Color-Coded Editing {with Guest Victoria Minks}

Friends, the article you’ve been eagerly awaiting (I hope) is finally here. Please welcome our guest, Victoria Minks. I enjoyed her book Jonas & Olivia, and I’ve enjoyed her color-coded editing process, which she’s sharing with us today.

We’re going to be diving into Color-Coded Editing today!

This is a process I use during the revision stages of editing, all the way through the first phase of line-by-line editing.

For some background, my basic routine usually goes something like this: 

  1. Plan my basic novel outline, theme, mood, etc. Some novels require more planning, some I just jump right in!
  2. Write the rough draft. The “just get it on paper” draft. 
  3. Now is the time for 2nd drafts, rewrites, 3rd drafts, or what have you. This is when I really get the book nailed down. Sometimes a novel is pretty good to go and doesn’t need this stage, but let\’s be honest– most of them do!
  4. Once I have the main substance there, it’s on to Color-Coded Editing! (Explained further in this post, with all the how-to in applying it to your methods!)
  5. After going through that Color-Coded Editing Process, it’s on to basic line-by-line editing.
  6. Then it’s proofreading. Multiple times. 
  7. Then on to Alpha and Beta Readers, and then you move into the stages of publishing!

To preface: I first read something similar to this in the “Now What?” stages of the National Novel Writing Month blog years ago. However, I’ve tweaked it a lot and so it’s quite different from what first gave me the idea. I’m not a huge fan of editing–but this method makes me actually look forward to it.


It’s broken up into simple steps with different colors for each one. I use colored pens and underline or circle sections, using a pencil or a regular black pen to write notes in the margins or on sticky notes that I attach to the paper. But if you’re a highlighter kind of person, you could definitely use that instead, and of course, feel free to switch up the colors. I just use what I have on hand, and have a personal system for what color goes to what editing step, but you can, of course, adapt it.

Step One: 

  1. If you’ve just finished your book, set it aside for at least a week. I like to go for about a month. This allows you to look at your novel with fresh eyes. If you haven’t written in it for a while, you\’re going to print out your book (I do it on a single side of the paper to offer more space to write notes on the backs). I can hear some people saying: “But, why can’t I use my super amazing high-technology for this technique?”. It’s true, even my laptop+ stylus pen is capable of doing this process all digitally, and if you REALLY want to, go for it. Here’s why I think it’s important to do it on paper though:
    1. Having a different format allows you to look at it from a different perspective. Fresh eyes mean you’ll see things you didn’t see before. 
    2. There’s more room for the natural flow of scribbles, notes, and doodles. It’s all part of the process that I feel is easier on paper– that brain dump that just is always a little more organic on paper than with technology.
    3. It’s also super exciting and motivating to see your novel in print form, even if it is double-spaced, single-sided letter-sized paper. Your words sitting in front of you in a stack is just so amazing.
  2. Back to the main point after that little detour! Now you’re going to read through the whole thing… if you can, in one sitting. If not, just as soon as possible. Don’t try editing at all during this time, unless you printed out the copy with sections you already planned on deleting. For instance, if you happened to write it during NaNoWriMo and you put in a monologue about the weather just to add words, knowing you’d take it out later for publishing– cross through those now with a red pen. Also, if you notice a character that wanders around with no purpose, give a quick note about them as well. Other than those kinds of things though, refrain from editing! This stage is to just get a feel for your book.

Step Two: By this time, you probably have an idea of what you got right and what you got wrong in your draft. But as I said, don’t randomly attack the thing with scribbled-y red ink. If you go back to the beginning, grab an aqua pen. You’re going to read through the book again, this time focusing on emotions/tension/reactions, etc. What places make you laugh? cry? feel suspense? Are there no emotions when there should be? Or maybe the wrong ones? Did your character act or say something out of their norm? Is their behavior too melodramatic? Too stoic? This is the time to go through and mark with your aqua pen all the feels (or where there should be some). Make sure that you’re following what your character’s responses would be, not what yours would be.

Step Three:  Grab an orange pen, and this time you’re going to read through it again, looking for places where you’re bored, confused, there are plot holes or inconsistencies. If you need to fact-check various things in your book, this is the time to put a little asterisk or something besides those things to check later.

Step Four: 

  1. Stop now and reevaluate. You will probably want to change some more major things here. After this step, I realized I needed to rewrite the entire ending for Jonas and Olivia. If you have huge scenes that need to be changed which will take the book in an entirely different direction, or you need to get rid of or fix a character you noticed was there for no good reason (noticed in Step One) go ahead and do that now.
  2. To eliminate the need of having to reprint everything again, just write these things on the backs of the pages or on extra notebook paper–unless it’s a really big change that involves thousands of words–then stick to the computer. 🙂 This is the time to fix big plot changes, flat characters, tension, reactions, emotions, etc.
  3. If you had to rewrite a lot in this stage, you may want to go back to the beginning steps and hit those sections with the previous colors of editing, just to make sure the new parts get the same quality of editing.

Step Five: Take a purple pen and read through your manuscript, this time searching out your descriptions. Not enough? Purple pen to the rescue. Too much? Cross some out. Not written to your satisfaction? Melodramatic? Cliche? Cheesy? Purple pen. Anything that has to do with descriptions tackle now.

Step Six: This time, with a pink pen, check your dialogue. Mark the passages with too little dialogue, and the places with an overabundance. Mark where you lose track of who’s speaking, or if too many sentences start with “I”. All your dialogue problems should be fixed in this step.

Step Seven: Read through your book again, this time with a green pen. You’re going to check now for places where you could use 1 word in place of 10, where words are repeated too closely together, where you use the word in the wrong context and that sort of thing. This is getting more into the details, and by now you probably have a rainbow-inked manuscript, but don’t worry–you’re close to the end!

Once you finish Step Seven, you’re going to have a book full of different colored markings, sticky notes, and scribbled memos. This is the time now to go through your novel on the computer, fixing all the things you marked in the manuscript. By the time you’re done, your book will be much better and should be ready for the line-by-line editing stage.

Don’t worry if this color-coded editing process takes a long time. That’s ok, as long as you don’t stop for months in-between stages. (That can make you forget things about the book that you need to keep in mind while editing). Each step may take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on how much you need to fix, how long the book is, how much time you have to work on it at once, etc. That’s the beauty of this method though– because it is smaller steps covering the whole novel, rather than trying to remember everything to look out for and crawling through the book, it is super adaptable to whatever schedule works for you. It not only gets editing done in logical steps, but you won’t have to worry that you’ve forgotten important details from chapter two when you’re trying to edit chapter forty-seven. 

If you use this technique, I would love to see it! Post your colorful manuscript on your Instagram with the hashtag #fearlesscolorcodedediting for a chance to be featured on our IG story spotlights! 

Stay Fearless!


2 thoughts on “Color-Coded Editing {with Guest Victoria Minks}

  1. I can vouch for the validity of this process, having used it multiple times! I'm even thinking of expanding it a little to meet my personal needs (adding one for setting, my weak spot).

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