Why you should keep an editing diary

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Even if you don’t keep a regular diary, it’s a smart idea for writers to keep a research diary AND an editing diary…

Have you ever kept a diary?

For many people, it’s a place where they can jot down feelings and remembrances — and process emotional baggage. Some people even follow Julia Cameron’s suggestion to begin every day with three morning pages.

But more specific and focused diaries are especially useful for writers.

People who research a lot — such as academics — benefit a great deal from maintaining a research diary. You can read about that idea here.

Research diaries not only shorten the research process — they make writing faster and easier as well.

But today, I have a new suggestion: an editing diary.

You may think I’ve lost my mind with all these diary suggestions, but the idea is straightforward. Here’s why:

1-You’ll know where to put everything

Editing inevitably creates a massive to-do list. It’s terribly easy for something important to fall OFF that list and into the same place missing socks disappear. But socks are uncomplicated and relatively inexpensive to replace. Mistakes in your published writing can often prove costly.

Instead of letting your “to dos” float around on post-it notes or little scraps of paper, use your editing diary to help keep yourself better organized. If you maintain such a diary, you’ll have a specific place to put your notes and reminders, and they’ll be organized by date.

2-You’ll be able to reflect on your thinking

The purpose of editing is to improve the quality of your writing. Diaries allow you to converse with yourself about your thought processes. Known as metacognition, this awareness not only helps you improve the manuscript you’re working on, but it also allows you to better understand the patterns, habits and tendencies you have and can use for future writing projects.

Being knowledgeable about your own way of working will help make you a much more skilled writer.

3-You’ll maintain your writing habit

Some people would rather edit or research or, in truth, do anything OTHER than write. But the things we do daily always seem easier to us. (You probably don’t experience huge angst about brushing your teeth each night, do you? It’s just something you do.) And the great thing about writing in a diary is that it’s such a low-stakes way to maintain your writing habit. No one else is going to read it. This means you have permission to make mistakes, ignore spelling and grammar problems and dismiss any concerns about quality. (In other words, it will help teach you how to write a crappy first draft, which is a crucial lesson to learn.)

What should go into your editing diary?

Your diary should start with the date and then describe what you’ve done that day. This may be especially useful if you’re the type of person who likes to jump around — you know, edit chapter 14 before you edit chapter 4.

Just be sure to develop your own “code” for highlighting “to do” tasks. For example, you might put each “to do” on its own line, using an asterisk like this:

*Check citation for paper by Peterson et al.

Or, you could highlight it in a specific colour:

Check citation for paper by Peterson et al.

Also, be sure to record your feelings about your editing progress, even if they’re negative. With enough time, you’ll come to understand that we all experience good days and bad days, and the occasional bad day is not the end of the world. Finally, make a diary entry even if you do nothing else that day. It will keep you connected with your project and help you maintain your motivation.

Keep in mind that the diary is PERSONAL and PRIVATE, so you are free to rant against your supervisor, boss or editor if that makes you feel better.

You may wonder how or where to keep such a diary. Your answer to this question depends on your own tastes and habits. I always prefer using electronic records, and I keep mine in Evernote. But you can also use Google Docs or any other software that appeals. Or, if you’re a hard-copy kind of person, you might prefer a Moleskine notebook. It’s entirely up to you. Satisfy your inner taskmaster!

Just be sure to lay out the diary clearly so you have space to add more comments later. But while you should commit to writing every day, you don’t need to set an arbitrary length. Some days’ entries will be shorter and others will be longer, and that’s perfectly okay.

A diary can be your secret weapon as a writer. And with that thought in mind, I suggest you follow the advice of Mae West, who said, “Keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you.”


My video podcast last week addressed how to emulate other writers. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a better, more sustainable writing or editing routine? Learn about my three-month accountability program called Get It Done. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


Will you consider keeping an editing diary? Why or why not? We can all learn from each other, so please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. If you comment on today’s post (or any others) by June 30/24, I’ll put you in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


Scroll to Top