Monday 8 December 2014

The Process Obsession

with guest blogger Cathryn Hein

Writers love to talk about process. They love to read about it and learn about it and compare and contrast. Why? It’s fascinating. But there comes the trap. It’s too easy to look at what others do, especially those you admire, and think those soul-sucking words, I’m doing it wrong.

You’re not.

There is no right or wrong way, there is only YOUR way. As long as you’re getting your story down then your process is working. Besides, how you go about writing your book is no one else’s business. What’s important is the end result.

Yeah, yeah, I know. There are a bazillion blogs, books and what-have-you out there all claiming that Method Z is the only way to write but that’s rubbish. That’s like saying there’s only one way to swing a golf club or one way to paint a picture.

Of course, we know this intellectually but that doesn’t stop us obsessing over it. There’s always that ugly devil on our shoulders whispering that maybe, just maybe, if we copied mega-selling Awesome Author A’s process we, too, would have their success.


It doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t.

Yet sometimes, even though I trust my process and it works for me, there are days when I long to change it. And what sort of writer am I? An edit-as-I-go one, which has its advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages (for me) are:
  • I finish with a super clean, submission quality manuscript that only requires tweaking before handing in. 
  • I know the story and characters intimately because I write and rewrite them so much I really like and am proud of what I’ve written because chapters aren’t added to the master document until they’re as perfect as I can make them at that point.
  • On rereads I’m not distracted by annoying typos and other errors. 
  • I can read the manuscript as I would a book, which allows me to see story and characterisation faults more easily.
The disadvantages (for me) are:
  • It’s sloooooow. It can take me anything up to 7 months to write one of my rural romances. 
  • It can be very depressing when I see other authors churning out multiple books a year and I’m still struggling with one.
  • There’s a risk of losing focus on the story because I’m concentrating on the small stuff instead of bigger things.
Revisions can be devastating, especially if there are major changes. All that time and agonising can feel like one big waste.These disadvantages are quite significant, in particular the slowness of my process. It’s the one thing I would like to alter and, over time, I suspect I will. After all, the learning process isn’t static. We’re also people, and people grow and change.

But for now I’m going to embrace my process, ugly bits and all. It’s served me well and with deadlines fast approaching I can’t afford to angst over it. I have books to write. And getting those done, whichever way, is what matters.

I love to love... my Jim. Loveliest man on the planet.

I love to laugh... a lot! And at myself because I can be a total nong sometimes. Especially on the golf course.

I love to learn... about food and cooking and recipes and different cuisines. Mainly because I love to eat!

If you’d like to learn more about Cathryn and her books, please visit her website. You can also connect via Facebook and Twitter using @CathrynHein.


  1. Good morning Cathryn Hein, author of the recently released The French Prize! So good to have you here on the Breathless blog! And what a topic! I'm an edit as I go writer and I do tend to spend a lot of time fretting over whether that is the right way to write or not...and that kind of ego-centric inner child speak slows 'the process' and sometimes even halts it when I most need to push through. Thank you for pointing out that there is no right or wrong way to helps hearing this from a multi-published (an awesome!) author!

    1. Delighted to here, Dee! It's a hard one with the edit as you go because it can so easily bog you down. The truth is I would love to change. I've tried multiple times but the books all ended up messes that took me even longer to fix than they would have to write using my normal process. I think though, the edit as you go method can be streamlined. Which is what I'm hoping for. I'll never be fast but I'll at least be faster than I have been. Baby steps!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Cathryn, thanks for your post. The French Prize is on my Christmas wish list... I'm so hoping Santa will bring it to me. (Yes, yes, will leave out extra chocolate just to make sure, and I've been very, very good...)

    As to editing, it is good to hear how you work. Personally, I'm an edit-as-you-go sort of person. But I also find it helpful to not reread for a couple of days. To let things sit. What was marvellous writing when you created it at 11pm one night might not seem so marvellous a couple of days later in the harsh noonday scrutiny. And then I let the entire ms 'sit' after completion for another little while. When you reread, when you're not quite so close to it, you tend to pick up little bits and pieces that glare out at you for correction.

    Anyway, that's me.

    Loved your column, and happy Christmas!

    1. Hi Malvina! I hope Santa is generous to you and brings you a bit of French romance. Glad to hear of another edit as you go person. There are too few of us, or that's what it always seems to feel like. I agree wholeheartedly on the 'letting it sit' theory. I used to work that way before I was published and wish I still could but deadlines have stymied that.

      What I do find is that with the slow process, when I go back to read on completion it's been so long since I last read the first half of the book (as opposed to skimmed looking for something) that the effect is almost the same.

      Merry Christmas to you also!

  4. Hello, Cathryn Hein. Great to have your view on 'the process' and discover there are more like me, the edit-as-you-go type, out there. Yes, it's a frustratingly slow way, especially when your muse, and your crit partners, suggest something which then results in major changes to the story! But in the end, as you say, you're much happier with the work and happier to submit to an editor.
    BTW ''The French Prize' intrigued me right to the end!
    Have a lovely Christmas and New Year season.

    1. Oh, that's lovely you enjoyed The French Prize, Enisa!
      The issue you raise about major changes is one of the biggest downsides to this style of process. Big rewrites are completely heart-breaking. All that work and time lost! I live in the hope that the more I write and experience editing processes, the less major rewrites will occur and the less of a problem this will be.

      Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and New Year in return!

  5. Hi Cathryn! Yep, I'm yet another edit-as-you-go writer, and find it soooooo frustrating at times. Still, I think I'd rather take my time during the writing phase and save myself the added problems of typos, etc during the editing stage.
    It's good to know there is at least one published author out there who is a 'slow' writer. :) So many writers seem able to publish several books a year which just astounds me. I did once manage to turn off my internal editor long enough to try '30 000 in 30 days' but the amount of rewriting I had to do didn't seem worth it in the end. So I guess I'll just keep plodding along...

    1. It IS frustrating, Marilyn. There are huge disadvantages in this process but it's one I can't seem to stop, although I am tweaking it. And, really, if it works, what does it matter?

      I've tried the "just get it down" method and it was a disaster. I wrote over 100,000 words in 34 writing days and the result was an almost unsalvageable manuscript. I had to rewrite it completely. So my nett gain was negative and my annoyance acute.

      Perhaps for a very short book or a novella this would work better but for a full length manuscript I'll keep to my old system.

    2. I meant to add how much I enjoy your Friday Feast, Cathryn. Lots of great recipes for me to try! Thanks.
      Also, I'm halfway through 'The French Prize' atm, and intrigued as to where it's heading.

  6. Hi Cathryn. I wish I could write faster too and I'm not even an edit-as-you-go person. Luckily, I have really good Critique partners. :-). Do you plot your stories all out before hand?

    1. Hi Cassandra,
      I suspect we all wish we could write faster but better to work with your writing personality. Less angst that way!
      I vary with plotting. Some books I have plotted out, others I've flown more by the seat of my pants. If I do plot, then it's not a lot. However, in my mind I ALWAYS know the beginning of the book, the ending and the black moment. Those are fixed before I start anything so that I know exactly where my characters are headed. Not necessarily written down anywhere, but they'll be firm in my head.
      Obviously I know the conflict too. That's a must for genre fiction because without conflict there is no story.

  7. Cathryn, I use a variety of processes. Some stories I have written have been plotted and some have evolved organically as I write. Most often though, I find I will write one draft, finish it and then write another draft. Each draft evolves of its own accord. It means that while I have a good idea of what the story is about, it has its own life. That is a long slow process, but I find it works best for me.


We love getting comments. Why not leave one?!