The Life Cycle of a Manuscript

Every book begins with an idea.  When this idea makes it onto paper, an iterative cycle of planning, writing, and revising ensues, repeated n times, and not in that order. Your writing process and the journey toward publication will be as unique as its outcome, but there are a number of milestones that every successful writing endeavor will reach. Minimally, the lifecycle of a manuscript will include:

  • a planning stage,
  • a first draft,
  • getting feedback,
  • incorporating feedback, and
  • text editing.

If a writing a good book were as easy as following the steps above in that order, more of us would be published writers. The reality is, of course, less straightforward and more daunting—phases overlap (and some seem to go on forever), drafts bleed into one another, and plans change when an idea doesn’t work out.

The Lifecycle of a Manuscript: Stages of Support

As in most endeavors, support through this process is key and nonnegotiable whether the support you get is from a friend, a peer, or a professional editor.

The Planning Stage

Developmental editing is often provided during the planning stages. This may include outline review and feedback on overall structure and content development.

In nonfiction, this will include establishing what you will present in what fashion and in what order. Where to begin? How to conclude? How to tie it all together? In fiction, developmental editing will focus on plot and character development.

In an ideal world, the planning stage would preclude writing, but in the writer’s world, planning may be constantly underway. At a recent reader and writer’s festival I attended, prize-winning writer and writer’s coach Jill Dawson shared that she begins writing without any outlining or plan for her plot at all—she just starts. Only then do the characters and plot start to develop and come to life, slowly, as she works. Again, every writing experience and every writer will have a unique approach that works for them.

The First Draft

It tickled me a little to even list this as a stage as if it were some discrete one-off stage. In my experience, and perhaps yours, the first draft is the result of a first, a second, a third, and an nth pass. It may never feel like the first draft is never really finished.  For me, the first draft is a living, growing, evolving thing that’s too fluid to ever feel safe saying, “Ok, the first draft—complete.” Only when you finally (and perhaps reluctantly) brave passing it off to someone else for review do you begin to feel that this stage has passed. When you submit to an editor or a beta-reader, it’s reified in a way.

Getting Feedback

Beyond actually externalizing your idea into something readable, this may be the most important phase(s) of your manuscript’s development.

Incorporating Feedback

Text Editing