Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Writing Wednesday: Planting the Seeds for a Manuscript

Spring is the time of renewal and new growth. Time for planting seeds and nurturing them into being. I’m not just talking gardens here – spring it the perfect time to plant all kinds of new seeds in your life!

Perhaps that “seed” you want to plant takes the form of an idea for a new book. The seed could be a character name, a tricky situation, an unusual adventure, or even a full-fledged orchestrated trilogy. It’s still just an idea – a seed – until you get started.

Where to begin?

Just like with planting a garden, you need the right tools and some planning to successfully nurture your book idea and help it grow into a manuscript. The most obvious of a writer’s tools is the computer on which to type your manuscript. But there are other, less obvious tools that an aspiring writer might want to take advantage of.

You might want to sign up for a Writing Class. Here on Cape Cod we are lucky to have a plethora of published authors and writing coaches who teach classes outside of traditional college classrooms. But it doesn't matter where you live - many community education programs offer writing classes for beginners and so do local libraries. Seek and you will find.

What are the benefits of taking a class? The first and most obvious is community. Writing is a lonely business, and it’s helpful to have a support group to both cheer your progress and keep you going over the rough patches as you master the learning curve of a new skill.

A class also has the benefit of a teacher, who can give pointers about basics like dialogue, verb tense, and punctuation. They also offer direction on your story arc and character development, as well as more ephemeral writing aspects like hook, conflict and flow. If you don’t know these words and phrases from the writer’s toolbox, I strongly urge you to consider a class.

Think of “story arc” like a bell curve: you want the action to start at the beginning and rise to a crescendo before resolving itself into your happily-ever-after. The concept of “character development” is whether your main characters grow and change throughout your story, whether you are challenging your character and giving the reader someone worthy of rooting for. Your character needs to hook the reader from the very beginning and make them care about what happens next.

A critique group is another option for writers looking for the community aspect. The group setting offers a safe space among peers to road test ideas on other readers, to figure out if you’re the only one out there who thinks shape-morphing robotic werewolves from Planet Gulag would really make for a blockbuster bestselling novel…or if maybe you need to shift your focus.

Beta readers are another important tool in an aspiring writer’s toolbox. As the author, you are the “Alpha,” or first, reader. The next set of eyes (be it one person or ten people) are the betas. If you read the acknowledgments of any New York Times bestseller, the author always thanks their initial, or beta, readers by name. These are the select few whom you trust to both read your baby and give you honest feedback without breaking your heart (or your will to keep writing.)

Betas play an important role in any author’s life. This is a reader who will read your whole book, start to finish, and tell you where the holes are and what the character flaws are. Someone who will say, “your hero is cute enough, but kind of whiny. Make him rescue a kitten out of a tree and maybe I’ll feel more sympathetic.” (Thanks again for that one, Shawna!) You might open that email and scream, but in the end you know she’s right.

If you go through these steps, your seed of an idea will undoubtedly blossom into a full-fledged manuscript.


  1. I don't know what happened to my comment, but we will try again. Katie, awesome advice to a blooming writer. I would like to add that Cape Cod also has one of the best writers conferences during the summer. The teachers are phenomenal in the fields that they teach in and I have never left a conference(5 years running now) without gaining new knowledge and my writing improving for the better. Plant the seed and watch it grow!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Donna! I've been to the local writers conference a few times and its a great resource!


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