Wednesday, August 5, 2015

10 Ways to Parent Your Manuscript

Many writers refer to their books as their children, so why not treat your manuscript like a child?

1. FOOD. A child must be fed and so must a manuscript. Food = words written.

2. PLAY. A child needs to play and so does a manuscript - or more precisely, its writer. Anyone who has read some of my posts about writing, knows I’m a planner, but I also advocate giving yourself the freedom to wander off that carefully-laid path occasionally. Remember, without that crucial question of ‘What if…’ nothing happens.

3. SLEEP. A child needs to sleep. So does your manuscript. Once you finish that first draft, let it sleep in a drawer. Time away is good. Think of it as recharging your batteries before the next round - just like those naps your toddler takes give you precious time to find your sanity.

4. FRIENDS. A child needs friends. So does your manuscript - but we call them beta/first readers and editors.

5. RULES. A child needs to know who’s boss - and it’s not them. Yes, it’s tricky to get a 2 year old (or a 15 year old) to acknowledge that they’re not all-knowing and the Boss of Everything, but your manuscript can be just as troublesome. Discipline is involved. This is where outlining helps. Think of an outline as your manuscript’s playpen (or, as it was known in my household, the Baby Jail).

6. ROUTINE. Children need a routine so they know what’s coming next - or perhaps it was me as a parent who wanted to feel a bit of control in those toddler years - in any case, routine is good. Having a writing routine for your manuscript is also good. Try to write at the same time each day (or night) even if it’s ten minutes. It gives your work the respect it needs because if you don’t respect it enough to give it time, who will?

7. TO BE HEARD. Children must be listened to - its how we know when they’re hungry, bored, in trouble, etc. Also, there’s a reason why ‘Out of the mouthes of babes’ rings true! Manuscripts must be heard as well. On one level, your manuscript will tell you if you’re going wrong; your characters will stop talking to you. Seriously. This happens. On another level, literally listening to your manuscript, i.e. reading it out loud is a wonderful way to uncover mistakes you hadn’t noticed. Wrong rhythms leap out when you read out loud.

8. SMILES. There is nothing like seeing your baby smile (when it’s really a smile, not gas). Every manuscript needs to smile too - humour, people! Every manuscript needs it.

9.  LOVE. Of course we know a child needs love, but so does your manuscript! How else could you stick with it? It’s a different kind of love than for a child, of course, but I would argue it comes from a similar place.

10.  REWARDS. For the child, this could be a special treat, for the manuscript - publication!

Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by Her A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the Internet.  Elspeth's newest game, The Great British Bump Off is now available from her UK publisher, Red Herring Games, as is her Once Upon a Murder. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.


  1. Great tips for birthing your book baby.

  2. Thanks for these. Although my manuscript is in 'sleep' phase, that doesn't mean I get to nap, too. There are synopses to write, blurbs, pitches for the next in the series (and as a non-plotter, THAT'S a challenge!). And maybe I need to clean my office. I know I have a desk.

    1. I don't know many parents who got to sleep while their baby napped - despite what the books told us to do. Personally, that was the time I tried to get a day's (or two's, or three's) work done!

  3. A balancing act generally needs occur between rules 5 and 7. Outlines (aka baby jails) serve a useful purpose, but they sometimes become too restrictive. Babies (and manuscripts -- including characters) indeed do let us know when they need to be let out of the playpen and allowed to toddle across the floor (page). While allowing them too much freedom may put them in harm's way, giving them the right amount lets them strengthen their legs and grow. Great post, Elspeth.

    P.S. When my babies had gas, they screamed rather than smiled. :-)

    1. I agree, Linda. I would never recommend sticking rigidly to an outline, but I never get anything finished (especially that first draft) without one.

    2. Actually, I do use outlines, at least general ones. Also, I use character sketches, detailed ones for the main characters and less lengthy ones for other characters.

      I attended a writing seminar some years ago in which the featured speaker insisted that our books are NOT our babies. I disagreed with him then, and your post confirms my suspicion that he was way off base. Our stories ARE our babies, and they're often delivered after a long and painful labor. In both human and written form, however, those babies are a labor of love.

  4. Terrific point-if-view! Just the idea of taking care of the writing as you would a child is a paradigm shift for me. I think I'm kind of rough on my writing - always trying to beat the words into shape.

  5. Great post, Elspeth. I think I treat my books better than I treat myself. Somewhere in all the attention I give them, I don't take the time for ME. My house is a wreck, I'm a hermit, and my books are doing fine. So maybe I need to treat me as the baby.

  6. Momma told me so many times she hoped that I would one day have a kid that acts just as I did; talks back, doesn't do what I want it to do, always wants attention when I'm trying to do something else... Momma got her wish.

    One problem child in need of a good home with a loving, adoptive publisher. Any takers?

    Great article and interesting analogy! Thank you!

  7. I enjoyed this post emmensely, it is true. I recently coined the phrase, it takes a village to raise a book.

  8. And one more, Elspeth ... vacation ... like the one this big kid is going on ... ta ta, all.


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