Working with the 3 R’s – reread, revise and research

MarcyThis spring and summer I have begun the adventure of writing a chapter book. Not sure it is going any where but wanted to know what it is really like to write for an extended time.  I have asked students to write “long” short stories but what does it really take to do that?

Writing is hard. It takes time. It means you use the 3 R’s all the time. No, not the old R’s that I grew up with Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. Writers use another set.


  • Reread
  • Revise
  • Research

Each morning I sit down to write I begin with rereading what I wrote the day before. I need to put myself back into the story. I need to be sure the story is flowing in a direction that makes sense. The story is not always going where I thought it would but it needs to make sense. (Hmm – do I share this with my students – how often I re read my writing as I write? Do you?) 

As I read I sometimes fix the little mistakes that jump out at me – I do simple revisions, maybe more copy editing stuff – typo’s, present or past tense or a misspelled word but here I am careful to not get to involved. The “editor” that sits on all writers shoulders and watches with greedy eyes loves that I do this and at times can keep me reworking small parts and then I never get to writing. Beware the editor!  I know there will be many more times I will do a deep content edit but that comes later after many more words have been written.

After I have fixed a few things, and re read I begin writing for the morning. My characters voice is back in my head so the story begins. I am currently writing with my computer so I have to remember to turn off all notifications -e-mail, Facebook, twitter. I can be easily distracted. The neighbor walking a dog out my window can be very fascinating when I am stuck in my story. I try hard to stay seated, fingers moving and story developing for a good couple hours. Hard work for one who loves to move. (Think me, think my students, your students! Do we give enough time for students to write? Do we share that writing happens over long periods of time? Do we model how to write and return to writing the same story? Because I know my students could not sit for a couple hours!)

As I write there are questions that often jump out at me. These questions I try to put in a questions file (word document) that I will come back to later. That file is my research file. It is easy to go off looking for answers to a question right then but the story will be lost. I force, really for me it is force, myself to put a blank on the line or a little red asterisk to come back to and I keep writing.

I write and I reread. I write and I reread. I did not realize how important for me rereading my writing has become. As my story moves forward I am always checking back to be sure things are making sense.

Here is where I maybe a newbie to the work. Others may just keep writing and use that deep content edit later to catch the inconsistencies of the writing. My story is in such a state of flux that I feel the need to keep looking back to move forward.

At a later time I sit down with my questions and begin to research and seek answers. Yes, I am writing fiction but it is realistic fiction so I need it to sound and feel real. Questions like – Does the ground freeze in North Carolina? When would the frost be out of the ground?  In my story I wrote the sentence  – Mom was out in the wood as soon as the frost was out of the ground.  Well, in Minnesota the frost does come out of the ground but not until May. In North Carolina I am not sure if the ground freezes.  So research helps me be sure I am being realistic. (Wow, this writing process is complex and takes time, lots of thinking! Do I really share that with my students? Do I help then see the real process of writing?  Do we as teacher have time to share this process?)

I am only as far as chapter two in my short novel and my head is spinning on how much we take for granted when we ask students to write. Yes, I have always talked about reread, revising and doing research but I don’t think I have always been realistic about what that means for us as writers. I am not sure I am realistic about what it takes in terms of hours and support to young writers to do this hard and very important work.

For now I am just excited to continue to learn through my own writing. It will be interesting for me to return to this post when I have finished writing the book and see if I still have the same process and thoughts. I also wonder how I will change my teaching of writing?

This summer there is a great chance to practice your own writing with Teachers Write.  If you teach writing then I suggest you write with Katie Messner and friends.

Writing is an amazing process we humans invest in!



About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
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