Writing Method: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

With the New Year upon us—HALLELUJAH—I know many of you are gearing up to tackle your 2021 goals. Whether that’s to finally finish that WIP you’ve been working on or to start writing a novel for the first time, I thought I’d share a new writing method I’ve been using to crank out more words than I have in a long time. 

It’s what I call the Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Writing Method.

You might be able to guess what I do just by the title, but a little background first. 

I’m constantly trying to find ways to better my writing. I read craft books. I study writing tips. I play with new tenses, POVS, age categories, and genres. I love to challenge myself. But sometimes I can get caught up in all the writing advice and lose sight of my own knowledge, specifically my gut instinct. 

One example is my writing output. 

Three years ago, I used to revise while I was writing, but then a writer friend of mine talked about how they finished first drafts so much faster if they just kept going. I took a hard look at my own productivity and realized I could benefit from the same method. I’d work on the same section for weeks—only to completely cut it by the third or fourth draft. What a waste of time, right??? 


Despite finishing my first draft so much faster when I ignored revisions on the first go-around, I got stuck pretty quickly. In fact, I printed it out, readied myself to revise it into a second draft, and completely froze. Despite keeping an organized list of revision notes while I was writing, I was immediately lost. I forgot what certain notes meant. Some notes canceled out other notes. I couldn’t find notes I swore I took down. I didn’t know where to begin or even if any of it made sense anymore.

Cue the panic. 

Once I put my Imposter Syndrome aside, I realized that I wasn’t so organized, after all. (And admittedly, that book is still not where I want it to be.) That said, I’m really glad I tried the no-revising method. It helped me face the fact that I would get too caught up in perfectionism in a first draft and, regardless of how I felt about not revising while writing, that part of me had to change. I didn’t want to fall back into the pits of perfectionism. I knew I had to find a balance.   

End of story: Not revising at all while drafting wasn’t working for me, but neither was revising whenever I felt like it.   

I needed to find my rhythm again—a new one that worked for me that embraced all I had learned from my recent experiences. 

So, on my next WIP, I tried an experiment, and I found a happy medium that became the Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Writing Method.  

Basically, I let myself write 2-4 chapters at a time. Then I stop and reevaluate what I created. Did all go according to plan? If it didn’t, why not? What did I learn? What was unexpected? How does that change where we’re going? 

If I spot something in that window that I realize I want to adjust, I allow myself to go back, but only if it’s in that 2-4-chapter window. Anything outside that window I jot down for my first major overhaul. 

What I’m left with is a piece I’m feeling more proud of and less notes for future me. It was a little less confusing for my beta readers. (Yes, I share my first drafts with betas, but that’s another story for another day.) 

I truly enjoyed creating it, and I think I’ll stick to this method for a while. 

Who knows? Maybe you’ll love it, too! Maybe you won’t. 

Either way, don’t lose sight of what works for you and your book. It might change from project to project, or youmight change from project to project. What’s important is that you’re learning and enjoying the process.  

You can always find that happy medium. 


P.S. I’m teaching Starting a Writing Project for The Story Center at MCPL on Wednesday, January 13 at 6:30 PM (CT). The event is virtual, completely free, and open to anyone in the world. I’d love to see you there! 

5 thoughts on “Writing Method: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

  1. I usually read over the past few pages at the start of a work session, and make a few tweaks, but not major revisions. But since I work without an outline, I sometimes just feel like the flow is off. That’s when I stop and go back over several chapters to find out where I need to re-write.

    So my first drafts can take a long time (up to 2 years) but then my succession of drafts goes much more quickly.

  2. I guess everyone has is own, let’s call it, style. Since I’m not a real “writer” and aside my family I have a full time job, the time I have to dedicate at writing is little. I write more for pleasure, bringing back some old memory… selling my books (or just finding an editor to publish isn’t hard but here they ask you for money and they don’t get involved in marketing to help you selling).
    I was thinking about using other methods of publication, will see what I can figure out.
    I usually take up to 4 years to write a novel… it’s a long time 🙂
    I guess I use both the method you explained, but like Debby, I prefere go back only of few chapter.
    Because of the pandemic, I had other priorities and let behind the writing. I’m planning to get back to the second part of the “Annwin’s Secret”, but in that particular case, I must read again all the chapters from the very beginning… since months I dind’t touch it.
    I wish you all the best for this new year, hoping tha the whole humanity will be released from fear and look at the “Message” given us, with respect and consideration.
    Hugs and kisses 🙂 Claudine

    1. I hope you have a good year, too, Claudine! If it means anything, I also work full time outside of writing. I still consider myself a real writer, and I think you are, too. 🙂 Well wishes!

      1. Thanks dear! Yes, it helps… if you would like to judge my writing 🙂 I can send you by @mail you my novel I translated in English… I see you’re a reader too 🙂 Hugs and let me know!
        🙂 claudine

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