself years ago which I promise to share in a future post.  

#3 Repeat for each chapter.  A chapter a day works well for me.  But whatever works for you.

#4 You may want to go through the manuscript as a whole once you've finished revising individual chapters.  If you're not sick of your manuscript by this time focus on tweaking the big Story picture.

Read as an editor:  

#1 Print and read with pen in hand.  Or read and track on your computer.  At this point I know my manuscript is going to an editor so I just clean it up as best I can.   I check for word usage and repetition.  Grammar, spelling and punctuation.  Missing words, etc.

additional editing tips:
~ run your manuscript through a free online editor like ProWritingAid.
~ read your manuscript out loud to catch awkward phrasing.
~ read your manuscript backward one sentence at a time to proof read.

read like a reader ~ read like a writer ~ read like an editor

As to whether you should or shouldn't revise an old manuscript I'll leave that up to you.  I don't see the point in leaving anything under the bed.  However, if you can let a project go then do so.  Pat yourself on the back for the writing practice.  And file it away somewhere because you never know when you might want to cull some characters or scenes.

If you decide to revise an old manuscript remember the three draft method...reader, writer, editor.  Know what your getting into by first reading without revising.  Don't get caught up in a revision cycle.  Make sure you're moving forward and not just spinning your wheels by developing your own method.  And finally, there will always be something that needs tweaking.  Don't be afraid to let go--a good critique and copy editor can do wonders for your manuscript.      

After a slight delay The Frogman, Prince is now in the hands of my esteemed critique partner and will soon be handed off to my copy editor.  Expect the book to be released in April.  However, Fall From Grace is still on the back burner as I rush to meet contractual deadlines.  As always, thank you for your patience.  You'd think that after a decade in this business I'd have all of this figured out by now, but if you have writing tips or tricks I'd love to hear them.

Superromance Authors Blog

I'm blogging at the Superromance Authors Blog today.
Stop by if you get the chance!

Try Harlequin #freebooks by Rogenna Brewer

Harlequin is featuring a book from each of it's lines FREE on

The on sale date is April 1, 2013, but this is no April Fools joke, they're available now for pre order.

You know I couldn't resist The Other Side of Us by Sarah Mayberry.  Throw in a couple cowboys, a werewolf, a Navy SEAL...

Why not get one of each?  Here's the link:

Q&A Blog Bling by Rogenna Brewer

Q: What's with all the bling?

A:  Do you see me wearing any jewelry?

Unless you're referring to the blog bling in the sidebar of my web blog.  Where else would I put?

I like to redecorate and blogger makes it easy to "Add a Gadget."  Images, text, even html.  Link them or not.  Explore and experiment, I say.  There are plenty of tutorials out there if you need them.

Here's one:  Hubby Jack's Blog Attack  Not my hubby, but somebody's.

Okay, maybe I don't agree with Jack's advice on using gadgets sparingly.

Like I said I'm in the experimental stage.  Still trying to figure out what works for me.  I like quirky things.  Check out my Macquarium post and don't forget to take the poll and feed the fishes (just a click). I just hope you're scrolling down far enough to take it all in.  There's something special I'd like you to do at the bottom of the page...

Time For A Macquarium by Rogenna Brewer

 Time to turn this iMac into a Maquriam?
Let me preface this by saying I love my Mac.  I wouldn't even be thinking about turning my computer into a fish tank if it weren't so old that the operating system can no longer support internet browsing.  Can't live without internet.  My entire professional life is conducted online these days.  

I acquired my last eMac (not pictured) while broke and on deadline.  The screen of its predecessor had gone dark and I wanted the same model, software, everything.  Because I didn't have time to learn anything new while in the middle of writing a book.  I had to scrape up the money to buy it.  Lucky for me no one wanted the bulky old eMacs any more so I was able to get a refurbished one for $100 and save my sanity in the process. 

If you've ever lost a hard drive while on deadline you know exactly what I'm talking about.  But it wasn't as bad as all that.  I'd backed up my files and was able to clone my other computer just fine.  I've owned two eMacs, three iMacs (all bubbles), including waiting in line 4 hours to pay just $600 for a hot pink iMac when they first came out.  Got the last one of that color in the entire store.  Two years later I replaced that tray drive iMac with a slot drive iMac in the same color.  

The one in the picture we picked up for the kids from a school sale.   And I don't even know the name of the Apple model which was my very first computer as I transitioned from a word processor.  My kids think I'm stupid for not having bought Apple shares back in the day when we were all chiseling our manuscripts on stone tablets.  Same with AOL because I'm the only person they know that snagged their first name as an email address.

I have the Navy to thank for my early introduction to computers.  Remember green screens and blinking cursers?  Hard drives filled entire rooms back then and somehow we still managed to get to the moon and back.  I'm not as ancient as my kids make me out to be, but I'm willing to admit I've fallen behind the current technology.

Having chosen comfort and familiarity over newer models I find that I'm now three operating systems and six designs behind the times.  I've also never owned a laptop.  Even my husband and grown kids own laptops and I'm the writer in the family.  I've decided to go all out and get both a new laptop and flat screen desktop.  I'm not living in the lap of luxury with pink boas and bonbons to throw around so I'll have to get one first and then the other.  But I'm upgrading all the way this time.  

While friends may try and talk me into a PC, I've already made up my mind.  OS X Mountain Lion here me roar!  The only choice in my mind is MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.  And which I should buy first a MacBook or a flat screen iMac.  

The question that remains is what should I do with my old iMac?  I'm not all that thrilled with the idea of cleaning a fish tank.  But it would make a pretty one, don't you think?  Should I turn my iMac into a Macquarium or not?

Cast your vote in the sidebar and check back to find out what I do with my iMac.

Try Harlequin #freebooks by Rogenna Brewer

Harlequin is featuring a book from each of it's lines FREE on

The on sale date is April 1, 2013, but this is no April Fools, they're available now for pre order.

You know I couldn't resist A SEAL's Seduction by Tawny Weber.  Throw in a couple cowboys, a werewolf...

Why not get one of each?  Here's the link:

The Perks of Being a Social Media Wallflower

“Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense.”
― Stephen ChboskyThe Perks of Being a Wallflower

I'm going through an awkward stage. I have no idea how to use social media as a marketing tool. I've been told by an industry guru that I need to engage readers on facebook and twitter in order to sell books.

Supposedly this can be done in as little as 15 minutes a day without ever hitting anyone over the head with my own books. Which is a big no, no.

So I scroll through recycled quotes and pet photos, liking a couple here and there. Posting the occasional comment when a friend has news to share and trying not to feel envious of research trips and vacation photos.

My only original facebook posts are my Sunday FREE Kindle book picks. And only because Amazon makes it easy.

On twitter I get a bit of industry news along with the most insignificant moments of a person's day. There's an agent espousing views on gun control while I try to be a-political so as not to offend any readers. As if anyone really cares that I, "Ordered a tall, got a Grande."

“... Try to be a filter, not a sponge.”
― Stephen ChboskyThe Perks of Being a Wallflower

The truth is it's all just white noise to me. Yet I'm fascinated by those authors who make themselves heard. There are even publishers who require a social media marketing plan along with submissions. So I stand here with my back against the wall, observing the popular kids.

Hoping someday to be less awkward. And that I'll get around to figuring out Goodreads.

I don't know if blogging twice a week helps or hurts my books sales, but at least I feel connected.

Oh, those perks I mentioned?

Wallflowers don't care that we're not social media savvy.  When we connect it's meaningful.

“It’s much easier not to know things sometimes.”

Do you consider yourself a social media wallflower? Or a social media butterfly? 

I wrote this back in January for and wanted to give you this glimpse before I give you an update.  Stay tuned.  

Q&A Contest

Q: What's up with your contest?

A: Well, a bigger prize for one thing.

Starting this month I'll be using Rafflecopter to manage my contests.  You can simply enter or earn extra points with a little effort.  Drop by every day if you'd like.  You're not bothering me.  I like it when you stop by.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Recent Releases