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.

he speaks from the heart i actually took a lot of notes this time. Great job Mr.Brown!

Undoubtedly, Dan Brown has taught me more in these nineteen videos than I have learned from all the other writing courses which I have taken. I felt his genuineness in sharing his knowledge to assist all of us to become a successful writer in whatever genre we choose. Kindly extend my gratitude and appreciation to him.

Dan broke down his writing process from beginning to end. I was really shocked (and grateful) that he gave us so much detail. Great course!

Amazing. Didn't think anyone could top David Mamet. So much take-home info it's crazy! Fun ending!


A fellow student

Never took notes from a Master Class the way I did from this one. So many gems. Truly grateful.

Amber E.

The advice about knowing when to get input is so important. This is a confirmation of something I silently told myself. When I get input on my plot too early I walked away with a completely different book when I brainstorm with other people.

A fellow student

Again, more good advice. I especially needed to hear about when to stop editing.

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.