Author Bob Hostetler

Making Comments As You Write

Today’s writers enjoy some advantages that weren’t available to scribes in the past. One of those is the ability in word-processing programs to track changes and add comments to a document. This is especially helpful during the editorial process. But some writers use that functionality as they write. So I asked my clients if they do anything like that. Here’s what some said:

I use the Comment feature in MS Word’s “Review” menu all the time, both as a professor and as a dean. As an author, I also use it to dream when I can’t find the words or don’t have the time to tweak the words. I use it to note sources that I think might fit in a certain section. It gives me a space to place ideas that I want to find quickly and work over later. It is handy because I can delete all comments with one push of a button when I am getting a final draft ready to submit (Alan Ehler, author of How to Make Big Decisions Wisely).

I work in Pages on my Mac and transfer to Word later. I use comments as reminders about corrections, facts to check and footnotes to format. Occasionally, I use a comment as a reminder to rewrite a scene or section. Comments serve as “sticky notes” and are a digital conversation with myself. I couldn’t write without them (Leanna Lindsey Hollis, author of Faith Lived Out Loud).

I can’t say I use it all the time but on occasion I’ve used it to remind me to go back later and add a sidebar or maybe a footnote or reference to a quote (Tez Brooks,

I use Word’s comment balloons copiously as I write, especially when working on a historical, which generally requires more research. Comment balloons can be for pretty much anything—a plot hole that needs closing, a reminder to address an issue that I realized while writing or a critique partner pointed out, a website where I found pertinent information, a reminder to research something further and elaborate in the text, etc. I also use endnotes in the same way an author would when writing nonfiction, to cite sources. While I remove the endnotes before sending out the manuscript, I keep a copy with the notes intact so I can easily access it if I need to know where research information was found (either for myself or if someone else asks). Word’s comment balloons and endnotes are the main reasons I write in Word instead of Scrivener. Scrivener is much better for organization, but I do all my writing in Word (Christy Distler,

I use the comment section in Scrivener. I use it for reminders such as research, double check a fact or resource. Also, I copy the chapter summary I wrote in my proposal to make sure I have delivered what I originally promised (Rhonda Robinson, author of FreeFall: Holding Onto Faith When the Unthinkable Strikes).

I use the comment feature a bunch when building or reviewing. The comments are reminders to add details, or I criticize my plot or characters, and add comments that push me to look at the writing in a different light. Often I use the comments to say things about the work that someone else might say in criticism, and that’s a reminder to me that I am not as smart as I might think I am (Austin Boyd, author of The Mars Hill Classified Series).

I use comments all the time for a wide variety of reasons. In co-authoring, we write notes back and forth to each other on everything from why we strayed from the original synopsis to whether one of our characters would actually phrase something a specific way. In critique groups, I’ll often include questions for critique partners (can they “see” the scene? Or “This is terrible but I can’t think of anything better right now. Help!”). In my writing process, I struggle not to edit as I write, and I’ve found I do better if I leave myself comments about things that will need editing (the etymology of a phrase, the historical accuracy of a kitchen tool, or whether I’ve remembered the hair and eye color of a minor character). I’ll also leave myself “this is terrible, fix” notes before I send it to my crit group (Becca Whitham, co-author of the Montana Brides Inspirational Romance series).

Wow. People do that? I usually make a million notes on old-school paper and pin them to the wall (which makes me look like either a genius or a serial killer). Comment space I usually only look at when editors come in and leave some. Come to think of it, this makes me feel better about the comment section and might make dinner guests feel more comfortable with my living room. This might just become a part of my new process but if you join me for brunch and my walls are still a wreck…don’t judge me (Brooke Keith, author of Radically Red: Dare to Live the Words of Christ).


Next week, I’ll share the replies of authors who use other ways of making notes and keeping track of things in their works-in-progress.

How about you? Do you use the comments feature as you write? For what? And how?


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