Saying Goodbye to Sally, and what she learned on the journey!

“I like your jacket,” I said as Sally sat down at the table. She unwound a knitted scarf, rich with reds and greens.

“Christmas gifts, as well as these.”  Sally held out fingerless gloves. “For typing on cold days.”

“Perfect.  How is the editing going?”

“I’m finished, or at least, for now. I sent it to a group of friends to read, and I’m looking at a conference to attend so I can pitch my story.”

“I’m proud of you, Sally.  You’ve learned so much this year –“

“I know. I have this strange euphoria. Story ideas follow me into the night and I can’t wait to get started on my next story.”

“It’s because you realized…you can write a book. All the way to the end. Nothing feels better than finishing something.  And finishing a novel is huge.  So…what are the big lessons about writing a novel you would tell others hoping to pursue their dreams?”

Sally ran her finger around the rim of her coffee cup.

“First, that writing a story is both harder and easier than I thought.  It’s daunting, yet, but taken apart step by step, and with patience, it can be done.  However, it’s a lot more intricate than I imagined. It’s both an art and a science, I guess.”

“Then, I’d say a great story takes a lot of thought and polish. You have to really think through what you want to say, and why you are writing. And you have to keep that focus all the way to the end of the story.”

I nodded.

“I think I’d also suggest getting a coach, or someone who understands your story and can ask you the right questions. Even if it isn’t a fellow writer, but is someone who is willing to listen to you ramble and is committed to asking the right questions.”

“And I’d also suggest getting some writing books – like Inside-Out, and the Book Buddy – to help.”

“I’m in agreement with that,” I said.

She grinned.

“And finally, I’d say – you never know what you can do if don’t try.  Writing a book has caused me to discover things about myself, and push myself to emotional places, and figure out what I really want in life. It’s made me a better person, I think and given me something I can leave behind.”

“So, it was worth the journey?”  I asked.

She lifted a bound manuscript from her bag. “Yes.”

“What’s this?”

“What if I Loved You, my first novella.  I hope you like it.”

{Download/Read Sally’s novella HERE: What If I Loved You?]

I gave her a hug. “I believe you just might be my next favorite author.  Thanks for letting me coach you this year.  It’s been my pleasure.”

“Thanks, Coach. Mine too.”

Note:  I hope you enjoy Sally’s book.  Not bad for a first-timer!   Thank you to Sarah May Warren for allowing me to use her story, her questions and her writing journey in my blog this year.

Stay tuned for my new series starting next week:  Advanced Q & A with Susie May!  (a VLOG!)  Thanks for reading Sally’s journey this year!

Susie May

Happy Writing!

Susie May

P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling
Novel. A quick class on those foundational elements every editor is looking for! Sign up at:

P.P.S. As you might already know, MBT is now offering an advanced membership with access to our full library, advanced teaching through webinars and video talk shows and a monthly advanced class. For more info, check out: Hope to see you at practice!

Conversations: Editing and Wordsmithing your novel!

Sally sat down at the table, handing me a Christmas tin.  “Merry Christmas.”

I opened it.  Inside lay petite, decorated Gingerbread men and women, their faces, aprons and overalls intricately decorated. “Wow.”

“It’s my one Christmas claim to fame.  I sell them at the annual craft show.”

They looked too good to eat.  “You put me to shame. My talents end with chocolate chip cookies. Although, my children love them.”  I put the lid on the tin.  “You know, your cookie prowess is not unlike finding your voice, or wordsmithing your story. Which is the final step in editing your manuscript before you move to proofing.”

“I am nearly finished all my scene by scene edits.”

“Then you’re ready to make your story sing. It’s in the wordsmithing phase where an author’s voice really emerges…it’s in the delivery of the story on the page.  How do you groom your voice?  

First, you have to start with the Mechanics. Go through your grammar and hone your writing. Here’s a checklist:

1. Are there five senses in each scene?

2. Replace the adverbs with strong verbs, the adjectives with defined nouns. Cut all “ly” ending adverbs if possible.

3. Be ruthless with passive sentences. ”Was” and “were” are good clues to a passive sentence. Although sometimes you need a passive sentence to let the reader rest, most of your sentences should be active.

4. Repeating sentences – If two sentences say virtually the same thing, cut one.

5. Two adjectives together weaken both. Use the strongest one.

6. Read through your dialogue – Do you need tags? Do you have enough action between words? Do you repeat names? Do you need to delete tags to make it faster? Is there enough white space between chunks of dialogue? Body language? Fighting words?

7. Do you have a list of overused words? Do a word search and fix/delete those!

Now comes the fun part.  Turn your page landscape view, “select all” and make two columns. Change to single space. See how it looks like a printed book? I like to change the type style to Garamond or Bookman to really get the feel of reading a novel.

Take two days and simply read your story, feeling the words, how they nuance the emotion, how they lay on the page.  Look for the story beats – have you rushed a sentence or paragraph?  Or, are you repeating words, sentences, paragraphs, concepts? 

Using a read pen, take your time and edit the hard copy. Change words around, add new sentences…you are reading the book for the emotional effect if has on the reader. 

 In the back of your mind, do a final story check: 

  • Scenes – Do your scenes pack a punch?  Do each of your scenes have a purpose? Do you need to make the slower scenes faster? Can you combine two slow scenes, cutting away the less important to the important?
  • Action – Are there sufficient reasons for everything your character does in that scene? Have you planted the clues for that action or decision long before they do it?
  • Likeable characters – Does your hero/heroine have great qualities that make you truly like them? Make sure that in each scene, there is something likeable about your character—that special spark that sets them apart.
  • Surprise – Is the disappointment worthy of your character? Is it plausible and unexpected?


Then I look at the art.  Do the sentences sing to you?  Can my characters be a bit more creative in their dialogue?  Have you used my nouns and verbs in a powerful way?  Have you woven in symbolism.  Do you like it?  

Then, I fix it, proof it…pray over it, and it’s ready for readers!

Remember – the difference between rearranging words and editing is that editing adds emotion, texture, precision and mood to a scene.  Always ask: How has your wordsmithing made your scene more powerful?”

“I can’t believe I’ve almost finished a book in a year.”

“Sally, I’m so proud of you.  I can’t wait to read your story.  Next week, I’ll give you some hints on how to sell it.”

“Next week is Christmas Eve. You’re not going to make we work on Christmas Eve are you?”

I opened the tin and took out a gingerbread man.  I smiled and bit off his head.


How to Edit your Fast Draft Novel Step 2: Scene by Scene

“So much snow!” Sally came into the coffee shop stamping her feet.  Overnight, the sky had buried our little village in thick frosting.

I sat nursing a hot cocoa. “I know.  It feels a little overwhelming, thinking of plowing the driveway, the porch, the deck…”

“Not unlike doing the macro edit on my novel,” Sally said, unwinding her scarf. “But I think I have the big picture/content edits figured out. What’s next?” 

Kathy handed her a peppermint mint mocha. Sally sat down, warming her hands on the cup.

“Now it’s about looking at every scene to make sure it has enough tension and that you’re building in the emotional layers.  I call it: Scene by Scene Editing.

“First, start with the scene structure. Determine if it is an Action or ReAction scene. Then define your goals, conflict, disaster, or your response, dilemma, decision.

“Then, use the Tension equation and make sure you have built enough story tension!” (Sympathetic Character + Stakes + Goals + Obstacles + Fear of Failure.)


“So, look at the Scene Structure first. Done,” Sally said.

“Yes. After your Scene Structure is in place, then it’s time to see if you delivered through the Scene Elements.  In other words, have you drawn the reader into the world of the Character?


  • Do I have the NEWS of the scene – Who, What, When, Where and Why?
  • Do I have the 5 senses?
  • Have I created a mood with the use of my 5 senses, the verbs and nouns I use? 

POV? (Point of View) 

  • Would the scene have more impact if it was in a different POV?  (remember, write it in the POV of the person who had the most to lose). 


  • Dialogue moves a story and creates tension. If you have even one page without Dialogue, insert something – a remembered conversation, a phone conversation, even a letter or journal entry to create another voice. 
  • Have you created sparks with your dialogue?  If it feels tired and expected, have your character say something they shouldn’t – that should cause some tension! 

Emotion through Action? 

  • Give your character something to do, and have it convey his emotions. What does the character do because of the way he/she feels? 

Most importantly, have you allowed your reader to experience every important nuance of the scene?  Slow it down.  Describe the scene.  Take your time.  Your character will still go off the cliff – you are just helping the reader understand how dangerous it is and how hard he tries to stop it.

“It’s only after I do this phase that I begin to start wordsmithing – really fine tuning the words.”

“Seriously?  There’s another editing phase after this?”

“Two more, in fact. But just do this for now, or you’ll get overwhelmed.  Or,” I took a sip of my cocoa.  “Some might say…snowed in.”

“Ha,” she said.


Truth:  Editing a story is best accomplished by looking at the big picture first, then the individual scene.  Does your story deliver the emotional impact?  

Dare:  Look at your scene structure before you dive into the scene and you’ll have a better understanding of how to weave in the scene elements.


Have a great writing week!

Susie May


P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling

Novel.  A quick class on those foundational elements every editor is looking for!  Sign up at:


P.P.S.  As you might already know, MBT is now offering an advanced/premium membership with access to our full library, advanced teaching through webinars and video talk shows and a monthly advanced lesson.  For more info, check out:  Hope to see you at practice!




Conversations: How to Macro-Edit your Fast Draft

“Okay, here it is.” Sally plunked down a thick sheaf of paper, bound by a rubber band.  “72,834 words.”

“I’m impressed.”  I handed her a victory candy cane mocha.

“I’m exhausted.  My brain is a noodle.  I wrote late at night, early in the morning, while boiling macaroni and cheese. I’ve thought about this novel in my sleep, while doing laundry, driving my kids to school.  All I do is think about this book.”

“But, do you like it?”

She smiled.  “I do.  But it needs so much work, and I’m not sure where to start. I have a jumbled mess. I have misspelled words and run on sentences and grammatically incorrect paragraphs…ugly.”

“No worries.  Today, I’m going to tell you what to do with that mess!

“First, Let your Brain Rest.

  1. Set it aside.  Hopefully you took notes during the revision phase.  For at least a day – maybe 3 – set it aside and let the story just marinate.  You’ll be thinking o Set it aside.  Hopefully you took notes during the revision phase.  For at least a day – maybe 3 – set it aside and let the story just marinate.  You’ll be thinking of all the things you might want to add, different layers and themes, etc.
  2. b.     Keep a notebook of these ideas. 
  3. Do other things. Exercise, clean the house, cook, go for walks. Let your brain breathe.
  4. Read another book. Seriously.  You’ll be reminded of layers to add or scenes you might want to put in.  

“That sounds perfect. I have a stack of books I want to read. And I should probably clean my house.”

“But you’re not quite done yet. After you’ve rested, then it’s time for the Storycrafter Overhaul.” 

I start with:  Quick and Dirty Touch up: Gather up your notes and implement the rewrites you have in your notes.  I like to do this now before I forget them.  But I’m still in the rough draft stage.  *If I have big rewrites, then I wait until the next part to implement them.  These are about adding in metaphors and names, and food and clothing. But, if I have to add big scenes, then I put those in the Macro Edit Stage. 

Overhaul:  Now start to look at the big pieces.  We’re talking Macro Story Edits.

  • Dark Moment – Greatest Fear/Lie
  • Happy Moment – Heal the Wound, happy ending?
  • LINDY HOP – do you have the structure?
  • Final Battle ending?
  • Essential Scenes

I usually have the big ones, but I often forget a couple:

  • Meet the Hero, or Heroine
  •  If I could only – what stands in his way to storming the castle and rescuing the princess.  
  • All I want is to be Happy – the story about his fondest memory and why, and what his greatest dream is.  ry – the revelation of his past romances.  (We need to know what holds them back
  • Out of Character scene – have them do something that goes contrary to their goals.
  • What if I lose everything scene: This shows us what is at STAKE as well as what they fear.
  •  Black Moment EVENT scene…You can’t have a book without these scene!  This is what causes him to change!
  •  Breakdown/Epiphany Scene.  This is his/her change, the truth that sets them free!
  •  The Sacrificial Act.  It makes him heroic, but also changes him into the person he needs to be. (AKA, what can they do at the end that they can’t at the beginning?  Shows they are a new, improved person!)

After I have overhauled the Story and have all the Structure in place, that’s when I start on Scene by Scene editing.”

“Stop! That’s enough for this week.” She pressed her hands to her head.

“Breathe, Sally. Drink your cocoa.  Watch the snowflakes.  You deserve it.”

Truth:  Every Fast Draft needs editing. The first draft is just the raw material – you will need to analyze and rewrite.

Dare: Take a breath, take a week or two to let your brain rest, then go through the macro edits of your story and make sure you have the big pieces before you start the scene by scene edits!

Happy Editing!

Susie May

P.P.S Would you like to get FREE one-time 24 hour access pass to the MBT Advanced Team Member Locker Room and discover what all the buzz is about? Get your free 24 hour pass here and you’ll also be invited to the My Book Therapy Open House Thursday, 7pm CST.