Confession Time: I Revise as I Go


So you know how everyone says write the draft straight through without stopping? Well, I don’t do that.

It was during a chat with my fabulous blog buddy, Gwen Stephens in DeKalb, IL, that I confessed this for the first time. It was my dirty little writing secret.

She gave me the courage to share it here with you. Thanks Gwen!


Confession time:

I usually draft about 50 pages before my drafting well becomes dry. Words aren’t coming as easy. I’m scrambling to meet my word count. And I’m suddenly unsure of everything I’ve written. It’s all crap.

That’s when I take 2-3 days to reread what I’ve written and make revisions. Usually there’s something I need to figure out in those pages that will allow me to keep writing. Or I need to connect deeper with the characters’ motives and mindset to write onward.

Even with an outline, I have a tendency to meander into my story. And it takes me about 50 pages to really get into the flow of the characters again.

In the first draft, I am quite literally telling myself the story and then figuring out how to show it to the readers in an actual scene. That telling needs to be cut.

Also I am especially awful at opening a scene for the first time. It takes me 5-10 lines in before I feel anchored. And usually those 5-10 lines need to go.

So yes, I revise as a I go.

But should you?

That’s really only a question you can answer.

And it depends on how you write and how good you are setting and sticking with deadlines.

I can decide to revise for two days and then plunge back into drafting. And actually stick to the plan.

I can also keep draft while revising earlier pages of the same manuscript. That’s not easy. And I don’t recommend it unless you really really know how to compartmentalize things in your mind.

Lots of writers get bogged down in revising and wanting to make it perfect and can spend months on those first 50 pages. They lose the flow of the story and they may not get back to drafting. For them revising as they go is  the surest way to an unfinished manuscript.

But if you are stuck or losing your momentum and you need to reground yourself in the story and you can jump in and out of revising and be content with incremental improvements, then revising as you go might work for you.

Where do you stand on the drafting process? Do you just write the whole thing straight through in one go and never look back? Or do you find you tinker as you go?



For anyone who bought an earlier version of Six Train, I have a limited supply of nifty Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards Bronze Winner stickers for the book.


If you’d like one for your copy, please email me at kourtney (dot) heintz (at) yahoo (dot) com. Give me your mailing address and I will get it out to you this week!



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33 Responses to Confession Time: I Revise as I Go

  1. kathils says:

    I have to force myself not to revise as I write, otherwise I never make any progress.

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    I used to edit as I go, but now I try to hold off and get the first draft done first. But if I’m having trouble getting the momentum going, sometimes editing yesterday’s work can jump start me. Whatever keeps us writing and gets us to the end should be what we do. 🙂

  3. Editing and the whole writing process in general is such an individual thing 😀 I used to revise as I went, but now I went until my first draft is completely finished. It’s all about finding your own rhythm!

    Great post!

    • It absolutely is. And it’s great to try different methods when you aren’t sure what really works for you. Exactly. I always supported that method but I realized it’s not how I work and it doesn’t have to be. It’s okay to do things your way as long as the thing gets done. 🙂 Thanks!

  4. Elle Knowles says:

    I revise as I writing also and I agree, re-reading back chapters can give you a jump start!
    Sometimes a thought comes into my head as I am writing and if I don’t get right on it I may forget to. I also revise in my sleep so the first thing in the morning I immediately get the thoughts down no matter what chapter I should be working on. I guess there is no right or wrong way but this works for me.

    • I find as I’m losing steam it’s usually because I know stuff isn’t quite right earlier on. And once I fix it enough, I can get back into the flow of drafting. Definitely. If I have trouble feeling my characters, a reread really anchors me too. Yes, or it’s not developed enough and I need to go back and tinker with it. LOL. I also find I’ll get epiphanies, like Oliver’s motivation isn’t working on p. 88. I think it’s about getting the work done and done by your deadline. 🙂 So find your rhythm and stick with it!

  5. Your “confession” in DeKalb helped me realize a lot of things, but probably most importantly is this: writing is a very individualized process, and regardless of conventional wisdom or rules, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Every writer has to customize the process so she feels comfortable in her own skin. I’ve never been able to bang out a complete manuscript without looking back, whether it’s a 1,000 word flash fiction piece or a full novel. My outlines are there to guide me, but so much discovery happens when I sit down and start living the story through the character’s mind. Ideas and plot points I thought would work or sounded good on paper may not be the way to go after all. After chatting with you and posting about my first draft highs and lows, I’ve taken a break from my ms. I’ve reread, jotted down ideas on how to continue, and completely cut the subplot-gone-wild, which took me from 30k down to 23k. Talking it out on the blog with other writers helped me see it’s okay to stop and reassess. I’m glad to know I’m in good company.

    • It’s funny because I never want to recommends methods that aren’t popular or that derail an author. So I didn’t talk about this aspect of my process much. I figured it was a quirk of mine and I didn’t want to risk derailing anyone with my way of doing things. But after we talked I realized how important it is to talk about the less conventional ways we do things–especially when they keep our writing going. It may only work for 2% of all writers, but it’s worth mentioning so that 2% know they aren’t alone. 🙂 Yes. I’ve had entire scenes get hijacked by my characters. Even with a scene by scene outline. It’s just one route from the beginning to the end. And sometimes my characters want to take things in another direction.

      Breaks are important. I used to take longer when drafting. And give myself a few weeks to revise as I went. I’m harder on myself now because I know my readers are waiting for the sequel and I want to push it as fast as I can. 😉 Reassessing is really important. I know I’m going to be pausing in a couple weeks again. And that’s good. I have a trip to Baltimore to read and revise. 🙂 Gwen, it’s awesome to be in your company!

  6. Interesting!!!! I like to see how you work! Even though I am a not a writer, I like to see if I can apply it to doing my artwork!

  7. It was so comforting to read that it take “about 50 pages before my drafting well becomes dry. Words aren’t coming as easy. I’m scrambling to meet my word count. And I’m suddenly unsure of everything I’ve written. It’s all crap.”

    I am so there with you! Right now, in my current ms., and with pretty much every piece of long fiction I have every written. It helps to know we can overcome. And I’m with you as far as revising as I go.

    • I always hear about these people drafting with no pauses and I used to think “There must be something wrong with me. I can’t do it that way.” But then I realized I can do something they can’t. I can revise as I go and still go. We’ve got different strengths and skill sets. That’s cool–we all have to use what our mama’s gave us. 🙂

  8. Maybe a rough revision as I go. But at the end, it’s always go back through: cutting moving paragraphs, cutting, revising word choices…did I say cutting?
    What a cool sticker! (I’ll save you the postage and just print, cut, and paste) Soooo impressive!

    • Yes, sections move, disappear, new scenes appear. Revisions are rough. Not a thorough revision as I go, more of a tinkering and making it good enough to go onward. 🙂

      LOL. You’re so sweet, but I already mailed one out to each member of the Cheeseheads. So check your mail it will be there soon. 🙂

  9. EllaDee says:

    From a non-writer reader POV your behind the scenes insights are interesting, and make me appreciate evn more how much work aka blood sweat and tears goes into the product 🙂

    • Thanks EllaDee! It’s years of living with characters and settings and plots. Of revising and getting rejected and trying again. You have to love your stor yworld. You are in a long term relationship with it. 🙂

  10. Lori D says:

    Wow, you get a whole 50 pages written before revising! Heh. I go chapter by chapter. You’re right, it depends on what works well for each author. I’ve been doing it this way for 4 years, due to my writer’s critique group. The guidelines of our group are to submit the best version of our work so we don’t have as difficult a time with critiquing. So, I write one chapter, then go back and hone it to the best of my ability in order to submit to our group. This actually helps to give me a deadline for my work, otherwise, I would not discipline myself to get any writing finished. I admire those who are well-disciplined enough to set goals and/or deadlines for themselves and then reach those goals. If I didn’t have the writer’s group as my target dates, I don’t know if I’d get anything done. Thanks for sharing your process. Hope you don’t mind I took up so much comment space sharing mine. 😛

  11. diannegray says:

    I revise as I go because I’m usually working on more than one MS at a time so I need to go back and read what I’ve written so I don’t get lost in multiple plots! I love hearing about the process of other writers – it’s always interesting to know how different, yet similar we really are 😉

    • That makes a lot of sense Dianne! I also find in my word count goal, I’m so focused on forward momentum that individual scenes are rougher than I’d like. Exactly. I think we can get bogged down in absolutes–be a pantser or be a plotter and the thing is you have to be what and who you are and wherever you land on the spectrum of how you do things is good.

  12. Mayumi-H says:

    I always like reading your process posts, Kourtney, but this one really resonates with me. One of the reasons I gave up on the publishing thing was because I just got so tired of other people telling me I *had* to do things their way, including writing my drafts and not revising until the end! Sometimes, that works for me, but other times, I like to take a breather and read back or even revise before the end, for precisely the reasons you mention. It’s so refreshing to read articles like this from a successful author that say, “It’s okay to be you.” <3

    • Thanks Mayumi! I’ve heard that a lot. I nodded and smiled for years. But it’s not how I work. And as I’m writing my 6th manuscript, I realize I need to embrace how I work because it works for me. Just like some people love Scrivener and notecards and storyboards. If it helps get the story down, it’s awesome. I personally hate the notecards and the storyboard because it doesn’t work for me. I like a nice outline. All different ways of getting the story out. It’s awesome that there are so many methods and processes. And when you find what works for you, embrace it. 🙂

  13. Ally Bean says:

    I revise as I go, but I always keep going. I have no problem tinkering along the way because [somehow] I’ve learned to flip a switch in my mind. The switch allows me to move smoothly from Writer to Editor to Writer without any despair. Hadn’t thought about this before, but that is how I write.

    • That’s awesome to hear. It’s funny because the time revising is a lovely break from drafting. It almost refills my drafting well. 🙂 I wrote that way because I was working full time and it fit my schedule. But now when I can write anytime, I find myself preferring that way. It’s familiar and comfortable. And most importantly, it works for me.

  14. I at least write the first draft through. Then, in subsequent drafts, it is a bit of writing and editing combined, because that is how I think. I am always questioning if my ideas are working, which prompts the need to edit in order to continue on. But, I try not to full-out edit in the midst of writing. Highlighting and making notes within the text works well for me until the next draft.

    Thanks for my stickers!

    • Very cool. It’s neat to hear what works for each of us because despite having the same end goal we’ve got lots of ways to get there. 🙂 I do tend to make lots of comments in track changes as I draft. I often can tell if a scene ending stinks but I don’t yet know how to make it kabam. You are very welcome! Thanks for always supporting Six Train!

  15. Pingback: What’s Your Most Valued Writing Tip? | The 4 A.M. Writer

  16. I used to revise as I went along much more Kourtney, but I think as I gained confidence that I could finish stories / finish a novel, I became more relaxed about it. I do still do a little of both, but quite often I just ‘vomit’ onto the page and worry about the revisions afterwards 🙂

    • I think it really is about finding what works for you. When I worked full time, I got in the habit of writing and revising and writing and revising. It took the pressure off the first draft because I knew it was temporary. My vomiting tends to now last about 80-100 pages and then I regroup. 🙂

  17. Aquileana says:

    Your strategy is clearly intelligent, Kourt.. I guess it avoid re- writing almost everything… You are very tidy as far as I can see as I read through the lines of this post. That is also something necessary even when the creative process is involved. Thanks a lot for sharing. All the very best to you, dear writer friend, Aquileana 😀

    • Thanks Aquileana. It helps me correct things before they go madly off track. LOL. I am hyper organized at work. But my room is a mess. 😉 Priorities, I guess. I think being type A can be helpful in getting the writing done and managing my career. 🙂

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