Creative writing, despite the tagline on the cover of The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, is not a step-by-step process. But what about after you’ve finished writing?

Time and again I’ve said that if you ask a hundred working authors about their writing process you’ll get at least a hundred different answers, but at the same time I tend to give one piece of advice in terms of writing habits and methods: Write as fast as you can.

You really can’t edit while you write. When you’re “in the zone” and the creative energy is pouring through you, don’t stop. I always turn off as many of the automatic functions of Word or other word processing programs as I can. Never let your computer track your spelling and grammar as you go, and auto formatting and styles are an absolute no-no. Don’t worry even about the standard manuscript format (yet). Just write. Let it out. Explore ideas as you go, misspell stuff, run right past those typos, add in little notes to yourself like [go back and research this] or [find an appropriate gun] and stuff like that. Just keep going. Once you’ve actually finished the story, book, or whatever, you’ll have plenty of time to revise, edit, and format to your heart’s content.

So let’s call that Step One: Actually Writing the Thing.

Step Two: Go Back and Revise.

You still have a largely unformatted file, set up however you want—whatever’s comfortable for you to read, that works best with your computer (a small laptop or netbook screen vs. a widescreen HD desktop, for instance), for your eyesight (the older I get the greater the magnification . . .), and so on.

This revision process is where you research stuff, find the right sort of gun, lock in the hair and eye color of your characters, double check your worldbuilding rules, tweak those rules, and so on. This is where raw or “rough” text becomes a first draft. Still, you don’t need to worry about format.

Now, set it aside for a few days at least. Clear your head. Go do something else entirely. When you feel you’re ready, go back for…

Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


Follow me on Twitter @PhilAthans

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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Abigail says:

    Love it. Just finished your book and it is full of margin scribbles, underlining, ideas, and arrows pointing to other things. I get a lot of hack from other writers for the non-edited-ness of my own blog, but was happy to write (and quote you) in an upcoming post to feel better about my blog writing. Thanks for this and the book. It’s amazing and I am writing more this summer than I have in the last 3 years. Hope to meet you one day!

  2. Pingback: WHY YOU HAVE NO CHOICE ABOUT MS WORD | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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