On Wednesday this week I learned how to use pivot tables in Excel. My life has been changed, for the better. What, you ask, are pivot tables? Suppose you have a large spreadsheet of data. But you only want to see a small part of it–for the month of June, how many apples did I sell out of the back of my car? Provided you are tracking all of that, you can get a smaller table of information sucked out of the massive data table. You can also “pivot” the rows and the columns to let the data be seen differently.
Some of you are intrigued. Others are worried there is a Wicked Cozy breakdown going on–what does this have to do with writing cozies?
Let me explain. First, some context. I am in the middle of editing my manuscript. First draft is done. Read through is done. Now the editing is underway. In some places, I need to layer in details. In others, I need to make sure there is consistency throughout. But there are other scenes where the lessons of the pivot table come in very handy.
First, with pivot tables, you need to think about the overall sort of the data. In writing, you need to think about what you need to pull out of the data/scene. What is the point of the scene? Is everything serving that?
Second, in pivot tables you can keep narrowing or widening the data until you learn exactly what you want to learn. In writing, you need to keep working until you get it right. Can you add elements, or take some out? When is the scene doing exactly what you need it to do?
Third, in pivot tables you can literally say “make the rows columns and the columns rows: and make it so. In writing, does a pivot help? Should you change point of view? Add a character? Layer in a red herring? Change the dialogue, or the subtext?
And lastly, details matter. With a pivot table, you can change formatting, add totals or subtotals, add colors, and more. In a scene, can the reader smell, see, taste, hear, feel elements in the scene? Is the dialogue polished? Are all the boring bits gone?
I love learning new things, and suspect that pivot tables are going to change the way I work with data. But as importantly? They are going to help me edit my manuscript. Looking forward to updating you on that soon.
**Note: Do you live near Newburyport, MA? Tonight I am going to be moderating a panel with three of the Wicked Cozy Authors, Liz Mugavero, Edith Maxwell, and Jessie Crockett! Hope to see some of you there!**