My Tweaking Obsession

By Lois Winston

No, that title does not have a typo. I’m neither obsessed with Twitter nor with twerking. However, I am a compulsive tweaker.


Every author has her own process for writing a novel. The two most talked about are whether you’re a pantser or a plotter. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They sit down at their computers and start typing. Maybe they have an idea for the beginning of a novel or a main character. They may know how they want to start a book and how it will end. But they fly by the seat of their pants between “Once upon a time” and “The End.”


Plotters painstakingly outline their books. Some write copious synopses. Others use an outlining method that spells out what will happen in each chapter or even in each scene in the book.


When it comes to the actual writing of the book, some authors write numerous drafts before they’re satisfied with the end result. Sometimes the finished product bears little resemblance to the first draft, especially if you’re a pantser but rarely if you’re a plotter. 


I have a friend who’s a New York Times bestselling author. Between the typos, grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, not to mention the run-on sentences that would make even William Faulkner cringe, if you read her first drafts, you’d think she never made it past third grade. She doesn’t worry about any of it. Her process is to get her thoughts down on paper, to keep typing, unfiltered words flying onto the page without fear of sabotage by her inner editor.


With each subsequent draft, she concentrates on refining a different aspect of her work. The final version she turns into her editor, more often than not, lands her on that coveted NYT list.


Then there’s me…uhm, I. (You’ll understand that grammatical correction momentarily.) I’m an obsessive tweaker. I will spend half an hour staring at a blinking cursor, searching for the exact word or phrase. I’m incapable of moving on to the next sentence, let alone the next scene, until I’m happy with the results. But if that weren’t enough, I constantly go back and reread what I’ve written previously and continue to tweak. In other words, I edit as I write. I can’t help it. 


Then my critique partner reads what I’ve written, offers some suggestions, and I go back and tweak some more. The end result being that by the time I type The End, I’ve really only written one draft, one thoroughly edited first draft, but a first draft, nonetheless. Of course, the book will then go through beta reads and proofreading that will result in additional tweaking because there’s always a missed typo or some other finetuning that’s needed. Essentially, though, from the first word on the page to the last, I’ve written only one complete draft. That’s my process—and my compulsion. I wouldn’t know any other way.

What’s yours?


Stitch, Bake, Die!

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 10


With massive debt, a communist mother-in-law, a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and a photojournalist boyfriend who may or may not be a spy, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack already juggles too much in her life. So she’s not thrilled when her magazine volunteers her to present workshops and judge a needlework contest at the inaugural conference of the NJ chapter of the Stitch and Bake Society, a national organization of retired professional women. At least her best friend and cooking editor Cloris McWerther has also been roped into similar duties for the culinary side of the 3-day event taking place on the grounds of the exclusive Beckwith Chateau Country Club.


The sweet little old ladies Anastasia is expecting to find are definitely old, and some of them are little, but all are anything but sweet. She’s stepped into a vipers’ den that starts with bribery and ends with murder. When an ice storm forces Anastasia and Cloris to spend the night at the Chateau, Anastasia discovers evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and a bevy of suspects. Can she piece together the various clues before she becomes the killer’s next target?


Crafting tips included.



USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.


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17 replies
  1. Debra H. Goldstein
    Debra H. Goldstein says:

    I am a pantsing tweaker whose editor made her be a plotting tweaker…. so I understand you!

  2. Saralyn
    Saralyn says:

    My process is a lot like yours. Never thought of it as tweaking–just telling the story the best way possible. Tweak on, Lois!

  3. Donnell Ann Bell
    Donnell Ann Bell says:

    I'm a plotter thinker tweaker. My house gets very clean during this process, then turns into mess when I start writing. Your process works; I wouldn't change it.

  4. Gay Yellen
    Gay Yellen says:

    I'm in the tweaker camp, too, Lois, and also (sigh) the pantser thing, I never could follow an outline. My characters are too contrary!

  5. Lynn McPherson
    Lynn McPherson says:

    This is super. Like Saralyn, I hadn't thought of it as tweaking. But it fits. Great post!

  6. mysteryfictionfan
    mysteryfictionfan says:

    Oh, gosh. I'm a total tweaker (and not in the drug-culture sense!), and it gets in the way of my progress. I need to give myself permission to be a reckless pantser; there will be plenty of time for edits, right? One good author once said she was a pantser because when she tried plotting, she felt she knew too much about the story and didn't want to write it. The writing should be fun, too!

  7. Lois Winston
    Lois Winston says:

    That's exactly why I can't plot. I get bored when I know too much about the story I'm writing as I write it. When that happens, the writing becomes too much of a chore and not a joy. I usually go into a story knowing how I want it to start and end. I'll write a short blurb similar to back cover copy and go from there, discovering how to get from "once upon a time" to "the end" as I go along.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I fall somewhere between you and your friend. I call my process iterative. I have to go through each scene repeatedly, slowly figuring out exactly what I’m trying to say. The more inner issue the scene contains, the more iterations I need.

    • Lois Winston
      Lois Winston says:

      Anonymous, what I've learned is that we all wind up developing our own process. Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error, but we eventually land on what works best for us. Looks like you've found your sweet spot. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Comments are closed.