Rereading Your Work: How And When Do You Do It?

Yesterday I stumbled upon this link to the Fairfield Writer’s Blog’s. The post, When to Reread Your Work-in-Progress, combined nuggets of advice and methods from a range of author’s about their individual rereading process.

Holy fascinating!

Take a minute and read this post if you’re a writer who has ever wondered, even for a second, if your rereading habits should be different. I’ve heard all sorts of advice before: don’t read what you’ve written until it’s done and you’re revising. Reread only a few pages before starting a new day’s work on a project. Reread as you go. Or don’t. Or both. Or neither.

It’s maddening.

But that’s writing advice for you. We have to constantly filter out what doesn’t resonate with us and adopt the stuff that does.

That’s what happened when I read this post and came across Caroline Leavitt’s response. She says:

“I reread all the plonking time. My process (I’m very superstitious) is that I have to have a first chapter I love before I can go on because a good first chapter keeps me from junking the novel as I venture deeper into the jungle of it. I often spend six months just on the first chapter alone, writing and rewriting and rereading. Once I’m past that, it’s a little different. I have to keep moving forward in my first draft, so I assign myself sections or chapters to push through, but I always reread.

Not only do I reread, but I trick myself into seeing what I’ve written with fresh eyes by writing it in a different font! Sometimes I’ll read it aloud. Sometimes I’ll paste it into a textbox on email and read it there! But in early drafts I won’t stay on one section more than a week before I just push on. My goal is to get the book written. And by the way, I usually do about ten to fifteen drafts and I reread and reread every single one of them.”
Whaaaat!? Something clicked in my brain at the mention of working on the first chapter for months until she loves it enough to not chuck out the whole project. Again– whaaat!?

That’s brilliant. Why haven’t I heard this advice before, or tried it myself? I’m always racing through drafts of novels (which explains all those half-baked, abandoned novels I’ve attempted), leaving the first chapter dangling there like a sail with a hole in it. It’s there, it’s sort of useful, but it’s not pulling the weight that all the intact sails are pulling.

You know? You knowwww???

So I tweeted Caroline about this great quote. By the way, not only is she a talented novelist (Pictures of You is a phenomenal book), but she’s really nice to her fans on Twitter. I tweeted her a few months ago when I was reading Pictures of You and she not only tweeted me back, but asked for my address so she could send me a handmade book sticker! And she sent it! It was so nice of her.

Ok, so I tweeted her about this quote and we had a mini-conversation about this method of manuscript writing.

I asked if she felt that working so intensely on the first chapter right off the bat helped the entire world of the novel become clearer for her. I had a feeling that’s exactly what would happen if you focused so closely on the beginning of a story.

She responded with this:

The key to the whole book.

It makes sense. I went back recently and reread my first chapter and realized how it just hangs there. It was my attempt to find a way into the story. I was just trying to get my footing, figure out the story, find a safe place to dive in. Then I moved along and the first chapter just kept hanging there, not doing much, not inspiring much. It’s not awful, but it’s not as realized as later sections are.

I’m convinced my first chapter needs more focus. Maybe not six months-worth of focus, but it needs to do more than blow in the breeze of the story. It has to do earn its way! Be a team player! Show some initiative! All that good teamwork stuff. There’s no “bad chapter one” in TEAM!

So my current plan is to rewind a bit. The story is taking shape, but I’m moving backwards to chapter one to rework it so it’s more of a foundation for the story. I started to drift a little as I made my way through later chapters and now I can see why. The beginning is where the story gets set up and I really didn’t set myself up very well.


Thanks to Caroline for this tip– I’m excited to see what it does for my story!

What’s your rereading style? And do you focus this much on the beginning of your story, or come back and work on it later?


6 thoughts on “Rereading Your Work: How And When Do You Do It?”

  1. I love love love this post! I think I’m a freak about rereading my work and just realized it. For instance, I’ll plug a nonfiction essay I’m writing in MS word into my super, top secret wordpress blog (by that, I mean, everyone knows about it but I never ever post) and keep previewing the draft and rereading it that way and making changes in the CMS–just because I like the way it looks and it makes me feel better about something that seems altogether boring and icky in a word document. Is that crazy? Well, maybe.


    1. I love your method of rereading! It’s true– sometimes you need to see the piece in a new way to really be able to work on it. Rereading and rewriting is such a personal, unique process. I love hearing what works for other writers! Thanks for sharing with me Alyssa 🙂


  2. I love how different this advice is. We hear so much writing advice that it’s hard to find something new to try. And like you said, we each have to try and see what fits us best, because there’s no one-size-fits-all.

    What I’ve found works for me is not obsessing about the first chapter and just getting through the draft. I only say that because rarely has my story actually started in the place I initially started it. So by a second or third draft, I might have gotten rid of the first chapter and realized that it should start in chapter 2. Or I might have kept that chapter but moved a later scene up to the beginning. I try not to spend too much time on the first chapter because I think the subsequent ones are just as important for the process of discovering your story.

    But again…that’s just me. Thanks for sharing!


    1. I usually work like that too, Natalia. I use the first chapter as a way to get into the story then come back around afterwards and spruce it up, but I like the idea of building a first chapter that you love enough to let it propel the rest of the story. I bet when I try this, I’ll still have a lot to change in the first chapter. But there’s something enticing about this new way of approaching a novel! And since I have a few chapters already down on paper, coming back to chapter one to strengthen it might actually help the direction of my story. We’ll see! 🙂


  3. What a great post! I’ve never worked on such a large scale work, but my husband is working on his first (amazing) novel, and this definitely helped me get a glimpse into why he approaches it the way he does. He’s an obsessive re-reader, and I always wanted to see him writing so I can find out how the book ends, but I think I “get it” in a new way. Thanks!


  4. These are all wonderful tips! I’ll have to try them. I like the idea of changing the font, reading it out loud to myself, etc.

    Thanks for sharing Kristin!


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