Editing and Rewriting

Dan Brown

Lesson time 14:00 min

Dan shares his practical system for tracking the status of an edit and demonstrates how to strengthen your project through revision.

Dan Brown
Teaches Writing Thrillers
In his first-ever online class, best-selling author Dan Brown teaches you his step-by-step process for turning ideas into page-turning novels.
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I want to tell you about one of the most painful experiences I had as a writer. I had just spent about a year and a half on the opening 150 pages of "The Lost Symbol," and I was going to California and I printed the manuscript and-- and took it with me and I went down to Venice Beach. I rented a beach chair, I sat down, and I read this 150 pages. And I realized, they're not good. They don't accomplish what I need them to accomplish to be a successful thriller. I was devastated because it was so much work, and I went home and I threw the pages out. But I was committed to the idea of the novel for "The Lost Symbol". I had my world, I had my moral gray area, I knew what I wanted to write about. But I was also certain that I hadn't got there yet. So you as a novelist need to find that commitment to your idea, but temper it with an understanding that you're not going to get it right the first time. There's a difference between being committed to your idea and being a lazy editor. You'll often hear writers say that the difference between good writers and bad writers is that good writers know when they're bad, and that means a couple of things. It means that all writers are bad sometimes-- you're not going to get it right the first time. I certainly don't. It also means that the most important skill you're going to have as a writer is to know when you're bad. To be able to say, oh, that was an interesting idea, didn't quite work. Delete it. And having that critical instinct to know that it's not right and delete it without beating yourself up over it because guess what, that's part of the process. Editing is part of the process of writing. Saying, you know what, I just wrote 10 pages and three of them are great. The other seven go in the garbage. When you buy a novel, you're not paying for all of the words that the author put on the page. You're paying for all of the words the author deleted. The author did the heavy lifting of deciding what's important. The author gave what works room to breathe, and that means that your reading experience is pleasant. You're not hitting things that you don't need or you don't want to read. If you're setting out to write a thriller, that moves, that inspires, that gets people turning pages, you're going to need a lean and tight narrative. Now writing a lean, tight narrative doesn't necessarily mean that you're writing less, it means that you're editing more. You're going to have to create a lot of language, a lot of plot, and a lot of dialogue that actually doesn't make your final draft. Because by distilling a lot of information into those little gems, you will create a story that is nothing but the best of what you wrote. I live in New Hampshire-- we make maple syrup the same way. We pour gallons and gallons and gallons of this sort of diluted syrup into a vat, and we boil it, and we boil it, we boil it. And everything that isn't maple sugar candy evaporates and what you're left with is...

Craft page-turning suspense

Packed with secret symbols and high-stakes suspense, Dan Brown’s thrillers have sold more than 250 million copies and include one of the world’s best-selling novels, The Da Vinci Code. In his writing class, Dan unveils his step-by-step process for turning ideas into gripping narratives. Learn his methods for researching like a pro, crafting characters, and sustaining suspense all the way to a dramatic surprise ending.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I liked the classes. Liked the enthusiasm with which he presented. His process isn't my process, but I learned a lot from it. My only disagreement is that it isn't as easy to get an agent as he suggests. There are other options that he didn't mention. Other than that, it was great.

I loved this class. I found it so inspiring, I didnt want it to end. It has given me so much motiviation to start this process. So many great ideas and direction.

Dan Brown's class has helped me with the writing process even though I don't write thrillers. Most of the content in here applies to any genre. I'm going through it a second time. If you're a writer, I highly recommend this course.

Dan Brown is the best. I loved his ability to teach clearly, give you matter of fact insights that are actionable and tell you the real challenges of writing and how he addressed them. I feel inspired and already am putting some of his tips into action.


Alicja B.

I am committed to my idea and the process. Now, how am I going to make this work? - That is the stage I am on :) Pure adventure :)


David Mamet spoke about the realization that a writer must go through the "bad writing" phase to eventually be good.


I have to admit that I was uncertain about taking this class. It turned out to be one of the best experience that I have had. Dan did give some essential and practical advices which motivated your work and your progess.

Silvia T.

Thank you, great tipps. Especially how to put yourself in the reader's shoes.

Rich G.

I'm on my second viewing of the lesson. I want to "hear/listen/absorb" everything said before doing the lesson plans. Then I'll watch again and do lesson plans at same time.

John D M.

I remember Stephen King telling of his editors words regarding his submission of The Stand: "Do we do the surgery or will you do it yourself?" He elected to make the cuts himself! It happens to the best of 'em.

Meg N.

I really enjoyed this chapter - The idea of using different colors in the draft is one that I use when translating, far more effective than the "track changes made" function in WinWord.docs. It can be very motivating when you reduce text view size with multiple pages on one full-screen layout, and see just what areas, what percentage of the work, still needs attention and how far you have progressed in your editing. I had worked myself into a funk this past year and basically stopped writing, even though I kept on researching... Checking my files this afternoon, I see that this year I've done nearly 40 medium/large translations, 2-3 large month-long editing / proofreading jobs, a fairly full roster of adjunct & other teaching jobs, plus a morning admin job that keeps my feet on the ground and a roof over my head. I am thankful that a fan of the one magazine article I did manage to write was strongly encouraging on December 30, so today I decided to start the New Year getting back into the Master Classes, and organizing myself to use a quieter work schedule in the coming year to write more.

Don W.

Some of the best writing advice I've ever received: Write, don't edit, when doing your first draft.

Kate C.

The color code idea is totally new to me. I usually go over what I wrote the day before and if there is anything that stops me or I am remotely dissatisfied with, that's like a red flag and needs to be fixed. I would have liked to see what examples of what Dan codes blue or green, besides the obvious red, and what he did to get them to the excellent black, since I haven't thought of it in terms of color. I'm starting a new novel and everything is at first stage, so these kinds of revisions will come later.. I will be returning to this class for a second go-round.

B. A. (Barbara) M.

If you don't delete at least 25% of your manuscript when editing you aren't editing. That statement came from Stephen King and several other authors. Dan's statement of allowing yourself to make mistakes is great. You can always change it later but if you don't finish because of needing perfection, you might want to become something other than a writer. I met a man who has been writing a novel for fourteen years and hasn't gotten past the first chapter. When asked about the rest of the book, he said he'll worry about it when the first chapter is perfect. Bottom line, perfection isn't the goal. A good story told in an way which kerps a person reading is.