Posted On November 26, 2012 by Print This Post

Why You Should Pull Out the Manuscript Under Your Bed by Kelsey Browning

Hey, y’all! I have a quick update to today’s post since I’ve received the go-ahead to spill the beans.

I’ll have a four-book series published with Carina Press starting in 2013. The first, Personal Assets, is the manuscript I mention in my post. My fabulous editor, Deb Nemeth, is helping me slap it into shape, so readers can enjoy it in August, 2013.

I have absolutely fallen in love with Allie and Cameron and the whole Shelbyville, Texas crew again. I can’t wait to share them with you!

How long has it been since you’ve peeked at your first completed manuscript under your bed or on your hard drive?

Stop groaning. I know it’s like looking at that eighth grade school picture taken right after you were given a terrible perm (oh, that was me). But there is value in scrutinizing your early work.

Many of us abandoned our first story attempt. Mine was wiped off the face of the earth by a hard drive fail. At the time, I was upset. Later, I considered it a divine favor.

This summer, however, I printed out and read my first completed manuscript, hoping to salvage it and make it publishable. I learned a ton in the process, and not all of it was about story structure or character development or showing, not telling.

A lot of it was about self-compassion.

It forced me to acknowledge again that I’d done something five years ago that most people only make noises about. I had written a 90,000+ word book. After writing multiple manuscripts, we tend to forget the sheer magic of that accomplishment.

It reminded me I was fortunate to find my writing voice early on. Although my writing’s less stilted now, I could still see the glimmer of what makes my writing special in that first story. What a gift!

Although I thought I’d advanced my writing and storytelling skills in the past five years, re-reading this manuscript reinforced my belief. I received harsh feedback on my third and fourth manuscripts, which put me in a funk at the time. What I realize now is the more your writing progresses, the more readers expect from you and your story. At the time, I thought it meant I was backsliding instead of progressing.

Well, re-reading that first manuscript quickly knocked that notion out of my noggin.

Now, a caution. If you’ve only written one or two books, this technique may not work for you. You need significant time and space away from that book before you can see it as anything but your firstborn.

Thankfully, I marked up the manuscript with a purple pen. If I’d done it in red, that three inches of printer paper would’ve looked like someone made a sacrifice on it. Eventually, I began simply placing brackets around dialogue and bits of narrative I didn’t like. A good portion of the manuscript now has brackets around it :-).

My margin comments included:


I hate this whole scene.



Stilted dialogue!

Please let this book get better.

And the ever famous: What the hell was I thinking?

At the same time, some comments were more insightful:

Need more developed character thought.

She needs to probe about this earlier.

Need transition.

Good, but rework.

Should this be in real time?

What does the reader need to know here?

Think about where she is at start of scene and where after.

So was it uber-depressing to see all that ink on every page but two?  Well, I celebrated those couple of pages that could stand as is. That’s for sure.

But honestly, I felt buoyed at the end of the process. Why? Because I knew I could make the story and the characterization better if I was willing to take the time to truly dig back into the book. I knew enough to know I could improve it. That felt amazing.

I also spent time reading a few rough scenes from my current draft (approximately my sixth). Wow! Although I considered these words “rough,” they were better than what I’d considered “finished” with the first manuscript. Again, depressing? Not at all. It made me realize all the hours and sweat I’ve put in to learning how to craft a story and scene, to develop a character and plot was absolutely worth the effort.

Yes, I still have plenty to learn, but I’ve come a long way, baby! And I bet you have, too.


Have you re-read your first manuscript recently? If so, what did you think about it and how did it make you feel about your current writing projects? If not, what’s holding you back?


Kelsey Browning writes sass kickin’ love stories full of hot heroes, saucy heroines and spicy romance. Originally from a Texas town smaller than the ones she writes about, Kelsey has also lived in the Middle East and Los Angeles, proving she’s either adventurous or downright nuts. These days, she hangs out in northeast Georgia with Tech Guy, Smarty Boy, Bad Dog and Pharaoh, a Canine Companions for Independence puppy. She’s currently at work on the third book in her Shelbyville, Texas, series. Give her a shout at or drop by

You can also receive Kelsey’s Sass Kickin’ Updates. She promises never to do anything underhanded, annoying or totally immoral.


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46 Responses to “Why You Should Pull Out the Manuscript Under Your Bed by Kelsey Browning”

  1. I so know what you mean. Even re reading the first book of mine that was published, just over a year ago, I can see how I have improved. (The decreasing number of comments on edits shows that as well. ) It’s a great feeling.

    Posted by raven mcallan | November 26, 2012, 1:19 am
    • Raven –

      I can imagine it is a fabulous feeling! And I imagine your editor loves seeing your progress. It’s a good reminder that we should appreciate (and promote) our earlier work, knowing we can write an even better book now.

      Happy, post-Thanksgiving Monday!

      Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 26, 2012, 6:39 am
  2. Morning Kelsey!

    Hah! I just looked at my first nano….lol….yeah, there’s some gems there, but plenty of drivel. And talk about metaphors! One every paragraph or so. Something I definitely still need to work on.

    But yeah, I feel the same way – I’ve come a long way baby!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | November 26, 2012, 7:15 am
    • Oh, Carrie –

      I’ve never met a metaphor I didn’t love. It’s just the Texan in me. I have to weed them out after the first draft.

      But isn’t it an amazing feeling to see how you’ve grown and also see those glimmers of what makes you a great writer in your early work??


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 26, 2012, 8:14 am
  3. Loved this post, Kelsey. I remember when I went back to read the first manuscript I finished. There were definitely some cringe-worthy moments, though I also saw a story worth saving. I plan to do that, when I have time.

    Since I finished the book two or three years after I’d started it, I was able to see quite an improvement in my writing from the first half of the book to the second half. In fact, the difference was astonishing.

    Posted by Reese Ryan | November 26, 2012, 8:02 am
    • Thanks for popping in, Reese (love your name, BTW!).

      Oh, the cringing I have done! And how interesting that you went back to the manuscript several years later. When I do that, I tend to rip the whole thing apart.

      My theory is that early on, we’re learning so much that we try to implement ALL of the advice we get. Later, we’ve internalized more craft skills and so they come out naturally and we concentrate more on our weak areas. I’m a character-driven writer, so plotting is something I still have to work like mad on. But with every book, I make a little progress.

      I have to remind myself this writing gig is a marathon (or three), not a sprint!

      Happy Monday,

      Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 26, 2012, 8:18 am
  4. I love this post!!
    I’ll have to get the vacuum out to suck the layers of dust off that first one I shoved under the bed haha.

    You know – sometimes it’s just all in the way we choose to look at things. Okay — so folks say I live in NanLand … hey, it’s a nice place to be, but it’s full of happy smiles and magical moments to move forward – toward those dreams.

    Thanks for the boost and reminder that we have opportunity to fix and move forward 🙂
    Hugs and happy writing.

    Posted by Nancy Naigle | November 26, 2012, 8:45 am
  5. K – I have my first manuscript and I did the same thing you did. I salvaged parts that could be cannbalized for a future version.

    It was good to see that while it had issues – it DIDN’T suck.

    Good thing to know!


    Posted by Robin Covington | November 26, 2012, 9:37 am
  6. Oh, can I ever relate! Last year I dug out my first story, hoping to find something salvageable. I have so many stories that are “finished” but not polished enough to submit – I thought this story might be a good place to start. I came up with a tighter storyline and rewrote the first chapter, using all I’d learned in the seven years or so since I wrote it. Problem was, it sucked. The original opening, with all its flaws, drew people in better than my new, improved version.

    I wrote that first story before I took a single writing class or workshop, before I’d joined RWA and even before I’d started following blogs for writers. Technically, it’s cringe-worthy. But it had something I don’t have now – that pure enthusiasm for writing, the mad desire to tell the story.

    The story is out from under the bed, but it’s been tucked away in a pending file for now. I still think it’s worth salvaging, but I don’t think I’m ready to tackle it yet.

    You’ve inspired me to try again – thank you!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | November 26, 2012, 9:41 am
    • Becke –

      I’m with you. I think there’s a purity to early work and then we learn to over think, over analyze. Yes, the craft may be sloppy, but this was our first story ever! I remember how happy I was to write two or three pages. Now, that doesn’t seem like nearly enough progress on a manuscript :-(.

      I’ve read your writing, though, so I’m hopeful your first manuscript will make it out of the pending file one day!


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 26, 2012, 9:56 am
  7. Hi Kelsey,

    I recently sold one of my first manuscripts. I did look at the first one ever. It may be salvagable if REALLY HORRIBLE storytelling is what people want to read.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | November 26, 2012, 9:45 am
  8. Hey, guys –

    Quick update. I’ve just received the go-ahead to spill the beans.

    I’ll have a four-book series published with Carina Press starting in 2013. The first, Personal Assets, is the manuscript I mentioned in my post. My fabulous editor, Deb Nemeth, is helping me slap it into shape, so readers can enjoy it in August, 2013.

    I have absolutely fallen in love with Allie and Cameron and the whole Shelbyville, Texas crew again. I can’t wait to share them with you!


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 26, 2012, 10:06 am
  9. wheeee! That’s awesome, Kels! You know I love Shelbyville – can’t wait to read the new version!!

    Posted by Kristina Knight | November 26, 2012, 12:04 pm
  10. Love this post, Kels! I keep my first “practice book” in a binder in my drawer. When I start to beat up on myself I pull it out and let it remind me how much I’ve learned. 🙂

    How fun that you get to make your big announcement today when this post went up. Congrats on the book deal, but also on pushing through the tough times. There is nothing easy about publishing, but it’s an amazing journey and you have so much to be proud of!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 26, 2012, 2:11 pm
  11. Hi Kelsey!

    Congratulations on your deal with Carina! I feel like jamming on my Tony Llamas and celebrating with you!

    I was moving my old manuscripts to my portable hard drive the other night. I opened a couple of early chapters that were edited later. I realized that some of the older passages I’d deleted or revised because of word count issues, were better than the edited version, which were “tighter” but had lost the orignal “magic”.

    Looking forward to reading your first book!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | November 26, 2012, 5:06 pm
    • Thanks, Jen –

      I have some new Dan Posts, so I’ll dance a little jig with you.

      Isn’t it interesting how we can see our writing with so much more clarity years later?I think we also have the knowledge and maturity to see where we listened to people when we shouldn’t have :-).

      Back to editing so you can read that first book – LOL.


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 26, 2012, 6:21 pm
  12. Congrats on the deal with Carina Press! Before I read this blog post I actually looked at your website and read the summaries of the books you have listed. I can’t wait to read them!

    Posted by Amy R | November 26, 2012, 8:16 pm
    • Thanks, Amy!

      I write both contemporary and paranormal, but I’m super-excited to launch with one of my small town Texas series. They’re my first love! Hope readers do too ;-).


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 26, 2012, 8:43 pm
      • I am sure they will be great.I love books about small towns, especially those in the south. I especially loved some of Linda Lael Miller’s and Lisa Kleypas’. Can’t wait to read yours. If I can’t live in Texas I should read about it. Right after my husband and I were married we thought about moving down to Austin. He has family there and it sounded like fun, but we stayed in Illinois. I notice no one writes about small towns in Illinois…just big old Chicago….hmmm. Not much to write about I guess. Congrats again!

        Posted by Amy R | November 26, 2012, 9:11 pm
  13. Good information. Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Maria | November 27, 2012, 2:56 am
  14. I pulled out an old ms last year — not my first, but 10 years old. I liked the characters and story (mostly) but the writing was weak. I used it like an extended outline and rewrote from scratch. It wasn’t worth editing the previous version, as that would have been more work and less successful than rewriting the whole thing. I liked the final version enough to publish it as Whispers in the Dark. Other mss I’ve looked at and had the satisfaction of knowing I’ve improved, but rewriting the ms would be more work than simply starting something new!

    Posted by Kris Bock | November 27, 2012, 11:50 am
    • Kris –

      I can only imagine how interesting it must have been to re-read a 10-year-old manuscript! And yes, I’m with you on trying to meld the old and new. I’m doing a bit of that now and sometimes I feel like my head’s in a vice! 😀

      I’ll have to check out Whispers in the Dark!

      Thanks for popping in,

      Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 27, 2012, 4:34 pm
  15. Great post. I wrote my first complete novel a year ago and I can already see a difference in my current voice.

    Posted by Maria | November 27, 2012, 4:10 pm
    • Maria –

      You know, I would’ve said my voice was there when I first started writing, and it was to a degree. Now, I’m better at balancing my voice with craft (because believe me, as a Texan, we like to use a lot of words to say the smallest thing!).

      I bet you keep seeing your voice shape over the next several books – best of luck!


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 27, 2012, 4:36 pm
  16. Way to go, Kelsey!! :)Congratulations.

    Posted by Barb Bettis | November 27, 2012, 6:34 pm


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