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by Cara J. Stevens

Part 2: 7 Self-editing checkpoints to take your manuscript from first draft to ready for submission

**Note: This is the second in a two-part series. To read part one, click here.**

My first post covered storytelling basics to get you to a solid first draft. Once your manuscript is complete, however, it’s far from finished!

Here are seven checkpoints to guide you once you’re ready to edit.

  1. Don’t stop at the first draft. Or the second or third or even fourth. Revise until you’ve touched each word and page in your story. Remain open to change.
  2. Keep an image of your ideal reader in your mind. As you write and revise and revise again, picture that ideal reader reading your book. What excites them? What lights them up? What do they love about your story? Keep an eye out for what they might find confusing, what might be over their head, or what might feel like you’re talking down to them. The more you can get in the head of your reader, the better you’ll be able to refine your story to reach them where they are.

  1. Describe your story in one sentence. It’s harder than you think! But once you’re able to describe it concisely, you’ll know you have a handle on what your book’s really about, what makes it unique, and what makes it special.
  2. Write a draft simply telling yourself the plot. This is a discovery draft, where, as you write, you uncover plot holes or opportunities that you hadn’t considered in your first draft. You might even find new obstacles for your character to overcome. Remember the first checkpoint: Be open to change.
  3. Map your story’s emotional arc from beginning to end. Even if it’s a story for very young children, there should be ups and downs as you take us along toward the end, encouraging the reader to turn the page to find out what happens next.
  4. Remember your WHY. What inspired you to write this story? What feeling do you want to leave your readers with? What will make this book special to your young reader? Keep that why in mind as you write and edit. It will not only keep you on track with your storytelling, it will help you let go of any parts of the book you fell in love with in the beginning that might not serve your reader.
  5. Check your manuscript for spelling, grammar, and sentence construction. Neatness counts. When you present your manuscript for consideration to an editor or agent, you are showing them that not only can you craft a publication-worthy tale, but also that you’re professional, detail-oriented, and thorough.

Your creative journey should have side-quests and exploration. Your WHY is your compass. Your story’s arc is your map. Your reader is your north star. Keeping these tools on hand as you revise will keep you from getting lost in the weeds so you can always find your way home to your story.

Good luck and happy writing!

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Cara J. Stevens is the author of Picture Perfect: An insider’s guide to writing picture books and the host of The Picture Perfect Podcast. She has been a member of SCBWI since 1996, when she led a presentation about writing for the new interactive medium, the World Wide Web, at the SCBWI New York Conference. She is the 2023 mentor for the SCBWI-L.A. Mentorship program. Find out more at carajstevens.com. For more of her tips on writing and creativity, visit BookishlyYours.Medium.com.

Author photo provided by Cara J. Stevens. Article images by Suzy Hazelwood, Yaroslav Shuraev, and Arthouse studio on Pexels.com.