Excel-Pivot-Tables2On 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?

1344341870Let 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!**


16 Thoughts

  1. Fascinating stuff, Julie. I’ll ask my database-guru son about pivot tables! But can you explain that little active graphic that I had trouble tearing my gaze away from?

  2. That graphic was compelling! I’d love to put something like that on my emails.

  3. I don’t know, Julie. It sounds a lot like multiple regression analysis and SAS programming! Sounds scary! 🙂

  4. Love it. I use spreadsheets the way other people use index cards, writing themes, ideas, and plot points into individual cells and then using the cut and paste function to shift them around. Looking forward to hearing how you use pivot tables!

  5. I just learned pivot tables at my last job (I’m an accountant, so in Excel every day), and they are pure magic. Great analogy for writing, too.

    It’s one of those skill they always ask accountants if they can do in Excel, that and V look ups. Learned both at my last job, so I’m good to go.

    1. V look ups? Will need to learn more about that. I teach arts admin, and have two Excel classes a semester. I can’t tell you how many former students write and thank me for the lessons. SUCH a useful program.

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