Self-Editing in Full Color

I waited two and a half weeks after the Mid-South Creative Nonfiction Conference to pull from my briefcase the file of essays critiqued by members of Dinty W. Moore‘s Manuscript Workshop class. That was by design. I’ve already gone over all my notes and let the techniques put forth mellow in my mind. I’ve written three new short essays, and I’ve started one long essay employing what I’ve learned, or trying to. So now it’s time to look back at the old. Now the fun begins. It is FUN to review what other writers have to say about my work.

I submitted three essays to workshop members to be critiqued prior to the class. This morning, I began reviewing the first one, a piece titled “Mississippi Delta” because it’s one of my favorites.

Editing CNF Conference Manuscript

One practice I love to do and am always greatly benefited by is to take my cleanly printed essay and mark EVERYBODY’s comments on it in a different COLOR — red, blue, green, brown, orange — good and bad [constructive] comments — you get the picture. I keep a pack of 24 Crayola Colored Pencils at hand for the task. I go through one critique at a time and mark up my copy.

Then I sit back and look at it, and soak it all in. If there’s a phrase or paragraph with lots of different colors, I know the line or passage is either very strong or very much in need of change or clarification. Either way I gain confidence that the end result will be the best I can make it.

Right off the bat, I notice I did one thing that three others didn’t like. I started with the word “it.” I know “it” is a weak word, but I still sort of like that beginning for “Mississippi Delta.”

Mississippi Delta Marked Up


I’ve long used this method of colorful editing in my own critique group and am ceaselessly amazed at what it shows and tells me. It’s a great visual of the strength and solidity of a work.


2 Comments on “Self-Editing in Full Color”

  1. sarahemc2 says:

    What a brilliant idea! I’m rushing out to buy my own colored pencils right now! (Okay, maybe not until after the pie I’m baking comes out of the oven, but right after that.)

    Thanks for this tip, I can’t wait to see what my manuscript looks like after I do this.


  2. danielgtaylor says:

    My sister may not appreciate me using the Derwents she bought me to mark up my manuscript like this, but… I think it’s a great idea I’ve never seen elsewhere.

    I too will now race out and buy a 24 pack of coloured pencils.

    Like the way you write too – your voice is strong.


    Daniel G. Taylor

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