Starry Night Sky with Bow

Writing Progress and Process

As with anyone who writes a series, I receive quite a few questions about progress which I try to answer as best I can, but I thought it would be helpful to post something with a bit more detail. The biggest question I would want answered if I were on the reader’s side would be, “What is taking so long?” It’s a fair question and I’ll try to give it a fair answer.

The rough draft of book 2 took about four months to write. It held the basic plot (with gaps) and the general character arcs. The term, rough draft, though, is somewhat misleading. A better description would be a horrible, unreadable, rubbish draft. To the writer, it’s a magical draft because the writer sees the intention, and it is without doubt the most important draft. But if anyone else tried to read it, the experience would be most disappointing ― no, infuriating. The story is in there, but it takes the writer a great deal more work to extract it from the thorns. Enter rewriting.

“I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” ― Vladimir Nabokov

“The only kind of writing is rewriting.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Rewriting is the process of going through the manuscript with infinite care and seeking to improve wherever improvement is possible. It’s more than editing, though that is a part of it. As the term suggests, much of the book is replaced and written with more care. There comes a point when one needs to let go, but that point, for most conscientious writers, is far removed from the first draft. I did several rewrites of the first book, the first being a massive overhaul and the last being a subtle tweaking of words to ensure that sentences sounded right, that the tones of adjacent words interacted well.

When it comes to rewriting, different authors have different foci. Here are some of the aspects I concentrate on, the things I try to achieve. To an extent, I look for anything that can improve at any point in the rewrites, but certain stages favour certain elements. I should also mention that with A Cloud in Her Eye, I’m running stages in parallel. More on that here. (What follows is a heavily abbreviated description. The full list is several pages long.)

1st draft. Rough story. Layers of potential. Unreadable.

1st rewrite. Add detail – specific replaces general (requiring a ton of research). Continuity of plot and realness of characters.  Relationships – to me, characters are revealed and known best by the relationships formed with other characters. If those relationships seem real, then the so do the characters. The most comprehensive list of qualities and mannerisms can’t deliver a fraction of the sense of personhood as a compelling interaction. I find that relationships are also the strongest root of a reader’s concern for the people in the story, leading to a far deeper emotional engagement. Perhaps even more important, relationships are one of the most effective ways to achieve resonance – that “I know exactly what you mean” sensation. When you read of people interacting in ways that ring true, the story begins to seem a lot more real, not in the sense of breaking fantasy, but of making the fantasy more believable. This, when it’s done right, leads to that experience we as readers are always searching for – immersion.

2nd rewrite. Depth, magic, sparkle, flow, atmosphere, word usage. This is where I try to get settings and characters to float up from the page. I also work hard at eliminating hackneyed, lazy forms of expression. I can spend hours on a few sentences, searching for fresh ways to convey ideas. This usually entails throwing out a hundred or more attempts that seem awkward before finding one that blends into the style of the book. Sometimes it’s the first idea that works best, flowing naturally off the page; often it takes a lot of thinking to reach an idea that flows as if it were the first one that came to mind.

Beta readers – first group. Beta readers can take a while, so I will probably write the rough draft of the third book during this time. It gives me a break from the one I’m rewriting, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

3rd rewrite. This one concentrates on the feedback from the beta readers. In the first book, I made significant improvements, cut a few scenes and wrote additional ones.

4th rewrite. General fixes. Restoration of continuity following the surgery (or butchery) in the previous revision. Again, I work on imbuing each page with more sparkle, magic, depth, emotion and resonance, both in characters and their settings.

Beta readers – second group.

5th rewrite. By this stage there shouldn’t be any major fixes necessary, but some tweaks will inevitably be needed. The rest of the revision will be smoothing out and finding typos. I’ll put an emphasis on sounding the book – getting rid of unwanted echoes and other tonal problems.

6th rewrite. This is quick and really more of a read-through – error spotting. External editing will likely run parallel to this.

While I’ll probably keep relatively close to this six-rewrite process, it’s more of a guide than a rigid structure, and there are sections that will likely be rewritten dozens of times. I rewrote the first chapter in the début perhaps 40 times before I was happy. First chapters are notorious. The artwork will happen in the background, so that by the time the last revision is done, the book should be ready to launch.


I’ll admit that I am strongly tempted (and strongly advised by many rapid-firing authors) to release as quickly as I can. But I’m not comfortable with that. The average amount of time taken to complete a decently written series of books around this length is not short, and as I’m finding out, there is good reason for that.

One last quote:

“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”― Samuel Johnson

The effort going in on my side, will, I hope, be appreciated in the end. Thank you, everyone who has mailed me to tell not to rush it, to take the time to get it right. It really is encouraging to know I’m backed up in that way. Patience is a rare thing these days and I value the understanding more than you can imagine.

As a side note, Anyone know of some good resources for ancient (pre-cannon) sailing ships? I have a dozen or so books on the subject, but if you know of a gem or two, please mail me. Thanks.

195 thoughts on “Writing Progress and Process

  1. John P Jennings, II

    Dear Jonathan,

    My name is John, and I teach junior English at a small, rural community in central California. When I read your explanation about the second book, I immediately saw the potential in sharing your words mith my students. For many of them, it was “eye-opening.” You mean people who write have to do revisions too? Thanks for the “light bulb” moment. (I revised this twice.) 🙂



  2. Gavin Williamson

    By far one of the best books I have read in many years. The way this story was able to grip the mind, body, and soul was truly amazing. Sleeping between the start and finish had been out of the question from the beginning. Thank you Johnathan. I am grateful for the time, effort, and energy you, and your angels placed into this literary artwork. I will be looking forward to the day I able to sit down and flip through the pages of your next book. Keep up the great work!

  3. Alex

    At the risk of repeating what others have written, your first book is truly superb and one of the best of the genre in the same class as Dune, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones or Harry Potter. In many respects your characters are more compelling and the drama more intense than any of those other works, and your balance of pace and depth is nearly perfect. Much like Dune or Game of Thrones, and yet you still capture the epic feeling and detail of Tolkien and Martin. I look forward to where you take the series next.

    And, I should say, I appreciate this very detailed and useful post on the process. While I realize it might be mostly directed at impatient readers, it is always great to see how authors work. It’s a great reminder that there was only one Jack London, and few great books aren’t written in a couple weeks.

  4. Mindy Janis

    Thank you for a beautiful an inspiring tale! While it is a torture to wait for the second book, please don’t rush. Dawn of Wonder was loaned to me, but I’m going to buy it. It’s a must have, to reread, share, and think about. The thoughts shared on your website compliment and extend the ethics of your story. I value the gifts you are sharing with the world through your words and stories. Your thoughts inspire personal change and a greater desire to make a difference. I send my heart felt appreciation.

  5. Shelley Shelley

    Dear Mr. Renshaw,
    Not since Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Unbeliever Trilogy, have I found a tale so engrossing. I’ve been confined to bed due to illness for the last 2 months and have a few weeks left before I return to work. Think the second book will be done by then lol?
    The manner in which you describe the characters and their surroundings, not to mention thoughts excised from heart and mind drew me in immediately. Thank you for sharing your talent with us.
    Warm regards,

  6. Sharon Ewing

    I cannot believe the wonderful and Newness in perspective of this book. Can abuse be beautiful…of course not, but rendering the full aspect of this young boy and his interaction with life springing from a childhood like his is impressive and awe-inspiring. To say I have never read a book quite like this before is a true understatement because, although words are what make up the book, words just don’t express what the book really does. If I could say one thing about you, Mr. Renshaw, it is that you are a phenomenal story teller and, although I do not appreciate GRRM’s excuses since he writes everything else but what we are waiting for……I do respect your time spent giving so much needed attention to sparkling detail, detail that I can see even though I am totally blind. I read the books by listening to them via Audible and agree that Mr. Reynolds is a tremendous asset to the book. He , I believe, reads your book the way you would tell the story if we could hear you speak. Thanks.

  7. Freda Bezner

    Can’t wait for the second book, but I agree with someone you quoted about quickly written, quickly forgotten. I love this book, this story, these characters, good and bad. Some of the characters I feel I know better than some of my long time friends. I bought the “Audible Edition” of your book, and the narration performer was outstanding. Looking forward to reading your next book.

  8. Richard Karsh

    Jonathan-excellent debut! I’m looking forward to more in the series. As you know, not everybody can pound out excellent work (in multiple Fantasy genres) like Brandon Sanderson and others (like Michael J Sullivan and even the early Robert Jordan/WOT books) have seemed to come frequently-but in many cases, they’ve really been written before contracted/published or even self-published. As has been noted, the choice of Tim Gerard Reynolds as narrator is an excellent one-I find that the books he narrates come alive (for me) even better than in my imagination (from reading)-although tend to both read and listen to those I really like; one does get a slightly different perspective each way, strengthening the overall experience. (Exception-Outlander series…so very long and, again, such a wonderful narrator, I have stuck to audio only for all of them; although Kate Reading and Michael Kramer are super in their own way, as is Roy Dotrice, I have read and listened to WOT, ASoIaF and most of Sanderson’s books multiple times). But I digress-to return to my first comment-excellent debut; keep it up-and don’t fear to follow GRRM’s ethic-“The book will be finished when I believe it is ready and “right”.”

  9. Karen Siegfried

    I have read all my life (69) and this one of the best I have read. I haven’t been so excited about a book since Lord Of The Rings as I rarely read trilogies. I read the first book and that is all except Tolkien and the Harry Potter books. I look forward to the second book. Take all the time you need. The writing, characters, descriptions, the entire were beautifully written. It was magical. The book had an element I can’t describe. It was a living entity, it had a being all its own.

  10. Mike

    Never before have I read such a beautiful and inspiring story. Your ability to create such a rich and unpredictable universe genuinely moves my imagination and empowers everything it is that I adore about reading. I have indulged in hundreds of books, within multitudes of genres, and this is easily the greatest book I have ever encountered (And this is including Harry Potter, which is essentially a religious text to me). You have masterfully managed to create a genuine attachment to the characters, which has roused my own personal curiosity of creating my own story. I’m so excited for the next book, I check this site every week for an update, and I can not wait for your next tale. Keep up the incredible work.

  11. Patti

    Love this book! In anticipation of book 2 I re-read “Dawn of Wonder” again and still couldn’t put it down till I finished it. As impatient as I am for the second book, I too appreciate your explanation of your writing processes to help us better understand why you want to make sure book 2 equals or surpasses book 1. Keep up the good work Mr. Rrenshaw, I eagerly await “Dawn of Wonder 2”. In the mean time I might
    have to go for round 3 of rereading book 1

  12. Billy Fort

    Wow I’ve read fantasy for 25 years and have yet to be moved like I have been with this. Book I agree with several other comments about the depth of the stories and the characters keep up the good work and hurry up and get book to done but do it right

  13. Austin Wight

    It felt like you picked the perfect narrator. Did you happen to read “Red Rising” which feels so similar, or did he approach you because he likes these kinds of books? It has the same narrator, which is why I asked.
    Also I could totally tell you spent a heck of a lot of time and effort, keep it up! I’m patient enough for the quality too:-).

    1. Aaron Tippetts

      I read a lot. I don’t say this lightly. I believe it is the best book I have ever read!!
      My name is Aaron Tippetts. I love the name and so do many others. Would you consider useing it in book 2 as a character name. That, for me would be swell. Thank you.
      Aaron Tippetts

  14. Chris

    Outstanding Book! The best book I have read/listened to in years! Love the plots and the character development as well as the humorous interplay!

  15. Suzanne

    It is books like these that make be wish that I did not read so quickly. I found this by accident while pouring over my next read and am truly grateful. I look forward to the next book.

  16. Odd Brekke

    I just finished the first book and I have to say I was thrilled to find your book randomly on Kindle. I haven’t enjoyed reading a book this much since….god knows when. I hope you feel like you can take your time on the sequel. Because I think I speak for all your fans when I say that we all want to see a book that -you- can be satisfied with


    So are you going to use any asian cultures and or asian characters?
    is there anyone that is already that you would identify as an asian character?

    1. Jonathan Renshaw

      Hey Alvin. In fantasy I don’t deliberately represent real-world cultures because I feel it breaks the sense of otherworldliness. That being said, all writers are inspired by life and all readers relate what they read to what they know, so it is quite possible that a character or people group appearing somewhere in the story may evoke an Asian image.

    2. Marc

      I was told on Amazon to look into another book. I am an audio book lover myself since I have much to do. I found the person reading that book I was referred to listen to, drab with no emotion in their reading voice. I just clicked on your audio blood and fell in love with the sound of the readers voice then I got into the story and found that I had to read it also.
      You are right to rough draft, rewrite, and rewrite and beta read and rewrite, because what I am reading is wonderful. I would love for you to be finished also, but I understand that something are worth the wait.
      So I will wait paitently.

  18. Allyson

    Hello Jonathan,

    I rarely write to authors, intimidation and concern about appropriateness tend to hold sway. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading “Dawn of Wonder; The Awakening”. I love long books that take me in and allow me to become any number of the characters along the way. I have been some of these characters in truth as well as in the magic of books.

    At first I balked at the detail of “boy” skills, making swords in particular. But I found myself interested in the process and I felt amusement and kinship with Aedans youthful glee in his work. Females are rarely handed the tools to create like boys are. Being female in our patriarchal norms means I did not grow up with an easy spontaneity and freedom to explore physical or intellectual pursuits especially with a group of like minded children. In part perhaps because I am 61, at the end of this month anyway, so my experience was hobbled by all the post WWII propaganda about a woman’s pursuits, passions and place. So I can feel a loss and ,apologetically, even envy when I read about the opportunities at the Marshal’s Academy.

    I’ve done everything I could to amend my beginnings. Firstly, finding myself by opening the windows and wonders of literature, and SciFi Fantasy in particular.
    I was pleased with the ease that you have in writing female or rather the feminine experience.

    While not wishing to pressure you, I look forward to your next book Oh, and good luck on your Masters.

    spoiler alert!
    I would like to see a little more depth in your girls characters that doesn’t include nursing or simply being the objects of desire or damage. Although these girls are taught to fight they and, Tyne, (Not mentioned in your list of names at the beginning of the book) acquits herself admirably, could be given deeper portrayals. I tire of the boney corsets of women’s “tender kindnesses” vs the selfish Ilona that too closely resemble the empty portrayal of Madonnas vs The Whore.

    I believe you can go deeper so I hope you do..Kalry is going to be really messed up when Aedan finds her unless like him she is singled out as special and given miraculous support. Maybe I’m being too cynical for your purposes or the genre’s intentions but I had to say this. But the main character is male and as far as I can tell you have such a powerful grasp on that perspective with all its attendant motivations that it makes a great read!

    ps. I thought Aedan lost Kalry’s diary in Kultuhm?

    1. Dan E.

      Mr. Renshaw,

      First of all, congratulations with your book. It is incredible. Your imagery is poetic, leaving the language you use to be straightforward enough for a quickly reading, but intricate and well crafted when looked at very closely (great for multiple reads). I have all the faith in you as a writer, that once this series is complete, it will be revered amongst the greats.

      Your book truly needs a wiki, as there are a million things I wish I could look up on the fly (as I did for years with ASOIAF).

      Thank you for you work.

      spoiler alert!
      I have to ask the same question as Allyson though. I too was under the impression that Aedan had lost Kalry’s diary in Kultuhm, . When Aedan and his family were fleeing the wolves, and Aedan had lost control of the cart over the side of the hill, was Kalry’s diary amongst the unsalvageable wreckage?
  19. Jack Palmer

    As far as I can tell, The last update on the writing was April. One sentence, Where are you on the writing schedule? Thanks

  20. Angela Wesley

    I too am waiting impatiently patient for book 2. You mentioned Sanderson in your blog and he as well as Sullivan do something to readers that seems very rare in this genre. They truly, completely immerse you. You feel lost until the next book comes out and you can “go home” again, even if it’s for just awhile. I know that sounds silly, but that’s the way it feels to me. I said that to say, you sir have done it! I am ready to “go home”. I miss Aeden and crew and can’t wait to see if he can save his love (ok, getting nostalgic) I just wanted to say that as much as I long to return, I want to see it as well off as I left it. Which, I understand means that dreaded word…..patience. So I along with all of your many fans hope to encourage you to take all the time that you need. For I feel sure that you love these characters and what lies ahead for them more than we ever could. So I trust that when YOU’RE happy, we will be too. Sorry! It looks like I’M the one writing the book!

  21. Susan Archer

    I just finished book 1and would like to say Bravo!! I. Wish I had never read it so I could be starting it anew. Thanks. Anything as wonderful as this is a labor of love and, like having a baby, cannot be rushed. No matter how much we desire a look at your next offspring, we wouldn’t want anything premature.. I speak, of course, for the more thoughtful and less greedy of your readers. You just hang in there and try to enjoy and savour it as it happens so it won’t be just a blur down the road, eh? Susan

  22. Kadin

    First off I want to say that I am a book addict. I read a lot and your book is now one of my favorites. You don’t write flippantly but with purpose. Each chapter is a work of art. It has the character growth, form, vivid detail, inspirational, and is down right awe inspiring. In short I really loved it and can not wait to read the next one. Please don’t launch it too soon I want it to be just as good if not better then the first.

  23. Robert

    I picked Dawn of Wonder up on Kindle almost randomly, while scrolling through fantasy titles on Amazon. I wasn’t really expecting to like it all that much and would have been happy if it was siply ‘average’. Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised (shocked, even?) to very quickly be drawn into Aedan’s world. I love a good coming of age story and would put Dawn of Wonder right up there with the best of them.

    I won’t ask you what the release date is for book 2 but I did wonder if authors of epic series ever consider that some of their readers actually use your books as sort of a motivation to live a healthy lifestyle? In other words, some of us are middle aged or more, and actually make an effort to live healthy simply so that we will make it to the ends of our favorite series! (Maybe its just me, I’m a bit odd…). So thank you Mr. Renshaw, (and Patrick Rothfus, and Brent Weeks, and oh yeah I’m looking at you too Brandon Sanderson!!).

  24. Andrew Carr

    Loved the first book, and glad to hear the second is on its way. I agree with all the comments that say to take all the time you need its your story and we want to read the version you are happy with. On the other hand don’t turn into Patrick Rothfuss the world doesn’t need two of those

  25. Chris

    Well done sir. I found Tolkien when the Hobbit was assigned to me as a boy, most fantasy readers I find got their start there and even those who read other genres usually list it as their original entry into serious reading, and have read constantly since. Salvatore, Weiss and Hickman, McCaffrey then on into the worlds of Jordan and Feist, Butcher and Erikson, Sherwood Smith, Hobb and Rawn and so many more have kept me entranced and fascinated for the past 20 years. Recently I’ve noted that so many of the old series are coming to an end and instead of having 5 or 6 books a year from authors I am familiar with, worlds I know intimately and characters I’ve grown up with I’m taking my first steps into unfamiliar landscapes. Sanderson and Weeks, Hearne, Riordan and Wexler, Anthony Ryan and Miles Cameron are building universes every bit as vast and compelling as the ones who came before and Renshaw is a name that fits easily into this new class of creators. You’ve created characters that are easy to empathise with in a world with horizons the reader wants to see. The magic there at the edges of your characters perceptions is interesting without being overwhelming, a piece of the world but not the point of it. Aeden is earning his place on his own merits and it seems that while magic will have an affect on his life it isn’t the core of who he is. The buildup to it and the results we see are fascinating and I can’t wait to see more. It’s a wonderful world you are building here and I very much look forward to its continuation in book 2.

    1. Carl

      Great comments all. I think you can ditto them for most of your readers. Live well and prosper.

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