Revising My Writing Process

Every writer has a personal writing process. It is not one size fits all. And many writers change and refine their writing process over time.

Sometimes the change is forced on you, such as when my writing partner died or when my daughter was born and my writing time got slashed to minutes a day rather than hours. Sometimes technology makes you change, like when I stopped writing longhand and began writing on the computer to save time in grad school. And sometimes you change because you realize something isn’t working and you need to tweak the process.

I used to think my writing process was pretty solid. But lately, it’s just not working the way it used to. My writing is good, but tends to stay on a superficial level, not diving deep like I want and need it to. Then when I try to revise to get the depth, I find it hard to get past the words already on the page.

So I’ve been revising my writing process. I once read about an author who writes the whole book, and then when she revises it, she rewrites the whole thing from scratch. I thought that writer was crazy.

Except that now I’m doing the same thing.

My early drafts tend to be too “telling.” They get the story down, but the depth of character and world-building is missing. But I struggle to go back into the words already there and add the layers. I get stuck on the words on the screen.

I realized that I have done the “rewrite from scratch” thing in a limited way already. When revising The Witch of Zal, my developmental editor pointed out several chapters that she didn’t think I had made “mine.” I tried to revise what was there, but it still fell flat. So I rewrote those chapters completely. And it worked—it freed me from the tyranny of the words on the screen, yet allowed me to incorporate the phrases, images, and dialogue I liked from my original scene.

To add another layer of change to my process, I am experimenting with a return to writing longhand. Yes, with actual pen and paper. I had noticed in writing workshops that first-draft writings I write manually sound and feel much different than what I write on the computer. They feel deeper, richer, to me. So I decided to completely re-write, in longhand, a chapter from the WIP I am currently revising.

It worked. The chapter is almost 300 words longer, with more detail, richer imagery, and better world-building and character development. At least, I think it is—my critique partners haven’t read it yet. But it feels like a step in the right direction. As an added bonus, I do not have the block against changing hand-written words that I seem to have with words on the screen. My one little chapter is rife with crossing out, arrows moving words around, and little numbers referring me to longer insertions jotted in the margins.

So, for now, I am going with the hand-written, rewrite-the-whole-chapter-from scratch second-draft approach, and will see where it takes me. Because I am not a detailed outliner, I likely will still start with a typed, “telling,” first draft just to get the story and characters out, because I find so much out about both as I write—much like Martina Boone’s “discovery draft.” Then I will take that draft and do the Donald Maass Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook exercises, and incorporate all of that into the second draft, which I will write longhand as described above.

What about you? Have you ever had to revise your process? How did you find the right one that works for you?


  1. I’m thinking about giving longhand a revisit. I’m noticing that when I’m at the doctors, etc., and I start writing longhand in a notebook, the words have a way of flowing nicely. I have to be cautious with how much longhand I do – I’ve had several hand surgeries in the past and because of this, my handwriting isn’t the best. So when I go to translate it to the computer, it’s an adventure. It pays though to keep a journal as I find I’ve run into similar issues. Thanks for a great post.
    Barbara of the Balloons

  2. Mine is seriously different every time. That’s not me trying to sound cool or unique either. I *wish* it wasn’t different every time, because it’d be a lot easier on me. I thought I was done outlining forever after knocking out a horror novel basically by the seat of my pants, but now I’m working on a project that I just got done (you guessed it) outlining.

    • Kerry Gans says

      Sometimes the work dictates a certain process. I rarely do a detailed outline, but my current WIP has 3 POV characters, so I needed to outline to keep things straight.

  3. Just a few nights back I attended a reading given by the great Kelly Link at Temple University, and she was asked in the Q&A about her process. She said much the same: that for her and other writers she knows it is not a thing set in stone—that we develop a process that works, and if and when it stops working, then we do something else.
    Do whatever works for you; and if that stops working, then do something else.

    • Kerry Gans says

      Good advice! As our circumstances and needs change, our process changes, too. Whatever it takes to get those words onto the page.


  1. […] week, I talked about changing my writing process because my current process wasn’t working well anymore. One of the changes I made was returning […]

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