Discover the crucial phase between drafting and publishing with writing coach and editor, Molly McCowan. With Molly’s guidance, we created Effective Editing: How to Take your Writing to the Next Level, which provides you with a step-by-step, self-editing process filled with tools and techniques that will help improve your narrative writing skills.
Effective Editing: How to Take Your Writing to the Next Level
Molly McCowan is an accomplished developmental editor, copyeditor, and writing coach. As the founder and lead word nerd of the editorial agency Inkbot Editing, she helps authors make their work the best it can be and navigate the often-complicated waters of traditional publishing and self-publishing. She earned her BA in English from Colorado State University.
Molly has worked as an editor for renowned publishers like HarperCollins, Routledge, Psychology Press, Oxford University Press, and Taylor & Francis Group as well as for corporations, magazines, universities, and nonprofits. She teaches writing and self-editing at industry conferences, writers’ groups, and writing organizations throughout the United States, and she hosts collaborative critique groups for writers driven to improve their work and get published.
Molly is also an editorial business consultant who teaches workshops and multiweek courses for organizations like the Editorial Freelancers Association and ACES: The Society for Editing on how to operate a successful freelance editing business. She serves on the board of the Editorial Freelancers Association, and she’s the founder of the Fort Collins, Colorado, chapter of Shut Up & Write!, where she and her team of volunteers host free writing sprints every week. She is an active supporter of the writing community in Colorado and beyond.
01: Understanding the Four Levels of Editing
In this introductory lesson, Molly McCowan breaks down the four levels of editing: developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Each level has a different focus and uses different tools. By understanding how they work, you’ll be better equipped to plan and execute your edits more effectively.
02: Planning Your Edit
Editing can be a daunting process, especially when you may be basing your decisions on common myths about revising your own work. Debunk these myths and discover the best methods to tackle your edits, after you’ve completed your rough draft. Along the way, Molly shows you how to hone your editor’s eye and look at your own work more clearly.
03: Editing for Plot and Structure
As you begin your big-picture revisions, it’s critical to first focus on how your story comes together and how it reflects what the protagonist wants. Here, Molly guides you to evaluate your story structure, pulling from examples like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter to demonstrate how story beats propel your narrative forward. Be prepared for a challenge, as this stage of editing can involve big changes.
04: Editing for Dynamic Characters
Everything about narrative writing is centered on characters; so, it’s crucial to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals who drive your story. To help you gauge the strength of your characters, Molly leads you through the four-part Protagonist Test, which gives you a foundation for improving your characters’ motivations, flaws, and evolution throughout the story.
05: Tackling Point of View
Who tells your story? Point of view (POV) is the lens through which your readers experience your narrative—you need to know who guides your readers and why. Here, you’ll assess how well your POV is working. You’ll learn how to determine what information to share and when to share it. You’ll also learn how to untangle any problems with multiple POVs, if you use this technique, and how to explore the most common POV issues and how to fix them.
06: Page-Turner Pacing: Scene versus Narration
In the middle of big-picture and little-picture editing lies the issue of pacing. When is a good time to include a descriptive passage? How much information is too much or too little? Why does the middle of a story often become a slog? Molly answers these questions and more, examining common pacing dilemmas and walking you through the narrative techniques you can apply to speed up or slow down scenes, chapters, or entire acts of your story.
07: Building Stronger Scenes
The ability to write great scenes can be one of your greatest strengths as a writer. Learn how to delineate your individual scenes and adjust the narrative bridges that connect them—as well as how to eliminate unnecessary “infodumps” along the way. End this editing phase with an important comparison between your opening and closing scenes.
08: Showing versus Telling: Beyond the Basics
“Show, don’t tell” is popular writing advice doled out by professionals and amateurs alike. But what does it really mean to show rather than tell? And why is it important? Here, you’ll learn how to determine when to show—using tools like action and dialogue—and when it’s okay to simply tell the reader what they need to know.
09: Dialogue That Sparkles
Why does dialogue lifted directly from life sound so unrealistic and flat on the page? The truth is that dialogue is actually an extension of narrative action: It’s far more than simple conversation. Here, Molly explores common problems with dialogue and interior monologue and shows you how to use both to effectively move your story forward and to develop your characters.
10: Sentences That Sizzle
Get into the nitty-gritty details of line editing as you look at your work at the paragraph and sentence levels. First, you’ll take a close look at your ideal reader, a crucial preparatory step before you can fine-tune your writing. Then, Molly shows you proven techniques to elevate your prose by considering three crucial elements: adverbs, adjectives, and verbs.
11: Pruning Your Prose
The number one rule of pruning your writing in the line editing process is to simplify it as much as possible. Discover how to whittle down your writing to its essential elements and remove extraneous words, qualifiers, and redundancy. See why a simple, clear style is superior to writing that’s weighed down by unnecessary flourishes and baggage.
12: When to Ignore the Grammar Rules
What most people refer to as grammar rules are actually usage guidelines, which include everything from word choice to punctuation. Here, learn the difference between the two. See which common grammar and usage “rules” you can safely ignore, including those that say never to use the passive voice, write in sentence fragments, or start sentences with conjunctions.
13: Beyond the Red Pen: What Comes Next
How do you know when it’s time to stop revising? Once you’ve finished editing your work, what then? In this closing lesson, Molly discusses the possible next steps, including what to look for in a professional editor; whether to bring in beta readers, and how to handle their feedback; and how to determine which editorial services your manuscript may benefit from, as you move toward either self-publishing or traditional publishing.