Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 27, 2015


harold underdown

Harold Underdown – NJSCBWI 2015


By Shiela Fuller

I recently attended Harold Underdown’s workshop, “Editing without an Editor: Tips, Techniques, and Tools,” at the NJ SCBWI conference.

Both new and experienced writers may find a few of his “big picture” techniques helpful as they edit their own work.

Referencing Sandy Asher’s book, Writing It Right, Harold suggested that the writer ask these questions (and more) of their manuscript before beginning the editing process. 

Here are four:

1. Who stands to gain or lose the most by the action in the story? 

2. What does the main character want?

3. What are the obstacles to reaching the goal?

4. Is the story driven forward by the main character’s actions?

The writer could create a scene-by-scene template. The template is a detailed grid used to keep track of scene type and can include additional information such as character traits, plot events, action, dialogue, etc.

Line-edit your work. Reconsider each sentence, line by line, and ask these questions: Is the sentence necessary? Could it be improved upon, and is it in its right place? According to Harold, “You can speed up the pace by writing short sentences,” and conversely, “slow it down by describing a character, object, or location in detail.”

Put the final polish on your manuscript using the following tools and tips. Read each of your sentences, backward, word-by-word, slowly, and enunciating each word.  This isolates each word and helps to identify spelling errors.

Run your manuscript through your computer’s spell check; however, do not depend on it. Spell check only checks spelling not usage.

Read the manuscript out loud and have others read it out loud to you. Doing this may uncover problems in sentence structure such as fragments, run-on sentences, and awkward tongue twisting alliterations.

Harold said, “Look for clichés, dead metaphors, and exaggerated or overblown language,” and suggested using to search for words or phrases that may be overused.

Employ some of these tips, tools, and techniques to get the manuscript ready before you take it to your critique group.  Use them again once the manuscript has been read by others and before you begin the next round of revisions.

Put the manuscript in a drawer for a few days. This gives you a much needed separation from the emotionality of the changes you’ve made and those that still may need to occur.

After a few weeks you’ll be ready to look at your manuscript with new eyes.  Read it all the way through.  You are now ready to begin the revision process again. Editing is the yielding to where the real story lies beyond what is in front of you on the paper.

Write, revise, and self-edit.  Your writing will bring you full circle many times over.  Try not to get discouraged.  Most writers have traveled on the same path.

For more information about the “Editing without an Editor” workshop, conference sessions, online tutorial services, and more, please visit

Harold Underdown is the author of THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS.  His website is

Shiela Fuller is a picture book writer, yogi, avid wildlife photographer and birder, supporter of non-GMO, legacy keeper, and steward of domestic and wild animals.  Her first picture book is ALL NIGHT SINGING. She lives on a farm with her husband, children, horses, chickens, rooster, dogs, cats, snake and bird.

Thank you Sheila for taking such good notes during Harold’s keynote at the New Jersey SCBWI Conference and thank you Harold for sharing your expertise with all of us.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Reblogged this on WORDS…With a Dash of SABOR and commented:
    Some interesting thoughts about self-editing from Harold Underdown, via Kathleen.


  2. Great job Shiela! I wasn’t able to attend this workshop but feel like I have thanks to you r great summary!


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