Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Finding Your Writing Process

It’s tricky blogging advice for writers. I never realized how tricky until I actually started keeping this blog and thinking about what I know and what I can share, and further realizing that what works well for me might be just that. Something that works well for me. Nothing drives this fear home more than thinking about the Writing Process (when I use caps like that imagine discordant chords on the piano).

What is the Writing Process? Do you have one? How do you find one? Is it working or is it hindering you? Should it be something natural or should you impose a structure onto the process? What’s the point of it? What’s the point of any of this?

First things first.

The Writing Process is simply whatever it takes for you to get words on paper--preferably they’ll be good words eventually. I don’t know what it takes for you to get words on paper. If I did, I’d be selling the secret, not rambling on my blog. I can only tell you that I discovered my process through trial and error. I hate schedules and structure, and I can never hold myself to one that isn’t imposed on me by some greater authority, so my Writing Process has no hint of anything remotely resembling a schedule. I’ve tried. God knows I’ve tried. I see the value of setting aside a certain block of time every day to work, but at most I can do that for a week before I chafe and resist.

I do tend to work best at night, though. I may not start writing until after six, but I could write up to six or seven hours at a stretch if I hit a groove. That’s when writing feels right, so that’s when I do it. I just went against every piece of advice on the Writing Process you’ll ever find, but that’s the truth.

Plotters vs. Pantsers

After you decide when you want to write (or when it feels right to write) you have to figure out what you want to write. This may involve creating an elaborate outline either on the computer or by hand. I know of some people who use Post-It notes on their hallway wall to start planning things. There are programs like Scrivener and books dedicated to helping the would-be writer create a killer plot.  Maybe it’s because of the aforementioned aversion to anything resembling order, but I ignore all of that. I write by the seat-of-my-pants, often without a clear idea of what’s going to happen in the next chapter. That doesn’t bother me. I’m writing to discover what will happen. When I try to impose what I think should happen, it never works well for me. The story flows when I let it. For other pantsers, this makes perfect sense. For plotters, this sounds horrifying. I can’t tell you if you’re one or the other, but you probably already know.


If only our problems ended with finding time to write and then figuring out what to write. But they don’t. How do you edit? As you write or once the entire manuscript is done? I wait until the entire book is done. I never edit while I work, but on the other hand, I know plenty of people who do. Thus when they say they wrote a page, they meant they have a page ready for publication. When I say I wrote 30 pages, I mean I probably have 45 pages worth of editing to do in the future. But I need a bit of breathing room before I can improve my work, so it doesn’t make any sense for me to edit as I go.

Goal setting

Do you have a daily goal? Sometimes I insist I’m going to write 2000 words even if it kills me. Sometimes I won’t stop until 5000 words. Sometimes if I get 100 done, I’m pleased. But goals help me stay focused, and so I try to have something in mind before I begin. Do you work well under pressure? You may want to try Write Or Die--it’s something that imposes structure on me so I don’t have to do it myself.

Your Writing Process is about what works for you. Listen to well-meaning advice on blogs and in books, but remember the only goal is to get words on paper. Whatever helps you reach that goal is the right--the only--way.

Images thanks to noobaru, jjpacres and J. Paxon Reyes from


  1. Brandy aka Lil’Momma

    My son is learning about the writing process He so hates the editing process. He would rather just write and keep going cause it all sounds right in his head. Great post for us to review together.

  2. I felt the same way about the editing process until I discovered how much fun it was in its own right. I think I'll blog about that with your son in mind.

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