According to Anderson's account, the first of the stories that became Winesburg, Ohio (probably "The Book of the Grotesque") was composed, on the spur of the moment, in the middle of the night, probably while he was staying on the third floor of a rooming house at 735 Cass Street in Chicago: "...it was a late fall night and raining...I was there naked in the bed and I sprang up. I went to my typewriter and began to write. It was there, under those circumstances, myself sitting near an open window, the rain occasionally blowing in and wetting my bare back, that I did my first writing...I wrote it, as I wrote them all, complete in the one sitting...The rest of the stories in the book came out of me on succeeding evenings, and sometimes during the day while I worked in the advertising office..." Study of his manuscripts shows that, though it is probably true that most of the stories were written within a relatively short span of time in late 1915, like a number of facts in Anderson's retelling of his writing process (for instance, his claim that he had written the Winesburg, Ohio stories after his earlier books were already published), it is inaccurate to say that the final versions of the stories published in 1919 were exactly the same as the ones written whole four years earlier.
In fact, in his seminal article "How Sherwood Anderson wrote Winesburg, Ohio," William L. Phillips wrote that the manuscript of "Hands" contained "...almost two hundred instances in which earlier words and phrases are deleted, changed, or added to..." though no major structural changes to the story were detected. Additionally, slightly different versions of ten stories that ended up in the book were published by three literary magazines between 1916–1918 as follows:
|Story Title||Magazine Name||Publication Date|
|"The Book of the Grotesque"||Masses||February 1916|
|"Paper Pills" (as "The Philosopher")||Little Review||June–July 1916|
|"The Strength of God"||Masses||August 1916|
|"Queer"||Seven Arts||December 1916|
|"The Untold Lie"||Seven Arts||January 1917|
|"Mother"||Seven Arts||March 1917|
|"The Thinker"||Seven Arts||September 1917|
|"The Man of Ideas"||Little Review||June 1918|
|"An Awakening"||Little Review||December 1918|
Though the stories were published to some acclaim in literary circles, John Lane, the publisher of Anderson's first two novels, referred to the Winesburg, Ohio stories as "too gloomy" and refused to publish them. It was not until editor Francis Hackett, showed the manuscript to Ben Huebsch, owner and editor of a small publishing house in New York, that the stories (Huebsch suggested calling them "Winesburg, Ohio") were brought together and published.