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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

A Step-by-Step Editing Plan Can Prevent Resistance Guest Post by Mary Carroll Moore

Mary Carroll Moore

Guest blogger Mary Carroll Moore

Of course resistance can arise at any stage, but many writers stall out in the transition from drafting to revising. Revising is so different from drafting, it’s not surprising if you find yourself postponing or looking for direction in unusual places, say your sock drawer or the back of your fridge.

In this guest post Mary Carroll Moore, author of Your Book Starts Here and a dozen other books, writing teacher, editor and book doctor (more about Mary), gives you the direction you need to stop procrastinating or distracting yourself and start editing with confidence.

Simple Tricks for Editing By Mary Carroll Moore

Finally, you’re ready for revision. Revision is essential; we know that professionals spend most of their book journey on this final stage. But if it’s our first book, how do we figure out what needs attention? It reads OK, our writers’ group loves it. But we still sense the book isn’t ready to go out to agent or editor.

“I’m having a hell of a time editing,” Annette, a reader from New York, wrote me this week. “I know it needs container (setting) details and sensory details but I seem to get bogged down.

“I guess I’m not sure: how much is too much, how to add, and how to work the process of editing. Paper? Computer? Just fill in holes, lop out excess? Which first? How do you know what’s chaff and what’s seed?”

growth canstockphoto4021682Without a plan, a map, revision can feel endless.

How the Pros Edit: A Checklist for Sanity

I trained as an editor for eighteen years. Both as a freelancer for various publishers and a salaried manuscript editor for a small press in the Midwest, I worked with experienced pros who were steady, careful, and kind enough to instruct me.

I learned there are indeed clear steps to take when polishing a manuscript. It’s not a blind ride. Each editor has their own method, but many overlapped.

From my eighteen years, a checklist evolved. I’ll share some of the basic guidelines with you. They’ve served me well in my own editing.

  1. Find a Workable Editing Method
  2. Get Software that Assists You
  3. Pacing Checklist
  4. Continuity Check
  5. If It Still Doesn’t Sing, Checklists for Content

Step One:  Find a Workable Editing Method

marked_up_draftsDecide first if you’re more comfortable editing by paper or on screen. It’s really a matter of personal preference.

Many editors vow that it’s impossible to catch all mistakes via a vibrating computer screen. My boss always printed out a “hard copy” and went through it with editing pen.

I adopted that method. I know my limits onscreen; I miss repeated words, typos (despite spell check), and clunky sentences. So I always print a hard copy after content and structure are in place.

Before that, I’m just wasting paper.

Content is what happens – is there enough? Are the stakes high? Structure is the flow – have I arranged events or information in a strong flow? Basic architectural questions that need to be solved before revision editing.

Step Two:  Get Software That Assists You

scrivenerLast year, I switched to Scrivener. There are many writing/editing software options but Scrivener is my favorite.

It lets me create my manuscript in a “binder” which is easy to arrange, rearrange, and edit from. I build “islands,” or scenes, first. Then in first draft assembly, I create chapters. I edit them individually first, then as a whole.

For instance, part of my revision process is to create chapter transitions that keep readers from setting down the book after a chapter ends. I want a page-turner. Scrivener and Word both allow split screen viewing. I open consecutive chapters, study the end of one and the beginning of the next, to check chapter transitions.

When I’ve done all I can, I import the entire manuscript back into a Word doc and send it to myself via email. I open it on Pages on my iPad or on an e-reader. The goal is to get a document that looks like it will in printed book form.

I read it carefully, making more notes. This step-by-step method is invaluable. I always find more to correct. Back to Scrivener for the final tweaks.

Watch for Steps Three, Four and Five in our next post. Until then, you can find more advice and insight from Mary at her blog or in her book Your Book Starts Here.

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6 Comments on “A Step-by-Step Editing Plan Can Prevent Resistance Guest Post by Mary Carroll Moore”

  1. Anya Achtenberg August 6, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    I understand what you say here, and yes, it is very important — but it is not I think just a question of engaging the emotional in some opposition to the technical. I do think that many students only see the hammer, and it drives them a little crazy, but it has been traditionally the hammer that is stressed. So, not merely engaging the emotional but working with the centrality of the narrative voice, and the character voices, that helps make every decision — so many students ask, well, what should I cut, what leave it — this is not just a technical or emotional question — this is a central craft question, and the full use of the narrative and character voices makes extremely clear, on both technical and emotional levels, and beyond the separation of those levels of work, which details belong and which don’t.


    • rosannebane August 7, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

      Thanks Anya. I see your point. I’m not sure how I would go about discussing those deeper craft issues in a blog — in my experience, those are the kinds of questions we can get at in a class or in coaching. If you’ve written something about these issues on a blog or elsewhere, I’d like to share the link with my readers or invite you to write a guest post.


  2. Joel D Canfield August 6, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    I have no problem creating structure in a database tool.

    I have no problem telling a story in a book.

    I have a problem finding a framework for my revising and editing process.

    These post are going to be marvelously helpful. Thank so much, Mary and Rosanne.


  3. Anya Achtenberg August 6, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    I’ve seen it over and over, as a teacher of creative writing and a coach and book consultant.
    People try to revise purely by logic and rules. Now you give them more logic and more rules and more planning according to someone else.How can you, for instance, answer someone on the issue of details of description without addressing narration and characters’ voices and points of view? Details are not about multiple choice, only about logic al decisions. They are ruled by what the voice and vision perceive, from WITHIN the book, in my opinion.


    • rosannebane August 6, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

      Thanks Anya for your response. I absolutely agree that revising is a complex process that requires both our logical and our emotional brain. I didn’t intend to suggest that this post included everything a writer needed to know about revising or editing, but rather that these are some helpful ideas that a writer could add to her/his editing/revision toolbox. To go with the toolbox analogy, just because a hammer can’t do everything doesn’t mean it can’t do anything.



  1. A Step-by-Step Editing Plan to Prevent Resistance Part 2 Guest Post by Mary Carroll Moore | The Bane of Your Resistance - August 8, 2013

    […] our previous post, Mary Carroll Moore, author of Your Book Starts Here and a dozen other books, writing teacher, […]


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