10 Simple Steps To Reno a Manuscript

So you’re cleaning out your files of works in progress, false starts and abandoned projects. Delete, delete, delete. Crumple and dump. It’s going great. Then you start reading.

Cancel plans for the rest of the day and follow these steps:

  1. Pull up (or out, if in a drawer) the old manuscript. Dust off the real or metaphorical cobwebs.
  2. Read the manuscript.
  3. Realize it’s pretty good. Decide it needs to be published.
  4. Sit down to give it a quick edit, or type it into Word (if a printout).
  5. Realize it’s pretty bad and needs to be beaten into shape.
  6. Highlight. Delete. Patch in new stuff. Highlight. Ctrl X, Ctrl V.
  7. Read it over again. Decide it’s much better and just needs another once-over.
  8. Three minutes into the once-over, realize it’s a big mess.
  9. Patch in more new stuff. Highlight. Delete. Highlight. Ctrl X, Ctrl V. Repeat Steps 6 through 9 as needed, pulling hair (if any) to relieve stress.
  10. Publish. OR say “Nuts to that,” and start writing a brand new version something else.

Last week I remembered a sort of by-product of my first novel that I stashed away on a floppy disk (back in 2001, this was). Like anything with that brink-teetering, obsolescent technology feeling, it suddenly seemed worth another look. And bonus! I found a printout, so didn’t have to dig out the old grey, 2-inch-thick Toshiba laptop from the previous millennium to read it.

After a quick read I thought “Wow! This is great! An almost lost gem. So I hastened to key it in to a fresh Word document.

Tip: If you’re not sure about the quality of a piece of writing, print it out and try transcribing it. Typing out every single word reveals a multitude of faults. A couple pages into transcribing the almost lost gem, I was making parenthetical comments in the text, like: (Geez! Enough already! You’ve already said this three times!)

Pop on the thinking cap. Think, think, think. Result: a better idea of what the piece has to look like.

Back to the manuscript to start the beating-into-shape process.

Right now, it’s been reduced from 10k words to about 6k. Some paragraphs have been moved so many times their little heads are spinning. Others have been highlighted in an array of colours meaning “Delete” or “Consider deleting” or “Repurpose.” Lots of new text has been added (and changed, and deleted, and moved).

I’m reminded of remaking a garment. Turning a pair of pants into a skirt, for example. Or a dress into a smock. Or a silk purse into some sort of unmentionable. One of those projects that seems simple at first blush.

And to complicate things, I’ve already designed a cover image for this story. (Trying out Canva!) So I have to to make it work! Look for more in the next couple of months.






  1. I’ve got four novels from the late 90s which are serviceable, but luckily several more are entombed on floppy discs with no way of accessing them. Too much distraction.

    But it’s always interesting to come across something from years ago. We’re often told to put a new piece aside for several months; several years certainly makes one very critical.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see what you mean — almost exactly the scenario I described. My printout was held together with a slightly rusty bulldog clip (although I didn’t mention that in the post). Well, we’ll see what I come up with. Thanks for the link.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Once I’ve got the story whipped (or beaten) into shape (such violence!), I plan to do a cover reveal. I’m actually pretty impressed with Canva. I’ll probably write a blog post about my experiences with it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hahaha love the list, sounds pretty much exactly like my writing process. Except nowadays I skip straight to “Re-write the whole darn thing” because I know I’m going to get to that step eventually, so there’s no point in beating around the bush.

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  3. Reblogged this on WHAT THE HELL and commented:
    Excellent advice from friend of the blog, Audrey Driscoll, on how to repurpose an old manuscript … a really old manuscript. Spoiler alert: there’s no such thing as a gold nugget hidden in your sock drawer.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great advice. I find there’s always parts in my ‘old slush’ that I should have worked on as the main focus or angle of the story. They require a full rewrite but that’s often better than keeping my old bad writing habits in tact.

    Liked by 1 person

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