How to Self-Edit That Lousy First Draft

Welcome to Part 9 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

The painful panel description was as follows: Panelists will discuss they’re favorite techniques four editing when they don’t have outside reader, or editor too help.

The panelists were: Mark Van Name (as moderator), Julayne Hughes, Margaret Riley, Beth Tanner, and James Stratton.

(I know, I just did Making Painful Edits, but I was in the editing stage when I hit this convention, so I hit more than one panel with the same theme.)

Different Approaches To The Writing Process

Before you can self-edit, you’ve got to have a draft to work with. There are several different methods people use — and just because one worked for you last time, doesn’t mean you’re stuck using the same method every time.

First drafts stink. That’s just the rule. Sure, there are exceptions, but you’re probably not it. But, it’s okay. It’s all part of the process. Ninety-nine percent of all writers are gonna have to edit their lousy first-drafts.

  • Pantsers – Draft it out and see what happens — easier for short stories, writing “by the seat of their pants.
  • Planners – Outline first, then write
  • Plantsers – Create a light outline, but sort out the details as they go, letting the story deviate organically
  • Immediately share chapters as they come out
  • Wait until it’s done before sharing
  • Wait until it’s revised to share

Things To Do To A Rough Draft

Now that you’ve got that rough draft, you’re gonna want to edit it. No, really.

  • Let it age, so you can look at it with fresh eyes. 2-3 months is usually good.
  • Or? Dive back in while the world is still fresh and vivid.
  • Run spellcheck and grammar check. Use Grammarly or EditMinion or the HemingwayApp
  • Change the font and/or print it out so you can look at it with fresh eyes. Or have your device read it aloud to you.
  • Read through and clean up the sentences
  • Outline the draft AFTER you write it, check for pacing and seeing what themes emerge that you can build on
  • Declutter, declutter, declutter
    • Don’t say something 6 times in 6 different ways. Keep the best version and cut the rest
    • Remove the filler words that exist to hedge: “just”, “so”, “well”, “a bit” “feel”
  • Kill your babies, your darlings.
    • We hear this a lot, but what does it really mean?
      These are the pearls of wisdom or great moving drama. It’s not gonna be everyone’s taste. Structurally, look for descriptors — most people have fairly good imaginations. You don’t have to spell out everything about the horse the rider hopped onto. Give them as little as you can at the beginning, move up the details as you move along.
  • Don’t write like a computer programmer or a stage director, you shouldn’t be dictating every move of your character.
  • Draw out your story arches — one for the plot, one for the POV characters. See where each peaks and ebbs and make sure they complement each other. See where you can cut or combine characters, or scenes, or chapters.
  • Don’t let your reader suffer for your research. Just because you spent five hours researching canning techniques, doesn’t mean you need to spend more than one sentence talking about your characters canning fruit.

Tools used for structural work

Maybe the part of the story you’re most worried about is the pacing or plot coherency. In that case, you’re probably going to want to use some tools to inspect your story’s structure.

  • Scrivener corkboard view. Or 3×5 cards on the table.
  • To organize the changes: watch where POV shifts. Color coded by POV or type of scene, etc.
  • Murder maps can be fun if your story has conspiracies.
  • Spreadsheets to track things:
    • When do we see each person
    • Travel distance
    • POV switches.
    • Character info
  • Create your own wikipedia (archivist.com will allow this)
  • Create a sort of D&D character sheet for each character

Editorial Pet Peeves

When editing your own manuscript, you should probably keep in mind the things that professional editors see as pet peeves. They’ve seen a lot more manuscripts than just yours, and I’m sure you don’t want your writing to come across as trite or overdone.

  • “letting go of a breath that he didn’t know he was holding”
  • “walking and walking” Or whatever word you’re reusing.
  • “Continued”
  • Words with the right meaning but wrong connotation
  • Fillers like: suddenly, just, that, of
  • Having every other sentence as a fragment
  • Not using conjunctions to seem more literary
  • Going out of your way to avoid using “said” as a dialogue tag
  • Bouncing POV, without a clear break
  • Bad grammar — for no reason
  • Reusing and overusing words

When to bring in the beta

At some point, though, you’re going to reach the limits of what you can fix on your own. You’re only one person, and you know the characters and the story too well to see what might be missing.

While it’s up to you, you really should bring in outside readers at some point. Some people share a few chapters to see if they’re on the right path. Others wait until the story is polished, then share. If you’re struggling with your story, you may want to reach out sooner.

Beta-readers are usually readers of your genre, but not necessarily writers themselves. They bring a different perspective to your story.

However, a critique partner/fellow writer is going to be more useful with story issues. Be selective who you’re sharing your manuscript with.

As always, you don’t have to agree with the edits, but even if you don’t like a proposed fix, you may want to look into clarifying the scene your beta tried to edit, to make sure it was properly set up.

And? As Margaret said, “you don’t come with the book. If I have to ask you questions, you’ve left something out.” The book needs to stand on its own without explanation.

Once beta-readers have taken you as far as you can go, there’s always one more option. If you’re querying for traditional publishing, you might be able to skip this, but if you’re self-publishing, you definitely want a professional editor, to make sure your book has that professional quality you want associated with your name.

You’ll want to make your manuscript as clean as possible before you hire an editor. You can’t afford not to. You don’t want them wasting time fixing things that Word could have told you, you want them to be able to see the bigger issues.

Make sure you’re hiring the right sort of editor — or get one who can do it all.

Types of Editors: Copy vs Clarity

Content editors are concerned with the plot and characters.

Proofreaders come in after edits and check for typos.

Copy-editors watch for repetitive/missing words, bad phrasing, bad logistics [missing arms, where’d the sword come from], etc.


There are a lot of stages of editing, and I know I’ve covered this topic before in different ways, but it’s always good to get fresh advice from more writers. Especially when they agree.

Any tips or tricks you’d like to add?

Let me know and thanks, as always, for reading.


Shameless Plug: If you’re already attending WorldCon – CoNZealand July 29-Aug 2 (July 28-Aug 1st here in the states), come check me out day one on What to Expect When You’re Ready to Query and Establishing a Social Media Presence.

Writing For Anthologies

Back to Part 2 of my VirtualBalticon panel notes.

The panelists were: Michael Ventrella as moderator, Keith R.A. DeCandido, John L. French, Monica Louzon, and Jean Marie Ward.


While many writers are publishing novels or sending short stories off to magazines, other writers have found anthologies to be a great space for their work.

Some of these writers find inspiration from the anthology’s submission call, some write what they want, then look for a home.

Three Reasons to Write For Anthologies

  1. It’s a great space for short stories, especially those that might be too long to be in most magazines
  2. Your audience is extended by the audiences of the other writers in the anthology
  3. It can help you network with other writers

Four tips and approaches to writing for anthologies:

  1. Pay attention to the guidelines. They’re there for a reason. Don’t make your work easy to reject on a technicality. Don’t waste your time writing stories that the anthology isn’t looking for.
  2. Start your story where it starts, short stories don’t have time for much backstory. Have the stakes on the first page.
  3. If your story was pre-existing and revised to fit the submission call, make sure that it doesn’t read as forced.
  4. If you’re creating a new story for the anthology, don’t just do the first plot that pops in your head that fits the theme. There are likely going to be tons of people with that same instinct. Try to do something less expected. Maybe your fourth idea, or so.

Five reasons why your story might not be chosen

  1. It stinks
  2. It doesn’t meet the guidelines
  3. Too many other submissions were along the same theme
  4. Another story with a strong resemblance to yours was a better fit
  5. The story is great, but the tone doesn’t work with the other stories in the anthology

If your story is not selected, wait a year or so before submitting it elsewhere. Many publishers are inundated with themed stories right after an anthology makes their selections. Don’t get lost in the crowd.

Flags to Watch Out For

Not all anthologies are a good home for your story. Here are a few of the things you should watch out for.

  • They don’t pay you
  • Their previously published works have bad formatting or otherwise look unprofessional
  • Most importantly? The rights don’t expire and revert back to you.

This isn’t to say that unpaid publishing opportunities are always red flags, but make sure you’re comfortable associating your name and your work with their brand.


I know I’ve made a few of these mistakes. But, with my attempts last NaNoWriMo at writing shorts, I’ve got a few projects to polish and find homes for.

Have you submitted to anthologies? Do you like them? Let me know!

Top 11 Ways NOT To Respond When Getting Feedback

There are writers who take feedback well, but there are plenty who don’t. Try not to make these mistakes.

1. Take it personally

When you look at the rest of this list? Most of these clearly come from the same place: the real reason a writer will lash out — is when we take critiques personally.

They say “this chapter needs some work” and we hear “you’re a bad writer.” We know intellectually they don’t usually mean that, but in our hearts-of-hearts, it feels like that.

This is why you should sit on feedback. Let it percolate in your brain. Don’t kneejerk react and lash out.

2. Argue with them

Don’t send them a detailed letter countering and justifying why every last suggestion they gave you was wrong, and why you were right in the first place.

Honestly? Don’t argue in their DMs, via Text, on the phone, or in person either. Don’t harass them. Let them be/

3. Tell them they gave you the wrong feedback!

If you don’t tell your critiquer what you’re looking for (pacing, characterization, world building, line edits, what-have-you), and all of their feedback in concentrated in areas you don’t care about right now? It can be frustrating.

The REAL fix is to tell them what you’re looking for when you give them the draft!

4. Skim-read the feedback

Make sure you’re responding to what they actually said!

Always reread to be sure you understood what they were saying and the context. Sometimes, you can read too fast or while fixated on something, and misconstrue the whole thing.

5. Question their grasp on the [English] language

Don’t ask them if [English] is their first language, if they’re dyslexic, or if they grew up speaking the ‘wrong’ dialect.

6. Ignore their feedback

I know I’ve said this before, even if you think a beta is going in the wrong direction, they often are pointing out things that need to be changed, or at least clarified or better justified in the text.

Now, this isn’t saying that you have to agree with them. Especially the critiquers who think they should be rewriting your piece the way they would have written it. This is why getting a single chapter critique before commiting to a full manuscript review can be crucial.

But, if someone has taken the time to read your work and critique it, and you’ve publicly thanked them? While leaving in all the typos and plot holes and things that they pointed out to you?

It can make them look bad, unprofessional, and if they’re paid editors? Lose business.

7. Don’t repay them

Sure, there are awesome people out there who are critiquing your work out of the goodness of their hearts, or a desire to give back, but that’s not usually the case.

Even if you don’t like the advice, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay them, or critique THEIR work in return, whatever you agreed to. You should be a writer of your word.

8. Slam their work

It hurts when someone tells you your writing needs work — especially when they say that your writing needs a LOT of work. But, that doesn’t mean you should trash their writing — be it while critiquing their drafts, bad mouthing them, or 1-starring their published works. don’t do it.

9. Expect the critiquer to know how to fix everything

On the flip side, some writers expect the critiquer to fix everything, and that their novel will be done as soon as they get the feedback. They don’t understand why they would need to edit after clicking ‘accept all the changes’…

Edits are often clunky. Even after I incorporate feedback, I always do a final ‘polishing’ pass over the chapter, just to verify the flow, check the line edits, and make sure that my voice is consistent.

Also, they don’t know your character, your world, and your story as well as you do. Remember their suggestions are merely that. Suggestions. You might want to fix everything they point out — but you don’t have to fix it the way they suggested. Make sure your story stays true to itself.

10. Assume the Edits Guarantee A Contract

Contracts and sales are 10% hard work and 90% timing and luck. No matter how good of a writer you are, nor how good your editor is, there is no way to guarantee a sale — whether you’re going traditional publishing or indie.

11. Don’t Thank Them

Reading someone else’s work, thinking of ways to improve it, and being brave enough to share your thoughts with someone is time consuming, and sometimes emotionally draining.

This person has done work for you. Always thank them. Make sure you’re a writer people want to work with again.


Have you ever had a writer respond poorly to your critiques?
Share your horror stories!
Or? Share stories of writers who did it *right*!

Writing, Focus, and Accountability

I don’t know about you, but these days, my focus comes and goes in spurts. Trying to get anything done is a slog, uphill both ways, with a short stopover in the kitchen for a snack.

Right now, we’ve got the whole ‘social isolation’ thing happening, with worries about how fast COVID-19 already spread, and what the job market is gonna look like when this whole thing ends. Cause it has to end, right?

If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you should know that I’m the very definition of a Type-A lady. I need to feel some control over my life.

However, we all know the best type of productivity for this Type-A lady? Involves check-lists!


Remember a couple months ago when I started spouting the glories of using project management tools from the office for my writing? (For me, I picked Trello. They are not sponsoring me. I have no sponsors. But hey, Trello, feel free to sponsor me!)

Turns out? Offices use project management tools cause they kinda work.

I’ve almost kept up with all my self-imposed tasking. Seriously, for an unpaid vanity gig, I give myself a lot of work! Sometimes I think maybe I should focus more on my actual writing [my mom AND my dad both agree]. (But, hey, if you do find this blog helpful, leave a comment!*)

During the first 3 months of 2020, I only dropped the ball once. (Turns out, if you send Author Spotlight interviews less than 24 hours before they should go up, the replies might be done in voice-to-text. I deserved it).

To keep from making my mistake?

3 “Tricks” for Making Checklists Work

  1. Put the things you want to accomplish on them
  2. Add due dates
  3. Actually check the thing regularly

Now, I tried, really hard. It was just a bunch of small things that added up to the big miss. I added a spotlight but didn’t add it to the trello, I was sick and didn’t do my weekly task of ‘checking my trello board’, and I waited until bedtime, the day the author spotlight should have been prepped, before triple-checking my gmail draft that actually has the master list of author spotlights.


Before you go thinking I was born a Type-A, I must confess the reality of the situation. I’m a recovering messy-girl. That’s why organization is a thing I do in binges, and then coast until something goes wrong. I was the one who missed recess to clean up her desk. The one who was once hoarding seven library books in her desk and/or locker.

I am the girl who SOMEHOW managed to lose a spelling test DURING the test, before turning it in.

You think I’m joking? It started off with a messy scrawl and a spare sheet of paper where I was copying over the words in neater handwriting and ended up… I still don’t know.


Where was I going with this?

Humble-brag time. Since I’ve been home, I’ve managed to:

  • read 14 books (10 physical ones)
  • slush read for The Oddville Press
  • beta read one short
  • attend 2 virtual Balticon meetings
  • 1 virtual Anansi Storytime meeting
  • revise 30 pages and send them to my mentor
  • did my first pass at prepping the next 30 pages
  • my weekly, unattended Twitter chat: #ChatWriteNow (10pm Thursdays)
  • Plus, of course, my 3 author spotlights, and as soon as I finish this, 3 blogposts and vlogposts

Plus, a not-a-rejection from an editor on a short story. (She’s no longer the editor on that project, I need to resubmit).

When I look at my Trello board for the entire 1st quarter (I organized it like that to keep from getting too cluttered), the only things I missed were:

  1. Monthly #authortube video that wasn’t my blog — although, if joining a livestream counts, I’m okay.
  2. Updating the trello board one week (obv)
  3. Still waiting on feedback from a few readers of my middle-grade novel, so I haven’t started its revision

And that’s not counting the hours and hours I spent mindlessly browsing facebook or ‘playing’ the fb not-a-puzzle-game Hero Wars.


Isolation update:

I am doing my dayjob from home — but it’s a new project with a lot of moving parts where I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

I’ve done a fair amount of cooking lately — pasta, stew, boxes with directions on the back. I’m surprised I haven’t resorted to stress-cleaning yet. But, I did find a pressure washer because my sidewalk needs it. Maybe this weekend?

Minor confession. Remember last week’s post where I said a lovely walk between dayjob and writing helped break everything up? Well… I sprained my ankle on Saturday, so I’ve unfortunately been forced to slack on the couch this week. But, hey, it’s been cold and rainy, so I don’t think I’m missing too much, besides the step-count.

I’ve been sleeping better, although I’m pretty sure it’s getting used to the stress, not decreasing my stress. But, hey, I’m great at binge reading when I’m stressed.


As all the experts are saying, be patient with yourself if productivity or creativity is on hold from the stress. Figure out what you can do, and make sure to leave some time to bring yourself joy — or at least distract yourself from the stress for a bit.


How are you holding up?

* Or, if you want, I did actually add a donation button over on the side. If you actually find this blog helpful and worthwhile, plus have the spare cash, I’ll give a shout out to my first sponsor.

I’m torn between, “other people are more deserving” and “I should value my own time and work”. Hence why it’s been up for months and I’m just now mentioning it. In a tiny aside. At the end.

Fighting Impostor Syndrome

We’ve all had our moments.

Sometimes? You’re learning a new skill, practicing and playing with it. But something is holding you back from taking the next step — be it submitting your work, trying out for that team, or selling your creations.

Sometimes, you’re placed in a position where you supposedly know what you’re doing — either because of your bluster or someone else’s assumptions. It could be on the job, online, or when they send you home with your first newborn kid (or so I’ve been told). And every moment, you’re just sitting there, hoping to keep everyone fooled so they don’t know how big of a fake you are.

Impostor syndrome. Most of us have experienced it. Some of us live with it.

For those that don’t know? Impostor syndrome is defined as “a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

In my most recent Author Spotlight, Katherine talked about submitting hundreds of poems while in college and it made me think. I always wanted to be a writer, but it took me until I’d been out of college for a long time before I started taking my writing seriously. Before I even started contemplating sending my work to other people.

With my first manuscript? It’s on its EIGHTH round of revisions, because every handful of rejections, I stop submitting and start looking into how I can make it better. I tell myself it’s making me a better writer. I tell myself I’m building skills and improving. But, there’s definitely a part of me that is LOOKING for things to fix. Because if my best effort was rejected, that means I’m not good enough. I should just go home.

Dwelling on that might be good for a night or a week after a rejection, but it’s not going to get me anywhere.

5 Ways To Confront Your Impostor Syndrome

  1. Take a class

    Maybe you do stink. Maybe your skills aren’t where you want them to be. And honestly? All of us could improve, no matter how good — or bad — we are.

    In that case? It could be time to take a class, brush up on the skills we’re good at, learn techniques to deal with our weaknesses, and discover new things that can make us shine.

  2. See How Far You’ve Come

    If you look at your old stuff, compared to your new stuff, you might notice a change. An improvement.

    Or? If you like your old stuff better? Revisiting it might be the way to get that voice back — so you can run with it!

  3. Re-visit What You’re Proud Of

    Whether it’s a single sentence, a poem, or a novel, reread that thing you made that made you proud. See what you’ve done, what you’ve created. Remind yourself that this is a thing you can do!

  4. Save The Good Notes

    When a beta-reader or critique partner or reviewer says something about my work or forgets they’re critiquing, I file that away. In one (very stalling moment last October), I copied one encouraging note onto a piece of paper and taped it to my wall.

    Then? When my writing is going rough, I reread their kind words, where they tell me how much they enjoyed my writing, or compared it favorably to an award-winning series I adore, I stick my chin up, and I get back to it.

  5. Say “BLEEP It”

    Sometimes? All you can do is tell yourself: “So what if my writing stinks, and everyone else’s writing is amazing and so much more deserving. I finished this and I’m putting it out there anyway. They can take it or leave it, but it’s mine.”

    Otherwise known as ‘fake it til ya make it’.

It can be hard. Writing is years of work with no guarantee of success. It’s a labor of love and requires near-infinite patience with the publishing industry.

If you need to step away and take a break; if you need to do something else because it’s killing you? Do it! Do what you need to take care of yourself.

Plus? You can always change your mind. Your writing will always there for you. Waiting. However comforting or creepy that sounds.

Besides, you can’t be the impostor, I’m the real impostor!



Recently, I’ve been making a lot of progress on my short term goals — the ones I can control. So, what triggered my recent bout of self-doubt?

On the advice of a friend, I started applying to be a panelist at science-fiction and fantasy conventions a couple years ago. You know, the ones I like to attend 30 panels in 4 days at?

And this year? I’ve had 3 conventions accept!

Meep! I’m still an unpublished writer. All I’ve got is this blog/vlog where most of the time it feels like I’m shouting into the void. Basically, a free vanity press where all it costs is my time and my dignity. I’ve been going to these cons and taking notes from the greats! What makes me think I can sit up there and talk, that my advice and perspective is something worth listening to?

Well, as my calendar reminded me, I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years and haven’t missed a week since before this time last leap year! I’m consistent, mostly coherent, and still giving fresh takes. I’ve got experience querying in the current market, and people I beta-read for keep coming back for more, so I can’t be too useless — or mean!

Step one for this bout of impostor syndrome was to update my business cards and add “Blogger | Vlogger” to it. Because that’s a big part of why I’m going to be up there.

Enough teaser, Morgan. Tell us where you’re going to be so we can properly stalk you. (Note: please don’t stalk. Just say hi, and keep it casual.)

I’m going to be at RavenCon 15 in Williamsburg, VA April 24-26 and once I got my tentative schedule, my impostor syndrome backed off a little. (Plus, I have my own panelist bio page that is basically the best. I’m pretty happy with what I finally decided on for my new profile pic). But, anyway, my panels.

  1. NaNoWriMo
  2. The Writer and the Beta Reader
  3. Social Media Best Practices for Writers
  4. Social Media, or, Why I Haven’t Finished My Novel

This schedule is still tentative and subject to change. But these are all things I can talk about for ages — at least the basics — without feeling like I need to step back and let the experts talk! Now to find out if I actually enjoy being on panels, and get my stuff out there to be published!

For the others conventions, I have no schedule yet, but I’m going to be on panels at Balticon in Baltimore, MD May 22-25, and in New ZEALAND at CoNZealand for WorldCon from July 29-August 2nd! With any luck, those panels will be along the same vein and I’ll really find my footing on panels.

And maybe get something published.


Have you ever faced impostor syndrome? What did you do to work past it? Or did you just run?

Have you ever paneled at a convention? Any tips for a neophyte? 

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