Editing Bullet Journal Tracking for Fiction Writers

Updated November 2020

If you missed it on Instagram (Facebook, Twitter), I completed the first draft of my novella last week and dove right into editing! I’m so excited, that I’m breaking my monthly posting schedule to share the happy news! Now onto my favorite part: editing.

I love editing because there is material to work with. I can print things out, cut them up, move them around. For this novella, I’m doing a combination of analog and digital editing techniques.

Digital Editing Tools

I keep the manuscript in Microsoft Word and sync it across devices using Google Drive. I edit for passive voice, readability (grade level), and adverbs using the Hemingway App. I bought the desktop version, but it’s very buggy, so if you need an editor I’d use the free online version. This will allow me to submit a manuscript edit to my editor, who will find things I couldn’t, even with the digital tools.

Caveat: Digital editors will never replace a human. I use Hemingway to help find my blind spots. I default to passive voice and adverbs, so luckily, this tool helps me. If you have different writing crutches, you might need to look elsewhere for help.

Analog Editing Tools

I have my little desk calendar to tell me how many days in a month I spend on writing (first image in this post). I also created a bullet journal tracker for editing each chapter. Details below!

Typically, habit trackers are for days, weeks, or months. Whatever the unit of time, assign it as your table column headings. For editing, my columns are each chapter, 1 – 33. So it’s almost like a month anyway.

The rows are the habits you’re tracking, or for editing, the lenses you use to edit your work. I have rows for:

  • Plot holes
  • Research
  • No prose contractions i.e. narrative should not have contractions but dialogue can
  • Ready for editor
  • Ready for beta readers

I have space on the page to add more lenses as they come up. I’m through chapter 6 and haven’t thought of anything yet. I have a list of questions I need to address before the book ends, or little reminders I forgot because it took me three years to write the first draft. For instance, by the last chapter, one of the rooms in the house no longer exists. So half of the chapters I’ve touched included me removing that room and shifting where the characters are interacting.

I shared this with the Bullet Journal Writers Facebook group and got a positive response, so I wanted to share in case it might help you with your writing!

Tomorrow, we’ll return to my regular monthly blog post: I participated in a monthly writing challenge (six word stories for thirty-one days). With the release of this book coming in April, I expect to break my monthly posting schedule quite a bit.

Here are some additional resources that can help you:

Focus on those Nitty Gritty Details

I hope you’re following Dory’s advice and staying persistent… just keep swimming (writing)!

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed yet, but editing really is my favorite part of the creative writing process. I know I might be alone in this, and that’s ok. My goal this week was to help you see that editing is not as hard as it seems… it just takes patience, persistence, and motivation. Today I want to leave you with some ideas to help you edit on a very detailed level. Beware, those faint of heart and annoyed by long posts, as this just might be my longest ever.


Set up a timeline for editing your book. Do you want to finish editing a chapter a day? Whatever it is, make a pact with yourself to go through your draft once only. Be determined to catch every mistake the first time through. This will keep you focused and efficient.

Give yourself a break if life gets in the way of your editing timeline, too. There is nothing worse than feeling guilty about not working, and worse yet, the more upset you are with yourself about not working, the more your guilt will build. To the point that you won’t want to edit. Always, always, always avoid feeling like you don’t want to touch your work.

Editing the Beginning

This is by far the hardest and most frustrating part of the book to edit, it seems. Therefore, I’m going to apply this week’s editing tips to the introduction of my first book. That way you can see an example of how I’m thinking, and hopefully find similarities in your own work to know how to edit.

I started my first book, Catching the Rose, with narrative description because I read classics when younger and that’s what I was used to. It never occurred to me that reader preferences would change in 100+ years.

Silly me. Today’s readers expect to begin with action, whether by/to the main character or by/to a character who will affect the main character later. So let’s see an example of what my first paragraphs were, and what they would be if I were writing the book now.

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Show Me, Don’t Tell Me

“Don’t talk of stars, burning above! If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams filled with desire, if you’re on fire, show me!
Here we are together in the middle of the night.
Don’t talk of spring, just hold me tight!”
Show Me from My Fair Lady

Think of your book as a court case. Would you, as the jury, believe the prosecutor if he screamed, “The defendant is guilty!!! …And I rest my case.”

No. You want proof so you believe beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

Apply the same idea to your writing. What proof do you have to convince your reader that your character is bored, that her hero is unhappy, that his antagonist is delighted? Let’s look at an example.

Belinda was bored. She had a lot to do and her friends, while hilarious, had no idea what sort of deadlines she faced. Three C++ programs and an analysis of Moby Dick to write? She had to figure out how to make her excuses and get out of there, quick.

What’s the problem? I’m telling you she’s bored and has a lot to do, but I don’t tell you how she’s reacting to these facts. Let’s try again.

Belinda twisted her ring around her finger. A paper and three programming assignments. She crossed her legs. Maybe she could write the Moby Dick analysis first? She uncrossed her legs. No, Moby Dick would take much longer, better do the programs first. Belinda glanced once at her cell phone, pressing the side button to illuminate the little screen and see the time. Class in twenty minutes. She stood to stretch, and no one said anything, knowing her history with back pain. She pushed her chair back to its desk and straightened the other empty chairs around her, inching for the door.

What is different? I rely on shorter sentences to portray an anxious mood. There are descriptive verbs: twisting, crossing, uncrossing, glancing, stretching, pushing, inching. Can you see someone doing this? Too polite to say they want to leave, but showing you they want to, anyway?

The Point: Use small details to reveal the bigger picture without flat out explaining the bigger picture.

Movies and songs do this because they don’t have the luxury of 80,000 words to explain everything. Love songs describe missed phone calls, the smell of an old shirt, the empty half of a bed. Small details showing us the singer is alone and heartbroken, which is more powerful than the singer repeating, “Oh, I’m heartbroken, can’t you see I’m heartbroken?”

Treat each scene in your book as if it were a scene in a movie. What details would the camera show the audience?

Showing Through Body Language

Watch your co-workers, family, friends and enemies, the strangers on the street. Can you tell what is going on without hearing the conversation? Are they standing upright? Are their shoulders hunched? Are they looking away as they speak? Are they sweating?

Showing Through the Environment

Sure, maybe it was a “dark and stormy night,” but we’ve all heard that before. What about your five senses help you realize that it is storming, and that you wouldn’t want to be caught in the middle of it? Are the gnats gathering into furious swarms? Is the heat pressing against your skin, making you feel like you can’t breathe? Are the trees swaying? Can you smell the heavy dampness?

Showing Through Architecture

What about the buildings that your characters live in? Are they worn down, a sad testiment to what once was? By the way, don’t ever say “the house was worn down, a sad testiment to what once was.” That’s telling.

Show me the house is worn down by describing spider webs in the windows, so thick they prevent the full sunlight from shining into the room. Show me how the roof is badly patched with pieces of rotting bark collected from the nearby forest. Details, details, details.

Comment on the Show Don’t Tell mantra to enter in the Worderella free critique contest. Do you think it works? Are you tired of hearing it? If this is the first time you’ve heard about it, does it confuse you?

Books to Buy: Eight Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, How to Write a Damn Good Novel

Links to reference: Showing Through Dialogue, How to Avoid Too Much Backstory

This five part series is my participation in Lynn Viehl’s Left Behind & Loving It (LB&LI) convention. I’ll tackle a different facet of editing each day:

  1. Monday: Put that shitty first draft away
  2. Tuesday: Be brutally honest
  3. Wednesday: Show me, don’t tell me
  4. Thursday: Tell me, don’t show me
  5. Friday: Focus on those nitty gritty details

Read more for details about winning a free Worderella critique at the end of this week!

Be Brutally Honest

Today we are going to work on being honest when editing. I always like to think of editing as having three major factors: being honest with yourself, with your writing, and with your audience.

First: Be honest with yourself

There are times when all you want to do it edit, and other times when you dread the idea. Whatever the case, ask yourself these questions before you begin.

  • Are you tired? Take a nap before you edit so you are alert enough to notice mistakes.
  • Have you had a bad day? Just come out of an argument? I suggest not editing then, because you’re upset. Everything is going to look bad to you, and that’s not constructive.
  • Have you had the most wonderful day of your life? Don’t look at your WIP with rose-colored glasses. Realize that your good mood might make you think your writing is better than it is, which is also not constructive.

In other words, realize that your mood will change how good you think your writing is. Train yourself to be objective no matter your mood.

And if you become frustrated, or if your eyes start to burn from reading too much, stop. Take a break and come back to it tomorrow. There’s nothing worse than getting burnt out, because then you get lazy with your editing.

Second: Be honest with your writing

It helps to know what sort of writer you are, i.e. character-driven, plot-driven, etc, and then look for your weaknesses. I had you print your work in a different font yesterday so when you read it, the words themselves will look unfamiliar, thus helping you recognize flaws.

  • Are your paragraphs more than five lines long? That’s a lot of exposition. We’ll discuss this tomorrow.
  • Are you relying on dialogue to explain details? Better summarize it in a paragraph and move on. We’ll discuss this on Thursday.
  • Does everyone sound the same? You’ll only know this by reading aloud. When you’re at a restaurant, try eavesdropping on conversations just to get a feel for how people really sound.
  • Are you lacking setting? Keep the five senses in mind (but don’t info-dump), and you won’t go wrong.
  • If you have to read a sentence twice, it doesn’t matter if it’s clever. Look at it this way… you had to read it twice to know what you are talking about, which means everyone else will have no idea. Rewrite it or get rid of it.
  • If you find a page that has beautiful writing but has nothing to do with that chapter, move it somewhere else. If it doesn’t belong in the book, it doesn’t belong in the book. Save it later for another project.

This is what I mean by being honest is hard. You have to be strong enough to let go of that perfect sentence… because it turns out it isn’t so perfect after all. But whatever you do, don’t erase any of your edits, and don’t cross lines through your printed text so you can’t see what you wrote. You need to see where you came from to know where you’re going.

Third: Be honest with your audience

Sometimes when we get into the thick of writing, we forget we are writing for an audience. This is the time to look at your work from their point of view by keeping these things in mind while editing:

  • Do you like your protagonist? Have you fully realized your antagonist? Make your reader care about your characters, even the bad guy, and you’re on your way to a solid manuscript.
  • Do you know where everyone is in the room? What room are we in, anyway? Did you even tell the reader? Shame on you.
  • Was someone out in the rain in the last chapter, and miraculously don’t have a cold or any sniffles in this chapter, only an hour or so later? Continuity is a big thing for readers, oddly enough. It helps to keep a timeline so you don’t run into this problem.
  • Does anyone even talk like that? This is why you should read your dialogue aloud. If you’re stumbling while reading, change it. Reading aloud will also help with purple prose; if it sounds cheesy, it probably is.

Your reader wants to love you and your book, so please, help them. Your reader will notice if something seems contrived. Strive for a simple, honest story at its heart, throw some twists into the mix, and everyone will be happy.

Frustrated? Stay with me. Tomorrow we’ll discuss how that vague mantra, show, don’t tell. Comment with your questions, suggestions, or what you find hardest about editing to enter the free Worderella critique contest.

Books to Buy: Revision and Self-Editing, Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore

Links to reference: Proofreader’s marks, Editing Fiction, Twelve Tips for Editing Your Fiction, Writer’s Editing Checklist, Revise, Revise, Revise

This five part series is my participation in Lynn Viehl’s Left Behind & Loving It (LB&LI) convention. I’ll tackle a different facet of editing each day:

  1. Monday: Put that shitty first draft away
  2. Tuesday: Be brutally honest
  3. Wednesday: Show me, don’t tell me
  4. Thursday: Tell me, don’t show me
  5. Friday: Focus on those nitty gritty details

Read more for details about winning a free Worderella critique at the end of this week!

Put that Shitty First Draft Away

I once read somewhere that there are three phases a writer will go through before a work is ready for consumption:

  1. You write the first draft for yourself.
  2. You write the second draft for your audience.
  3. You write the third and last draft for publication.

So take heart, dear one, though you’ve only finished draft numero uno. It may seem like a gargantuan task now, but you’ll be at the third draft in no time at all.

First thing’s first: put that shitty first draft away, you’re gonna hurt somebody

No, I don’t care if you suddenly figured out what you need to do in order to fix that one chapter/scene/sentence. Print out the shitty first draft (SFD) in a font that’s different from the one you typed it in (I’ll explain tomorrow), put it in a special binder, kiss it, hug it, do whatever you need to do in order to say goodbye. Then hide it from view for a week at the very least. A month is better.

This time away from the SFD is imperative because it brings objectivity. The less you remember about writing it, the more you will read it like someone who has no idea what to expect from you and won’t have any reason to say “Oh, it’ll get better by chapter four.”

If you must write, start the next book. I bet you have a sequel all planned out, so this is the perfect time to start.

Once you come back to the SFD, don’t edit at the computer

Why? Because we read superficially at the computer. It comes with surfing the internet. Superficial editing, I like to say, is the same thing as revising. You’re moving main points around, and that’s not what we wamt.

Why? Because editing is not revising.

To revise is to alter what is there, to shuffle things around and perhaps make a bigger mess than you already have. To edit is to have the guts to slash or add a sentence/page/subplot if it will enhance the whole.

So find your printed copy and your favorite pen (I know you have one, we all do), crawl into your favorite chair, and get ready for the long haul. Because this is going to get messy. Comment with your theory on why it is so hard to put the first draft away to enter the free Worderella critique contest.

Books to Buy: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Links to reference: Editing: Do You Dare?, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (an excerpt), and Self-Editing and Revising Your Fiction

This five part series is my participation in Lynn Viehl’s Left Behind & Loving It (LB&LI) convention. I’ll tackle a different facet of editing each day:

  1. Monday: Put that shitty first draft away
  2. Tuesday: Be brutally honest
  3. Wednesday: Show me, don’t tell me
  4. Thursday: Tell me, don’t show me
  5. Friday: Focus on those nitty gritty details

Read mre for details about winning a free Worderella critique at the end of this week!

Editing Books Writers Should Read

This past quarter, I read books on the side between my crazy class schedule, work, and the magazine. I should write my typical Worderella review on them, but instead I’m going to list these books and give a little blurb about why you should add them to your To Be Read list. If you’ve read these books, let me know what you thought about them.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

This book kind of changed my life. My writing life, that is. I have it sitting next to my Strunk and White on my shelf of books on writing. It taught me it’s ok to be brutal and take out something you were “iffy” about in the first place. If you’re questioning that paragraph, rest assured that your agent and/or editor will do the same, except the solution to the problem won’t be you deleting the paragraph, it will be the sight of your beloved manuscript thrown in the nearest trash. If you aren’t sure about it, as the author and creator of your book’s mini-universe, your reader, agent, editor, and publisher probably are unsure about it too, which is dangerous in this mad business.

Self-Editing has a chatty, enjoyable tone that makes the pain of realizing all the work you need to do in order to improve your WIP bearable. Each chapter focuses on a different facet of fiction, ranging from high-level topics such as plot, characters, and dialogue, to low-level topics like proper grammar and good, action-oriented sentence structure. If you have a writer in the family, this is a great holiday gift. It may make them cry for a few days as they rip apart their WIP in order to improve it, but afterward, they will thank you. Maybe even shake your hand. Take my word for it: all writers ought to read this book. If anything, it’s a good book to fall back on if you need to charge your writing through a rough spot.

On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels

Finally, a book that definitively tells me what is the difference between erotic, erotica, sweet, and mainstream romance, as well as what makes a book historical fiction or historical romance, or a romantic historical! Another great book with an amusing and informative tone, what might sound like a manual or text book to others was my nightly read before bed. This is a good reference for anyone writing in the romance genre because it not only defines the different levels of romance, it goes into the history of the subgenres, giving a chronology of which subgenres were popular and even ones that have fallen by the wayside.

This is a great marketing tool because for every example cited, two or three other similar works are mentioned. If you want to learn more about Sweet Romance, this book has a lot of great examples, and lists more in the back. That really excited me, because I’m under the impression that I’m one of a very small number of sweet romantic writers.

On Writing Romance also includes example query letters, synopses, and cover letters for those of you going the traditional publishing route. I’ll be honest, this book had me thinking maybe I shouldn’t go the self-pubbed route and instead try my hand at traditional, just because I had some great examples staring me in the face. It sort of makes you think, “I can definitely do that.”
A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman

Ok, so I haven’t read this one yet. But it’s on my Amazon wishlist and my To Be Read list. Like the previous two, it has high marks on Amazon reviews, and, as I’m a sucker for good books about writing, even punctuation, this is on the list. I feel that we as a culture have forgotten the high points of the written word, most especially punctuation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read books and thought, “Oh man. He definitely missed the opportunity to use an em-dash there,” or when I point out a passage to a friend or my mom, saying, “See this? She would have had a better sentence if she used a semi-colon.”

Maybe that’s just me. I love punctuation though, so I’ve put this on the list. If you’re like me, give the book a chance and let me know what you think.

On Giving Feedback

As writers, we are expected to be the paragons of all that is writing and editing, yes? Goodness, I hope not. Many of us have the same trouble editing another’s work as we do our own. Here is an article by Rebecca Swift about how to give good feedback, whether you are a reader or a writer, editing your own work or a friend’s. She mentions how your mood can change your feedback, how feedback is an absolute must, and more. Take a gander, tell me what you think.

Giving Good Feedback
by Rebecca Swift of The Literary Consultancy, former editor at Virago
Risking a Reader
So, you have written a piece of fiction. So far, you only have your own opinion on the work. On the one hand, you may be so delighted to have finished anything at all you think it’s brilliant and wonderful and be patting yourself on the back, even running around telling your friends you think you’re a genius.

On the other hand, if you’re a different kind of person, or indeed the same person in a different mood, you may be punishing yourself because you don’t think what you have written is quite what you hoped it would be. In fact, is it rubbish? What is it? I think that most people, when they have finished a work of writing, are not quite sure what they really think of it. You may also be worried that whatever you yourself think of your writing personally, another reader may not feel the same. Part of you may be dying to know what other people feel, and part of you is probably incredibly anxious about showing your work to anybody. What if they hate it? Will it put you off writing forever? Of course the degree to which you feel any of this will be altered by what you have written, and with what end in mind. For example, if you have written a short story for the BBC site you may feel differently than if you have spent five years on a novel. Either way, you will have had some hope for your work and it’s time to find out what will, if anything, happen to it.

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