How to Edit Like a Gleaning Monkey by Heather Cashman

Author Heather Cashman is by the blog today to share some great editing tips! Check them out!

I remember when I finished writing my first novel. I felt like I could conquer the world. I thought I had worked a miracle. It was wonderful, complete, and finished. I moved on to the next novel, read many wonderful classic novels with a keener eye, and even copied them by hand to improve my own writing. Then I reread my first novel.

It was horrible.

I began to study the art of writing. I had great stories, but lacked the skills to present them to the world. The only way to gain the skills was through a lot of hard work. The Elements of Style became my writer’s Bible. I searched the MLA handbook, went to my favorite website for grammar (, and began to pick each sentence of my manuscript apart.

From that day until its publication, I revised my original first novel more than sixty times. Friends who read the first draft and the last draft were left speechless. This isn’t to say my published novel is without fault, but it isn’t an embarrassment either. I am still learning and honing my craft.

For the first draft, I write without hesitation. I make mistakes, get down the general idea, and make sure the plot is dynamite. Then, I set to my manuscript like a monkey gleaning lice and fleas off its mate.

Below is a brief outline for how I revise: sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, page to page, and chapter to chapter. These are the things I check, but I am always adding to this list when I find another mistake I tend to make more than two or three times in a MS.

WAIT first. Give yourself time between writing and revising. I like the span of two or three weeks. You need enough time to forget.


1) Spelling. Don’t you dare trust spell check. Use it, but don’t trust it. For example, it might sell me that he should we me.

2) Use a dictionary or suffer an “inconceivable” fate. (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” ~Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride)

3) Is there a subject and verb? Is it a compound sentence, and if so, does it have the proper conjunction and comma placement, or is it a run-on sentence?

4) Do the reflexive pronouns reflect properly? This is a grammar issue as well as a writer issue. For grammar, know how pronouns work. As the writer, I know exactly who said what in any given scene. That doesn’t mean the reader will.

5) Have you mixed up your/you’re, to/too/two, and there/their/they’re?

6) Check for missing apostrophes on every word that ends in s.

7) Is every word necessary? Words are like make-up. Most often, less is more, and more makes you look fake. Readers like to use their imaginations. If that weren’t the case, they would be watching a movie. Don’t overuse adjectives and adverbs. One adjective is enough; pick the best one. Only necessary adverbs that change the meaning should be included.


1) Sentence structure—does it vary, fit the mood of the moment/scene? Short sentences can make the scene move faster.

2) Are you showing, not telling?

3) Use dialogue to reveal your characters’ thoughts, not to expound narrative.

4) Are all the sentences a cohesive unit?

5) Are you structuring so that each character’s dialogue is in a different paragraph? If so, check for discrepancies.

PAGE check:

1) General formatting errors.

2) The size of each paragraph.

3) Have you included sensory stimulating words for setting, each character, and the mood of your scene?

CHAPTER check:

1) Is the first sentence a hook? This is especially necessary for the first chapter.

2) Does the last sentence leave them hanging? Each chapter should be like a short story that urges readers to continue and leaves them wanting more.

3) Is each character his or her own person, or do they all sound like you?

BOOK check:

When you think you have everything right, read every word aloud—slowly. This is invaluable. I find myself wanting to bold, highlight, and capitalize this point. There are so many errors I find when I read my novels aloud to myself.

After this, I have rounds of readers. First are the people who like me, love me even. They will be kind, perhaps too kind, but will sift out the blazing inconsistencies. Once fixed, I give the manuscript to my critique group and do the same thing. The last place I go is my professional editor. (And she’s a gem. If you need one, her information is on my blog.)

To make an outline like this for yourself, know your own common errors. Do you write like you speak: “me and Dave” rather than “Dave and I” or “Dave and me.” Do you know which version is appropriate? Do you repeatedly use dangling participles? And if you don’t know what a dangling participle is, you should learn the basics of the English language before sending out your first draft.

You will probably never find all the mistakes in your own novel, but your work should be as manicured as perfectly as possible. Too many lice and bugs in your manuscript’s hair will give the gleaning editor-monkey a belly-ache, and it costs extra to take him to the doctor.

Author Bio:

Heather Cashman graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry but has always loved to write, winning her first contest in the second grade. Married since 1992, she has three unique children and has moved from Arizona to New York to Kansas. She loves to kayak and canoe down the windiest rivers she can find. She welcomes opportunities to visit schools, libraries, and book groups in person or via Skype. Born in Tucson, Arizona, Heather currently lives near Wichita, Kansas with her husband and three children.

Her Book!

Your perception will sharpen once you see through a tiger’s eyes.

More than five hundred years after the apocalypse, the survivors of off-grid genetic experimentation have refined their mixed DNA to the point that humans and their animal counterparts share physical and mental links. Varying species have divided into districts, living in a tenuous peace under the President of Calem.

Ardana and her tiger ingenium Rijan leave their life of exile and abuse in the Outskirts, setting out with their twin brothers to redeem themselves and become citizens of the Center. But shedding their past isn’t as easy as they had hoped. When the system that shunned them becomes embroiled in political conflict and treachery, their unique abilities and experiences from the Outskirts make them invaluable to every faction. The runaways become pawns to friends as well as enemies, and with every step it becomes more difficult to tell which is which.
Buy Books at


About jlwylie

Stay at home mom of 2 boys, avid reader and writer. Published by Untold Press

4 thoughts on “How to Edit Like a Gleaning Monkey by Heather Cashman

  1. Thanks so much for hosting me, Jen. I really hope sharing this method helps another writer wade more easily through that beginning writer’s mire. Writing this was fun.

  2. […] I am being hosted on Jen Wylie’s blog, author of Sweet Light. I wrote an article titled “How to Edit Like A Gleaning Monkey,” about my editing process and how to be thorough so that your editor can focus on finding those few […]

  3. Angela K Roe says:

    Thanks Heather, very good tips!

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