The Writer at Work

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today talking about how I write and attempting, for the first time, to share a video.

Stage one is what I call “raw” writing—from head to fingertips to screen. No one reads this version of a book except me. It’s pretty bad. Often it’s entirely dialogue, with no descriptive details at all. Since I don’t plot much more than a couple of chapters ahead, it’s also somewhat disjointed. On future passes there will be additions, deletions, and large sections moved to other locations in the text. I keep at it until one of three things happens. One, I can’t figure out what comes next. Two, I realize I need to go back and put in a lot of material I didn’t realize I needed when I started writing. Or, three, I am interrupted by something I can’t put off. It could be something in my personal life but it’s just as likely to be a competing obligation in my writing life, like page proofs that need to be proofread and sent back to the publisher by a certain date.

Stage two comes after that interruption, when I go back to page one and read though the printout, which I keep in a loose-leaf binder, revising as I go. Most of this is done not at my desk but by hand while seated on the reclining loveseat in the living room.

Most of the pages end up looking like this:

Then it’s back to the computer to enter the changes and press on from the place where I stopped. Let me insert an aside at this point. Every once in a while, a local teacher asks me if a student can job shadow me. I always say no. I refuse to be guilty of boring someone to death. Don’t believe me? Watch the video below. It’s only 49 seconds. Imagine an hour or more of the same.


Essentially, this process is repeated again and again until the mess of a manuscript turns into a publishable book. It’s not pretty, but for me it works. My husband shot the video above so that my chiropractor could see where to improve my work habits and decrease the arthritis pain in my neck. He also took the other photos of the way I work. What were the chiropractor’s suggestions? Lower the monitor a few inches and sit with my back against the back of the chair. You’d be amazed the difference it made. Sadly, my bad posture while in the recliner is probably beyond redemption.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of nearly sixty traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Overkilt) and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are and and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at

This entry was posted in Kaitlyn's Posts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Writer at Work

  1. I admire your dedication.

  2. Gerald Toman says:

    Aside from at home and paper workplaces, where are places that journalists work? I’m composing a story and need to put the author in various workplace.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Sorry. No idea. I’m not a journalist.

    • Brenda Buchanan says:

      Hi Gerald – former (long ago) journalist here. These days reporters write and file stories from their laptops/tablets/phones, so they can (and do) work everywhere. In my day we were tethered to the desk or (gulp!) called in stories to a rewrite person who sat in the office. in this era, reporters have embraced the brave new world of technology.

  3. That video is the ideal response to anyone hoping to job shadow you. Perfect!

    Thanks, as always, for sharing your process. My first drafts tend to be more fleshed out than yours, but they still are just the first step. As I have learned from you, Barb and so many others, revision is the key to making a pedestrian story dance a jig.

    • kaitlynkathy says:

      Thanks, Brenda. I also can’t imagine coming up with much that’s creative if someone was sitting there watching me.

Leave a Reply