While my latest work in progress is off with beta readers, I turned my attention to another manuscript, the 4th book in my YA series, Blackbirch.
The last time I worked on this MS was in 2017. Since that time, the first 2 books in the series have been published (in 2o20) and the 3rd will hopefully follow suit soon.
With this old MS predating the published book versions, I knew there was going to be some changes to make to ensure the characters and events in book 4 were following along with what the series had become. With that in mind, I formed a review plan with the following steps.
7 Step Old Manuscript Review Plan
Step 1: Print The MS
When I want to go over an MS, but don’t want to spend that time editing constantly, I need to print things out. On the computer, it’s too easy to tinker instead of just reading through what’s there—which is a goal of this review.
Of course, if you’re not a fan of printing things out, can’t print, or you can trust yourself not to edit as you go, you can work on the screen if that’s your preference.
If you’re like me and need to work off the paper, get printing and then move to the next step.
Step 2: Staple The MS Into Chapters
My printout amounted to 200 A4 pages. That might not seem like a lot compared to some manuscripts, but it still makes for an overwhelming stack. Because of this, step 2 is to break that pile into something smaller.
Separate the MS into chapters and then staple each chapter together. This will automatically give you smaller chunks to work on and you’ll be able to break your review into daily or weekly goals, such as working through 5 chapters a day.
Step 3: Decide On Two Focuses
While the primary goal of this review is to familiarize yourself with the story again, it’s also a good chance to look for other things.
One advantage of reading an old MS is that you’ve likely forgotten the majority of what you’ve written. This makes a read-through like this perfect for picking up typos and inconsistencies.
The typos should jump out, so grab yourself a colored highlighter and mark them as you find them.
As for inconsistencies, a wrong character name or description, an object showing up in chapter 12 even though it was destroyed in chapter 5, and the mention of an event that isn’t anywhere else in the book should now be easy to spot. Give them a highlight too (in another color), and if need be, make an editing note in the margin.
If typos and inconsistencies aren’t what you want to focus on, feel free to pick something else, just keep it to two editing items so this review is productive and efficient.
Step 4: Add A Summary
On the blank back page of each chapter section, jot down a summary of what happened. You can do this in bullet points, or as a timeline paragraph of each major event.
If you have any better ideas for the story while reading, or need to note down changes to make, scribble those ideas down too.
The change notes will help you later when you’re editing, and the summary will help you with the next step!
Step 5: Create An Outline
After reading through all your chapters and making a summary, create an outline of the whole MS.
You can go as light or as in-depth as you like. When I write an outline, I note the most important events in each chapter so I can look at how the overall story is tracking, but you might like to outline whatever works best for your process. Listing things like where the scene took place, which character POV it’s from, and other important details can also be great to include.
With your outline in place, it’s time for step 6.
Step 6: Plan The Next Draft
Once you know how the story currently flows, it’s time to plan the next draft.
With your outline as the guide, look at what scenes might need changing, moving, deleting, or where you need to add a new scene or event.
Next, plan what changes to make and how to make them. When doing this step, I make notes in a notebook and then highlight or tick each one as I achieve it, but feel free to form your own plan with whatever method works for you.
Step 7: Give Yourself A Deadline
It’s overwhelming to read a whole MS again, and hard to deal with all the fixes without freaking out.
If you’re double-digits deep into your MS draft numbers, and the thought of extensive changes yet again only inspires you to start procrastinating, set yourself a deadline.
It could be for a week, a month, or as simple as a commitment to work on your review for 1 hour every day until it’s done. Whichever option you choose, it’ll ensure you don’t waste time or put things off for too long.
At the end of your review, you should have a good idea of your story, a bunch of typos and inconsistencies to fix, a summary of events, an outline, and a plan for what you’re going to edit. Done in a reasonable timeframe, you should be tackling your next draft ASAP and moving one step closer to making that old MS your next finished book!
— K.M. Allan