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Blog, Writing

Writing for Pleasure, Profit, and Posterity

Part Six: From Notes to Manuscript

In Part Four, I talked about always keeping a notebook with you to capture your thoughts. That’s perfect when you’re writing a journal and don’t expect to show anyone else your work. If you have ambitions to see your name in print, then you’ll need to organise your thoughts into manuscript form. At the very least you’ll need to turn your notes into a computer file. Not many agents and publishers insist on typed scripts these days, but once you’ve created a document on your word processor you can turn it into any form requested.

person using macbook pro on table
Photo by Anthony Shkraba on

Handwritten manuscripts aren’t acceptable to the publishing industry. Whether you intend to self-publish your work or approach agents with a view to conventional publication it’ll save you a lot of work if, right from the start, you get into the habit of creating a computer document from your notes, set out in such a way that it’s ready for submission.

I’ll be looking at how to set out your work in more detail in Part Seven, but the most important thing at this point is that you need a computer capable of creating Word documents, which is the format usually required by the publishing industry. If you have a Windows PC but don’t already have Word (usually as part of Microsoft Office) and you don’t want to pay the subscription for it, then there are free Windows packages such as LibreOffice that can save their files in Word format. I use a Mac (that’s because I rely on my brilliant husband, a systems analyst, for all things technical. If anything goes wrong, he can fix it!) and this comes with Apple Pages which in theory also can save in Word format but in practice not perfectly. I would recommend getting hold of Office for Apple if you can; if you’re a student you may be able to access Word for free via your educational establishment, or get a reduced rate when subscribing.

ethnic woman writing notes in notebook
Photo by Keira Burton on

Once you’re up and running with a system that will produce your work in Word form, you’ll need to transfer your notes onto it. There are various speech recognition computer programs such as Dragon Dictate , which I mentioned in Part Four. These are a way of reading your work into words, rather than typing them and are available in both Mac and PC versions. I don’t use them myself, although lots of people find they work very well.

If you have a scanner then you could get hold of a package to convert scanned documents to text but none are 100% perfect, especially with handwriting, so you’d still have to check every word in the file it creates.

When I was working on Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol, I typed most of my ideas and notes straight into a Neo. This was essentially a computer that ran a built-in, basic word processing package and automatically saved as you typed. You typed, it saved your work, and that’s it. Sadly, the Neo isn’t made anymore. That’s probably because of the very feature that made it so valuable to me—its lack of internet connectivity—which meant I couldn’t waste writing time by surfing the net, looking at adverts, and buying online. All you could do with a Neo was type and then upload your file onto a conventional computer.

Much as I love writing, the temptation to surf the internet as a break from puzzling over a tricky scene is irresistible. I wouldn’t be without my Neo, so if you (or someone you know) has the technical skill to maintain one of these little treasures and you happen to see a second-hand one for sale, snap it up. It puts an end to online time-wasting!

Scrivener: By writers, for writers.
Click here to find out more

While I always send my finished work off as a document created in Word, if I’m working on a long article in several sections or novel, I use a package called Scrivener to help me. It stores all the notes and images I’ve gathered in the same place as I create my text. Each new project has its own file, which Scrivener calls (handily enough) a Project. This is described as a digital ring-binder. There’s somewhere to store everything you need to create your book.

I took some of the photographs which illustrate Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol, and stored them within my Struggle Project. There was also a file for the intricate timeline I developed which consisted of three strands: international events, national events, and local events. There was no need to lose that brilliant idea I jotted down on the back of a receipt while out and about somewhere—I’d take a snap, then upload it into the relevant .scriv file on my computer.

One of the photos I took for Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol

I opened a new chapter for each topic I wanted to cover (education, work, daily life, etc) gave it a snappy title such as Fun and Games or Firebrands and Fixers, and set to work. I could view my work in all sorts of ways, a scene at a time, or the whole document as a rolling scroll, for example. Creating the project within Scrivener was half the fun! Click on the badge above to find out more.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know that technology is definitely not my friend, but Scrivener is so user friendly I managed to install it myself, and the tutorial and video included with the package are straightforward. There are loads more videos on YouTube, both by Scrivener’s creators Literature and Latte and by keen users of the system, so whatever your question, somebody has it covered. If, like me, you learn more easily from books, I highly recommend Gwen Hernandez’s Scrivener for Dummies. There is a slightly more recent version available on Amazon, but I have this edition and haven’t bothered getting the newer one as I like Gwen’s style. Both her book, and her online tips are really helpful.

One of the great features about Scrivener is that if you want to self-publish your work, with a couple of clicks it will turn your manuscript into a format that can be uploaded straight into your chosen publishing platform. That means you can do almost all of the work of producing your book yourself, although to make your book the best it can possibly be you should still employ professionals to edit it. Creating your cover is another job that should also be left to a professional, unless you are completely confident with not only your artistic skills, but in your ability to design something that works well at thumbnail size. Those two talents don’t always go together!

No piece on using computers would be complete without a reminder to save your work, and save it often. You can set your computer to save automatically—mine does it every thirty minutes. Don’t just rely on that, though, in case your computer goes wrong and you can’t access any of your work. Save it in at least two other places. I use flash drives (dongles), and email. I don’t bother with cloud storage systems such as Dropbox, but that’s only because I have quite enough passwords to remember already!

This is what I use: the “F” at top right stands for Friday, of course!

I have one flash drive for each day of the week, and plug the appropriate one into my computer each morning. I can then save my work to it each time I take a tea break, or when I stop for lunch. In the event of some technological disaster, at most I’ll only have lost a couple of hours’ work. My other six flash drives hold the week’s previous drafts of my work, so I can always go back and rescue anything I may have changed, and then had second thoughts about.

At the end of each day I email the latest version of the document I’m working on to myself, as well as saving it to flash drive. That way, everything is covered.

Next time, I’ll be talking about how to layout your manuscript, so sign up below to follow my blog and you’ll be sure to see it the minute it’s published.

2 thoughts on “Writing for Pleasure, Profit, and Posterity”

  1. Awesome advice here. Yeah, formal writing work always requires it to be in type format, so handwritten pieces are only good for getting that first draft down, at least for me. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Stuart! I much prefer writing to typing, and you’re right. I find first drafts flow more easily when I use paper and pencil. Typing it up isn’t so much fun, but I edit as I go by the third draft, I’m nearly there. Thanks for commenting.

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