Alternatives to Using Comments As You Write

In my blog post on this site last week, I shared the practices of a number of my wonderful clients who have found the word-processing comments feature useful, not only during the editorial process but even as they write (see that post here). But others take a different tack, for various reasons, as you’ll see in their comments about comments below:

I do not use tracking for notes when I write. Here’s why. If I make a change, it notates it on the side and drives me batty. I highlight the part I want and put my note to self between **these** (Cindy Sproles, author of Liar’s Winter).

I don’t use the “comments” feature as I write, but after my rough draft is finished, I use a comment balloon as an electronic Post-It Note for marking the spot where I need to resume writing. I also use it as a reminder for where my critique partner left off, so I know which chapter to send her next (Rebekah Millet,

Although I don’t use the Microsoft comments as reminders, I leave myself notes within the manuscript in italics that settle my heart, because I know that I will return. (I learned in my embryo writer days that if I listened to my OCD and stopped to correct or to research to cite, the emotion drained out of the thought and I found it difficult to re-stage the theater going on in my imagination or my intellect.) I make notes like “return for more detail” or “come back to cite,” even “note: probably boring” or “check that the dots connect. Early on I heard Dr. Dobson say, “write uninterrupted with your heart first, then rewrite, stopping at all boarding stations, with your head” (J. Otis Ledbetter, author of Soul Hunger: Satisfy Your Heart’s Deepest Longing).

I do leave comments in my manuscript, but not with the comments feature. I add bold red comments in the area needing emotion, smells, or conversation improvement (Cheryl Williford, author of Their Convenient Amish Marriage).

I haven’t used the track comments feature while writing. But if it’s early in the writing process, I’ll write comments in brackets, which are editorial comments to myself. If it’s later in the process, I’ll type the word “GARAGE” in all caps at the end of the chapter and park extra comments or brainstorms there (Rob Currie,

I use “xxx-” inline (usually with a comment) while I’m writing to denote places I need to come back to. It’s much more efficient (fewer clicks than using the “comment” feature) and doesn’t take me out of my story (Kathryn Moore, author of Angel Beneath My Wheels).

I do use the comments feature, but I also use another approach: brackets and yellow highlights [like this].This approach grabs my attention very quickly rather than risk losing the comment (Austin Boyd, author of The Mars Hill Classified Series).

I write comments/notes to myself as I write the book, but I don’t use track changes. I simply write the note in the body of the manuscript in RED so I’ll see it clearly as I edit/rewrite. I do like track changes/comments from my critique partner and throughout the editorial process though (Michelle Shocklee, author of The Women of Rose Hill historical romance series).


What about you? Do you keep track of thoughts or feelings you have as you write? If so, how? If not, why not?



17 Responses to Alternatives to Using Comments As You Write

  1. Diana Derringer November 6, 2019 at 5:53 am #

    I also make comments in red.

    • flosscraig November 9, 2019 at 4:47 pm #

      brackets and yellow highlights. Least intrusive.

  2. Mike Cipolla November 6, 2019 at 5:58 am #

    I try to make comments and highlight or flag them with xxx or something unique so they are easy to come back to with Word’s find feature. Easy to find and doesn’t cause problems with my grammar checking program like track changes does.

    • beckyant November 6, 2019 at 10:06 am #

      Thanks so much for sharing your brain, Bob! 🙂 Great ideas. I’ve been struggling to find a method that works without interrupting flow–I think a couple of these will work for me.

  3. Roberta Sarver November 6, 2019 at 6:30 am #

    I use the methods your clients in today’s post use. Highlighting is my favorite.

  4. Dianne Miley November 6, 2019 at 7:29 am #

    I’m also a RED COMMENT writer. Sometimes I’ll also change a section to BLUE font if the whole section needs revision later. It’s a quick change that’s easy to spot later but allows me to keep the writing flow.

  5. Jay Payleitner November 6, 2019 at 7:37 am #

    I’ve learned to be (almost) fearless when it comes to tossing aside paragraphs that are not working. But instead of deleting them, I simply cut and paste them to the very end of the chapter. Then typically, I’ll go back to make sure the idea those words were originally written to convey has been included. Or not.

  6. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 6, 2019 at 8:12 am #

    I’m all for writing comments,
    but with what my craft’s become
    you’ll agree that for a sonnet
    comments just look dumb.
    Fourteen lines is all you’ve got,
    with meter and a scheme,
    and for me there ain’t a lot
    of time for muse’s dream.
    I write ’em fast, in present tense
    for the blog posts of today,
    and ‘making art’ makes no sense;
    relevance does not brook delay.
    No leisurely parsing of my words;
    in this gig, that, I can’t afford.

  7. Brennan S. McPherson November 6, 2019 at 8:24 am #

    Type the word note in brackets like this [NOTE] before writing details to check up on later, so that you can use the “FIND” feature in Microsoft Word to find all your Notes without wasting time scrolling. On a deadline, this is massively helpful…

  8. Wendy November 6, 2019 at 8:32 am #

    I’m working on a detailed timeline in Excel, for my nonfiction book. But I’ve already written some scenes to include, which I seem to write best longhand on a yellow legal pad. I like using strikethroughs when editing, so I can still see the original thought. It might not be practical to write the entire manuscript this way, but for the personal moments the words seem to flow easier this way.

  9. aflcoker November 6, 2019 at 8:45 am #

    I found it satisfying to see that established authors use various editing tools that work for them. While writing I make a note in red about checking a resource later. I am an editor at heart and profession and find it hard not to edit while writing. However, I do return to edit, as often as four times.

  10. sharonkconnell November 6, 2019 at 11:25 am #

    When I’m working on or self-editing my work, I only use *** to note something I need to address or to save the place where I need to go back while working. I never leave comments, whether with tracking or comments feature, because I don’t want to miss anything before sending the ms for publishing. The tracking feature works beautifully for critiquing, but I’ve found no use for it otherwise. If I have something to address before professional editing or publishing, I jot it down in a note book I keep for the book I’m working on. I have pages labeled “Before you Publish” or “Before you send to editor.” That way, all I need to do is find *** and take care of these items. When I’m ready to send the ms to be published, I do a search and find *** and eliminate any that were left behind. It’s been working for me for three novels so far. I think I’ll stick with it. LOL

  11. Barbara Harper November 6, 2019 at 11:47 am #

    I put comments to myself in my manuscript inside parenthesis and then highlight them in yellow. “Ref” means I need to look up the reference. Probably my most used comment is “Is this the best place for this?” I put excerpts that I have cut, but am still not sure whether I might use, in grey highlighting at the end of the chapter.

  12. Lester Bauman November 6, 2019 at 11:57 am #

    I use the Word –> OneNote linking to make research notes and to access them as I write. I’ve found that to be quite useful.

  13. claire o'sullivan November 6, 2019 at 1:17 pm #

    on printed up MS, Post It notes… plan to bubble it electronically.

  14. Peggy Booher November 6, 2019 at 6:43 pm #

    If I use the “comments” feature, I put it at the very top of the page, in red or yellow. If I need to check a date or detail, I put ????? as placeholders until I can fill the information in. Much of the time I write the first draft in longhand. I use a red pen to write notes to myself of what I need to clarify.

  15. Kristen Joy Wilks November 7, 2019 at 10:49 am #

    I use comments when I go back and forth with my critique partner, but never when I write. I have a separate document titled “Revision ideas 2019, title” that I put ideas in as a go. Then when it is time to revise, I go down my list one by one and fix things. If the year changes over, I’ll look through my revision ideas and switch the good ones over to a new document for the next year.

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