October 4, 2021

The Chapter Checklist

Irene Hannon

Every writer knows there is no one right way to write a book. It’s a process unique to each author. While one may procrastinate, then use deadline-producing adrenaline to race to the finish, another maps out their schedule with precise daily or weekly word counts and builds in time to coast to the deadline. Whatever works for you is the right way.

But when it comes to polishing writing—a more mechanical than creative process—there are some general guidelines that can work for every author. And an amazing amount of creativity can creep in at this stage, too.

One polishing techniques that has worked well for me is the chapter checklist. I’m in the weekly-word-count-coast-to-the-finish camp, and I write polished drafts. That means I have a master document (the polished manuscript), and no chapter gets moved into it until it’s “done.” At the end, I have a finished book, ready to turn in with only a final read-through for smoothing and minor editing.

The chapter checklist helps me achieve this painless finish. Before I move a chapter into the master document, I give it a rigorous going over. Here’s what’s on my checklist:

1. Do a global search for overused words. This list is personal for every author, but we all have pet words that creep into our writing far too often. My list has grown over the years and is now much too long, making the process tedious—but by searching out these words and finding alternatives, my writing stays fresher and less repetitive.

2. Cut adverbs. I again use global search to do this, putting ly in the search box. Many authors fall into the trap of using too many adverbs—which don’t make for the strongest writing. My rule is no more than two per manuscript page…and in general, I have one—or less.

3. Skim through the chapter and check the first word in every paragraph. It’s easy to become repetitive here—e.g., using too many he, she, first names, etc. Vary paragraph openings with different parts of speech. My basic rule is that no two sequential paragraphs should start with the same word—dialogue being the exception.

4. Run spell check. This is my last step before deeming a chapter ready to move into the master document.

If you’re a writer who writes the whole book in one fell swoop and later goes back to clean it up, this exercise is still worthwhile. But it’s less overwhelming if you do it chapter by chapter.

And you’ll be amazed how much of a luster this puts on your work.

Irene Hannon is the bestselling author of more than sixty novels, including the long-running Hope Harbor series, as well as Point of Danger and the Code of Honor, Private Justice, and Men of Valor suspense series, among others.
Her books have been honored with three coveted RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America, and she is a member of that organization’s elite Hall of
Fame. Her many other awards include National Readers’ Choice, Daphne du Maurier, Retailers’ Choice, Booksellers’ Best, Carol, and Reviewers’ Choice from RT Book Reviews magazine, which also honored her with a Career
Achievement Award for her entire body of work. In addition, she is a two-time Christy Award finalist.

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