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Manuscript planning

Manuscript planning - Nikki Young Writes

This is my work station at the moment. When I get time to work on my fiction writing, that is.

It’s been too lovely to sit at a desk staring at the wall. I’d much rather be in the kitchen, looking out over the garden, lush and green as it is at the moment.

I’m planning my story.

It seems like a backwards way of doing things seen as though I’ve already written two drafts.

The thing is, they just didn’t quite work.

As this is my first book, I’ve kind of learned my trade through the writing of it. There are things I know now that I wish I’d known when I first started out, but I guess that’s the nature of the game.

I could use this story as a way of learning the craft and leave it at that, but I know there is a great story somewhere in there and I’ve just got to get it out.

I want to get it right.

So back to the planning I’ve gone.

It was some time ago now a friend leant me a ‘how to’ kind of book. I hadn’t read any for a while and I was stuck with what to do and how to go forward, so I thought I would give it a go.

This book has made me see the light. So much so, I had no choice but to go back to the drawing board. Never has the process of writing a novel been so clear to me and I’m hoping this can take me forward to finally write a draft I can really believe in.

In the time it has taken me to write this novel, others would have written three or four manuscripts, but each of them probably lies untouched on their hard drive because the author knows they haven’t quite got them to where they want to be.

That’s how some authors work – to keep writing until the right story comes along. For me, I’ve concentrated on the one story, stubbornly refusing to give up and put it to one side. For me, this story is my on-the-job training, my apprenticeship. It’s also my baby and I refuse to give up on it.

So whilst I occasionally get too frustrated and have to put it to one side to concentrate on something else, I always come back refreshed and ready to tackle it again.

This time, with all this careful and meticulous planning, I’m determined to get it right.



  1. Rebecca Ann Smith says

    What was the ‘how to’ book? Sounds like it’s been helpful. I’ve been listening to the story-grid podcast and the episode on rewriting was illuminating: one of the contributors, an editor, basically said that in your first draft you work out what your themes are, and it takes several more drafts to knock the thing into shape. Which sounds a bit like what you’re doing? And was reassuring for me because that’s what I do too!

    • Nicola Young says

      It’s Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and he basically says that if you do your planning properly, you don’t need to do loads of re-writes. Unfortunately I can’t test that but out, but his way of explaining things really resonates with me

  2. turningupindevon says

    Writing needs tenacity and dogged determination, which you have in oodles (love that word) so that’s a massive plus. I agree that thorough planning makes for a great foundation and then if/when we go a bit off piste (and stuff freakily writes itself) then we’ve still got the map of the mountains! Did you know Curtis Brown Literary Agents are doing a £200 online novel planning etc course xxx

    • Nicola Young says

      Yes it is a good word! I was going to save my money to consult with the Writer’s Workshop and one of their editors. I’m also hoping to go to their writing festival in York.

  3. caramckee says

    My first novel is sitting on my hard drive at the moment. Like yours I think it’s got lots of potential but it’s 100 thousand words of wrongness at the moment. I wrote about that here:
    Changing it involves changing the world, the characters and the story, and was so overwhelming that I put it away and wrote another book. But I’m going back to it…
    Hope yours comes together beautifully.

    • Nicola Young says

      It sounds like you were on your way to getting it sorted though, but I can understand the overwhelming sensation of having to change so much. It’s an exhausting process when you’ve already spent so long in your character’s heads and world. Good luck with it all though.

  4. bujabs says

    Its always good to read such posts and know am not alone in my creative process. Am writing a fantasy novel. Praying by all that is righteous that I finish as soon as possible and start pitching and querying,

  5. johannewinwood says

    I’m having a break from my novel at the moment, it’s just not flowing for me so I’m writing more short pieces until something clicks. I read a quote recently which said that the first draft is just the writer telling the story to themselves which seems right to me! Good luck ironing out the crinkles!

    • Nicola Young says

      I never got around to drafting in April for Nano because I was still plotting and planning. I think that’s a great quote though – very true. All the planning in the world won’t mean anything until you write that first draft. It’s only then that you see the whole story out in front of you as it evolves.

  6. sophieblovett says

    I think the whole process of writing and rewriting is fascinating. For me, the way I’ve worked has varied for the different novels I’ve written – as you say there is an awful lot of craft-learning going on, and it is definitely worth persevering to create something you’re happy with! I’ve actually consciously done less pre-planning with my current novel, and I know that’s going to mean a really rigorous redrafting process. I’m hoping being more free with the first draft, though, might help capture a deeper authenticity. We shall see! xx

  7. Alice @ The Filling Glass says

    I’ve heard that first time novels take much longer than subsequent ones; like you said you have to learn your craft somewhere. I don’t believe there’s a formula to being able to do it, otherwise I reckon you just get ‘stiff’ stories. I hope I am like you when I get to the end of my first draft, and have the energy and belief left to make it work. Xx

    • Nicola Young says

      I expect it does. You start out thinking you want to write a novel and then you realises it’s blooming difficult. Sticking at it is what’s going to make you an author I guess (we hope!).

  8. kareninglis says

    Hi Nicola – if it’s of any comfort The Secret Lake went through many many (many!) drafts – well over 20 – before it was finally fit for publication! I started writing it without a plan – just a kernel of an idea that was sparked by children playing in the communal gardens of Notting Hill and Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park. All I knew is that it would involve the two children going back it time and meeting the children in their past time home – and that there would be a lake they had to row across. So I sat down and started to write and developed the story as I went along.

    Much of that process was really exciting as characters and plot twists often presented themselves to me without asking – and I rather felt that I was watching a jolly good mystery movie. But there were also many difficult times when I just couldn’t work out where to go with it next — and got so tired!! And then when I finally finished it I realised that although the fundamentals of the story were very good, there was a huge amount that still needed fixing. So at that point I started outlining changes and putting them into practice. But even after that I knew I wasn’t happy…. something wasn’t working or convincing and I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

    It finally took a third party in the form of two trusted editor/bookworm friends to read it and reassure me that it was worth pursuing and on top make a few suggestions that spurred me on to come up with (after many more drafts and edits!) the final version. [Tip – avoid time travel if you can – you get into all sorts of pickles making sure things make sense!] And when it was ready I knew. And it was worth all the pain!

    I was determined to learn from my mistakes for my next book so I outlined Eeek! in advance — that really helped in terms of getting to the end of the first draft, but I still went through many iterations in order to get to the final MS. And once again I just ‘knew’ when it was ready. (If you don’t get that certain feeling then there is more work to do..!)

    With Walter Brown I had doubts all the way along — even after many rewrites. So I hired a professional editor (I think after i sent you the near-final draft) who pushed me the further mile to flesh out a couple of the characters. It was a relief, however, that she emphasised in her feedback that it really was just ‘light touch’ improvements that were needed. She didn’t tell me what these change should be – rather she pointed out where I could up the tension a bit more, and where she felt a couple of the peripheral characters might need rounding out. How I did this was up to me but it came very easily once I know I had to do it and the changes really did make all the difference. And again I finally got to the magical moment of knowing the books was ready. All of which is to say — you are not alone! Keep at it!


    • Nicola Young says

      You are very inspiring to me, Karen and this really helps to reassure me. Do you really know when you’re done though? I wonder whether I will ever have the confidence to believe that. Also, you have to stop giving it to people to read at some point don’t you? Everyone has an opinion and no two are the same. It’s crazy when I give a piece of my work to my writing group. Sometimes the feedback is do conflicting I’m left feeling more confused than when I started.

      • kareninglis says

        I think you do know when you are done – or at least that you have done the very best you can and you feel satisfied with that. That doesn’t mean you don’t still have doubts – we all do all of the time. Jo Penn tweeted something on this the other day – I’ll go and see if I can find the link and leave it here later.

        I never gave my books to more than a couple of people — I can imagine that for me it could be confusing getting too many opinions. Ideally one wants to find a couple of people who are well read but also enjoy the sort of books that you do (just my opinion). I am always amazed at the Nosy Crow book club that I attend semi-regularly how diverse people’s views are on the many fine trad pubbed (sometimes award-winning) children’s books we read! That said, it’s a bit like when trying to get the baby to sleep through the night — you take in everyone’s suggestions and then do what works for you. You definitively need to feel that whatever changes you make are ones you believe in – and that may involve having to cut huge swathes or re-purpose huge chunks (been there and done that!)

        I’d suggest that once you get to a point where you feel you’re as happy as you can be then consider paying for a structural editor to look at it for you if you’re really really unsure. I found mine for WB via Reedsy. (She worked for Harper Ccllins and others for many years.) I could tell from her profile CV that she was very thorough and would be very honest as well as (importantly) having the relevant interest in my sub-genre within children’s. (Do let me know if you use them as I think they may give me a credit or something for making a referral! – however you may be nowhere near that point yet…)

        Hope that helps rather than hinders!

        • Nicola Young says

          This is fab advice, thanks so much. Could I put this in a blog post as an interview or something. The What I’m Writing group would really appreciate this advice I think

  9. Eli Pacheco says

    You’re doing it right, Nikki. The process isn’t so linear, and our everyday experience shapes and molds us, and as a result, our writing and approach to writing. As much as you are a work in progress, so is your work in progress.

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