Process Porn For Writers

Taxing The other day, Marko asked:

I’m a sucker for process porn…I like reading about how other writers get the words down. What’s your hardware /software setup for writing? Laptop, desktop, longhand, sticks and clay tablets? PC, Mac, Linux, Amiga OS? Scrivener, Word, WordStar for DOS, Notepad?

(I like to do my first drafts in longhand, and then do my first editing pass when I transcribe onto the computer. I also use Dropbox to keep all my scribblings in sync across four computers, so I can grab whatever’s handy.)

You want to know my process? I can do that. I mean, if you want to hear about the parts of the process that reveal that I am alone in a godless universe, well, you’ll find a day in the life described right here.

But the nitty-gritty-nuts-and-bolts-dick-and-balls process, sure. I can talk about that.

The night before, I tend to do some prep-work on the next day’s blog post. Ideally.

Morning, I get up, I go into an office with an L-shaped desk. (This is, of course, after the coffee is with me. Nothing happens before coffee is bubbling inside the cauldron of my body. I require caffeine magic.)

I compose the rest of the morning’s blog post. I do this right inside the bowels of WordPress itself — the service auto-saves pretty regularly, and I’m also obsessed with clicking SAVE on any document upon which I work, so it doesn’t present me with any issues of losing text.

I tend to post a blog post sometime between 7AM and 9AM, unless I was fortunate enough to finish it up the night before, at which point that mad little fucker goes live right at 12:01AM.

Then it’s time to move into the meat and potatoes writing. Right now I’m working on a personal project, and that’s tricky, because I also have a number of paying projects competing for attention. So, what I do is carve out a little time before, say, 10AM to run through 500-1500 words in that personal thing. It’s not fast, but it’s something, and it guarantees that I’m playing the long con as well as the short scam.

I write my fiction directly into Microsoft Word, I think it’s ’07. The prior release. I do so on a desktop computer with a — I think it’s a 24″ monitor. Big, bright. In Word, I let the text fill the page — I more easily catch mistakes when the words are big and bold like that. It also feels very clean. I dunno. Don’t judge me. I have tried Scrivener Beta for Windows, and I was only in there for a couple minutes. Seemed cool, but a) It looked very Windows-flavored and failed to have the clean brightness of Mac programs (and Word has that brightness, in my opinion) and b) I just don’t have time to learn Scrivener’s ins and outs right now.

During this time, I close down Tweetdeck, Thunderbird, and Firefox. I leave only the document open as well as my Dropbox directory.

I have the iPad set up to my right, and if I need to check the Internet for research or take a breather, I do so using the iPad. That single-screen device helps cleave away distractions.

The iPad is also good because it’s where I write and keep a lot of my notes. I predominantly use PlainText for that, but also use Index Card. Thinking too of getting hold of Instapaper, because Evernote doesn’t do the trick in terms of web-clipping on the iPad.

I then move onto the paying work — I originally did it reverse, with my personal work coming after, but it didn’t fly, motivation-wise. I am motivated to do paying work because, duh, see the word “paying.” Personal work carries with it no such impetus because I cannot guarantee it will ever earn me any coin. Hence, I do that first. It gets a (small, admittedly) priority.

Paying work is generally in Word, as well.

Script work is in Final Draft, which sucks balls and I will one day change but for now it suits my needs without making me tear my nipples off to eat them like single-bite amuse-bouches.

I keep track of all paying work in a clumsy Excel spreadsheet. Accurately track deadlines and start dates, less accurately track when I should have or have been paid.

Afternoons are generally for editing. I edit in Word and Final Draft with the Track Changes revision feature on, so I can see what’s changing and what’s already changed. Plus, all that red feels… eerily productive. When I get notes back from someone, I sometimes print them out. It’s easier than switching windows or opening several at once. A hard copy has value for me.

I back everything up with Dropbox. I also have a pair of external hard drives.

I often PDF stuff at vital stages, too.

I never write anything longhand because my handwriting looks like you duct-taped a pen to a hamster on quaaludes and let him run around a notebook page for an hour. Messy, apocalyptic handwriting.

This sounds awful, perhaps, but sometimes a glass of wine or Scotch helps loosen the writing up a little. That sounds like I’m an alcoholic, but I rarely do this, and when I do, no more than a glass. Or, ahem, two.

I also really like meth. Not for writing, but for housecleaning.

I kid, I kid. No meth for Wendig. It’s a state law.

I try to get in some reading during the day. In a perfect world that reading would be endless tracts of awesome fiction, but usually, it’s something I’m researching. A shame, but there it is. I also drink a cup of tea somewhere in the middle of the day. Really helps.

Also in the middle of the day, meetings sometimes occur. Usually betwixt me and the writing partner, Lance. For that, it’s often Skype. Sometimes a cell phone.

I do not work past the afternoon. I gotta cook dinner and need downtime, so the work day is over when the work day is over. Outside some light blog prep that night, I almost universally do not extend my work into the evenings. If I’m on deadline,  I just plan in advance and get the writing done before that.

I am less productive when I over-work. Go figure.

When our child is born, I expect all of this to go vomiting out a window.

Howzabout you people? Titillate us with your process porn. Tell us how your, erm, sausage is made.

19 comments

  • Dropbox! I owe you a beer or something for that. Great idea, consider I’d cry giant man tears if I lost my current articles and other projects.

    At any rate, my writing process is reminiscent of carrion bird feeding habits. Since I’m blogging on current library issues, it means scavenging through Google Reader for topics and ideas. This comes in the form of blogs, Google alerts, popular media sites, and my own gynormous list of library and librarian blogs. I have some other places to check for stories if I am still searching for ideas.

    On an average day, I clear 250-300 Google Reader items. In general, I will get a couple of stories I want to comment on. I take my fair use amount of quote, add my own commentary, and then post those stories. Then I get into the completely original writing content. These are generally ideas for posts I’ve had and been working on for a day or more on various sorts of topics. They get attention after everything else (including answering replies to previous posts).

    In locking down, I have my Hoodie of Blogging that I wear. It’s red, making me into a matador of words. I tell my wife that I love her but I need to write, and then try to minimize everything going on the second screen to keep distractions down. I do a lot of web checking, so that second screen is dedicated to Chrome and finding stuff. I work in spurts, so some distractions will work for getting me refocused and some… do not.

    Occasionally, I have to stop what I’m doing and play a round of Team Fortress. Shooting some faceless bastards works wonders for the soul. And it only gets better if you can club them to death.

  • The night before, I make a list of tasks that will move things forward–whether it’s bringing in money or doing something that brings a sense of satisfaction in my personal projects.

    If it’s an early morning, I start on personal writing. On an average morning, I start off with a blog post if it’s a blog day. If I’m pitching stuff, I send out pitches. Then it’s jumping into the wonderful world of freelance technical writing and editing. I work on that until lunch. After that, more technical stuff until later afternoon when my wife and I workout or run errands before crowds and traffic. After that, I work until dinner.

    Sometimes, if my wife and I decide to do something during the day, I’ll work in the evening. The only set thing I do in the evening is record my podcast late one night each week when everything is quiet.

    I work in Open Office for fiction and FrameMaker for the technical stuff. I haven’t written any scripts for years, but when I did, I used a Word template.

    When I’m working on a story, I close everything except Open Office. If it’s very early in a novel, I rough things out on notecards and eventually color code them based on characters and storylines so I can lay it all out in the living room and see–at a glance–if things are balanced.

    I’m in my second month of working from home, and I’ve found I get so much more done in less time.

  • Writing around the kids takes some effort, but it can work, once you figure out their schedule—please note that this is not the other way around. Baby needs trump all, at least at first.

    I write in the early hours and after the kids’ bedtimes. I also scribble bits and pieces throughout the day—and since I’m a librarian, finding the time to do research isn’t usually a problem.

    My kids are in preschool and 2nd grade now, so I can take the occasional vacation day to write, plus a few hours on the Saturdays I don’t work. But when each kid was brand new (they’re four years apart), I’d put her in a sling and type over her as much as she let me.

    If things get too chaotic, you might consider a babysitter or even a few days of day care during the week. Socialization is good for the baby.

  • Daily process? That’s pretty easy. Get up, ship the husband off to work then spend an hour or two while I wake up catching up with blog things. Shove some food in there. Somewhere between 9 and 10am I get off my butt, fix myself something cold (usually ice tea) and move into the office. Then I set the timer on my iPod to 15-30min and do nothing but write during that time. The little chunks help remind me that I need to get up every so often to preserve my eyesight. Repeat until I need food again, then repeat until I either peter out of steam or the husband comes home and dinner needs to be made. Every so often I’ll write in the evenings or weekends when he’s home, but he’s something of a huge distraction.

    As far as my process accessories? Well, I already mentioned my iPod. And I’m one of those shameless Scrivener fangirls. Mostly for the ability to blackout the screen of everything but text (and to set the colors so my eye (yes, singular – the left one if there but useless) are less likely to strain so fast). If I even see the icons for TweetDeck or Firefox, or iTunes, I’ll be tempted to open them all. I do tend to write down my notes, brain drippings more than anything, in a big notebook leftover from college but they all end up in Scrivener. Also use Scrivener for web clippings, collages, character dossiers sorted to their specific novel/story. It’s really a godsend to have all your research right there when you need it.

    And for backups? External hard drive and Time Machine. I really should start using my DropBox now that Scrivener is coming to Windows (it’s the same file extension on both OSs – whee!) so I get switch between my G5 and laptop as needed.

    Heh, my process sounds so dull. I guess I should account for spinning in my chair, pacing the apartment, and phone calls from Momus Interruptus.

  • I have Dropbox installed on my work PC, my PC at home, my laptop and my iPhone, and whatever I’m working on has a folder there. I use jDarkroom at home to write. (Well, and PlainText on the phone if I was feely frisky.) At work, when I have a few minutes & lunch, I will fire up vi and squeeze more words in.

    Second draft, I’ll pull all the text files, print it out, bleed red ink over it, then slurp the files
    into a single text file.

    Polish, pull the text file into OpenOffice and make it pretty.

  • Writing is very tied up into my work process, but there are a few standouts.

    Lately, all first drafts have been in WriteMonkey. It’s easily to pop up and stay in, and the lack of major tools keeps me from fiddling too much with it. I can just type, knowing that I’ll have to do at least a second draft when I export it to another word processor.

    For a while I was doing second and subsequent drafts in Word for work and OpenOffice for home, but enough problems converting between the two prompted me to move everything to Word 2010.

    Blog posts get written directly into Windows Live Writer, send to WordPress to confirm formatting and add a picture if needed, and then published.

    All drafts get saved in Dropbox — partially because I can quickly sync up between my work and home computer, partially because I can pull things up on my phone if needed, and partially because I can call back old drafts if I make a stupid mistake.

    I’m toying with Scrivener, but not using it for any meaningful work since it’s still in beta and I don’t want to lose everything in a huge ball of doom.

    I guess I’m weird in that I don’t shut down my Internet programs. I just tell myself that it’s time to work, and I work. Then again, I tend to work in short bursts of 10-15 minutes strung together, rather than a marathon session.

    • I guess I’m weird in that I don’t shut down my Internet programs. I just tell myself that it’s time to work, and I work. Then again, I tend to work in short bursts of 10-15 minutes strung together, rather than a marathon session.

      I don’t think it’s weird — I didn’t used to do this. But I know when I minimize distractions and create a physical disconnect between my Writing Space and my Play/Distraction Space, I can milk more word count (and in some cases better word count) out of my process. Horses for courses and all that — I don’t think such separation is necessary or even valuable for everybody. But for me it helps be go the distance.

      — c.

  • Right now, everything is shoved in around the edges of a retail job because well, I like to eat. Most of my planning happens in my head, with either characters ‘telling’ me what’s going on, or my sadistic mind going ‘ooh, that would be so cruel… we must do that!’ It also involves much ranting and raving and foaming at the mouth until my best friend locks me in the basement so he can get some sleep.

    As for the writing itself, OpenOffice, where I make sure my page is formatted to letter size with appropriate margins, and paragraphs formatted to 1.5 line spacing. I find this keeps everything the right kind of legible for me, and I can print it as I need to.

    When I get stuck on a plot, I take out a notebook and scribble out ‘what I know’ and ‘what I don’t know’ about the story to get me back on track. Also, making a serious effort not to go back and revise as I write, even though I know I’ve lost continuity and if I just change that one little bit back there… but I’ve been good. Putting a mental pin in those for later.

    • @Eric:

      I speak from experience (and your experience may vary) when I say that planning in your head is well and good, but sometimes goodness will slip through your, erm, brain’s fingers. Even a tiny notepad on person can help, even if it’s shorthand.

      — c.

  • Apparently if Final Draft sucks so much balls, Celtx is the program to use. You can install it on at least three OSes and it integrates with Firefox, among other stuff I have yet to actually look at.

    Anyway, my process porn is rather halfhearted and skewed due to having a 9-5 day job that consists of being a code monkey and explaining to clients that when their e-mail isn’t working it’s because they’re accessing it from three completely different mail clients on four different computers and giving out their password to everyone in the office.

    I pretty much write whenever I have the time – on the bus, during dinner, at 3 in the morning when I have to be up for work at 7. I’m hoping to get into a steady habit of churning out comic pages, but a lost of the process is still writing, and for that I carry around at least two physical notebooks and a bunch of pens at all times. One notebook is a tiny, lined, Moleskine-like pocket-sized one that fits in my jacket, so I don’t have to go rummaging around in my bag at the bus stop if I get an idea. The second is a gorgeous, unlined, leather-bound notebook I ordered on Etsy, the mere sight of which makes me want to write just so I can use its beautiful pages. The paper is excellent quality, too, and being unlined I can also throw in panel sketches when the urge hits me. I make sure to use fine-tipped pens with good ink flow so that I don’t have to stop in the middle of a brain dump to fight with my writing utensil.

    As for software, I’m an Ubuntu user, so no Word for me — and I have a love-hate relationship with OpenOffice for a variety of reasons, so for the most part I actually prefer to do my writing in a plaintext editor like Geany. It does auto-editing and has some other nifty gadgets which occasionally come in good for writing (like if I need to find and delete whole chunks of text). Perhaps not the best tool for the job, but it’s what I feel most comfortable with, and that way I don’t have to fiddle with margins or text until the whole thing is already written.

    I keep all my projects organized in their own folders, and I have a Licorize account and an Instapaper account for saving research sites (both of which are growing at an alarming rate). I actually don’t like either of them so much as I like Firefox’s bookmarking system, but they’re faster and are stored online, so I don’t have to bother with exporting them and transporting them over to other computers.

    I make copious use of Dropbox, like just about everyone else here, and as I don’t have any pretty toys like iPads or smartphones, I abuse the hell out of Ubuntu’s multiple workspace feature. It basically gives you as many copies of your desktop as you need, so I can have Firefox open in one workspace and Geany in another, and never the twain shall meet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t completely separate work from play (switching workspaces is an easy three keystrokes, and I find myself flipping over to Firefox far more often than I should), but the reduction of visual temptation is a big help. An added bonus is that any program with an alert going off shows up across all active workspaces, so if someone’s pinging me on AIM or the printer is bitching at me, I’ll see the flashing window no matter which desktop I’m on.

    Of course, those are the tools of the trade more than my actual process of creation, but for that I think I’ll need a separate comment and a lunch break. ;)

  • My process? When time allows, I open up the draft of the current WIP (in Word) and I write some more. When I run out of steam or when other obligations compel me to stop, I quit.

    Let’s see, am I forgetting anything . . . . eh, nope.

    Dan

  • Wow, I’m terribly behind on the news. Congratulations Chuck!

    I wrote my zero draft entirely in Word. It was 50,022 words of crap. I kept a notebook for scribbling down ideas, but it was mostly for research notes. Now that I’m working on revisions, I’m writing longhand in a spiral bound, college rule notebook. Left page is for notes, right page is for writing. Over the weekend I type up what I’ve written in the notebook during the week. What ends up on the screen is a more refined version of what was in the notebook. Once a month I meet with my adviser and things get further refined.

    Not having internet access at home has been a blessing in terms of my writing. I can’t get distracted by “research”. I do most of that now at work or at the library. The TV and radio are always off when I’m working, unless music is part of a scene that I’m writing. I usually have a bit of caffeine when I’m working. It’s hard to keep the energy up after 8 hrs at the office. I do my writing and then my homework, otherwise I’ll never get the writing done.

  • For the actual process of writing, I’ve started using the new Scrivener Folder Sync feature, where I point a Scrivener project to a folder in my dropbox, and everything in the draft is saved there as separate plaintext files.

    That folder also corresponds to a PlainText folder on my iPad, so each file appears synchronized within that program. That way, if I need to write on the road, it automagically appears in my Scrivener project when I get home with no need to remember to sync my iPad or my iMac or anything.

    Beyond that, I live in Scrivener while I’m writing drafts, and then I export to Word for submission. If Scrivener could handle Word formatting Styles and tracking changes, I’d never leave it.

  • I write on a structured schedule. I get up, workout, and eat breakfast before hitting the keyboard. Currently, I’m using templates I’ve set up in SuperNotecard, but will most likely migrate over to Scrivener for Windows once it comes out in its final form.

    My files go into Dropbox, but I also use Carbonite to back up everything on my system and in Dropbox for a double-redundancy system. (You only have to get burned on one big project to move to something like this.) Additionally, as I’m running a studio, we use Basecamp to share files with other team members as needed.

    So, all the technical issues aside, I review a bit of what I wrote yesterday, usually just the last paragraph or a handful of “note cards” and just dive back in. I work a normal day, starting around 7-7:30 and wrapping up around 5-6 pm. I have quotas I want to hit each day (with a minimum being 2500 words), but some days are better than others, so I also have end of the week goals. I typically work half-days on Saturdays, and take Sunday off to recharge my batteries.

    Once I have the rough draft done in SNC, I export it to Word, and clean up congruity issues, and other bits and pieces which may have made it through the first draft (which is where I don’t always go for the best/most appropriate word, but go for a functionally appropriate word). After I go through the “clean up” phase, I send it off to my editors who usually send me a punch list of things I missed, and correct any/all grievous injuries I may have committed to the English language, and syntax in general (in the name of art, I tell you!).

    After the main writing is done, I hammer out a blog post for the website, upload it, and call it a day. I used to work insanely long hours, but in the end, my productivity suffered. This schedule, which I shifted to the first of the year, has resulted in better health, work flow, and sanity.

    Regarding side projects: I usually have two going. I have the main project (with its projected deliverables) and side projects which may or may not have fuzzy dates. When I need a break from one, I can switch over to the other for a bit.

  • Mine’s pretty simple.

    During Week: Get up, do Wii, shower, emails, go to work. Get to work, write on current WIP for 1/2 hour, read for 1/2, start work. Try to check email and Twitter while doing $$ work. At lunch, again 1/2 hour writing, 1/2 hour reading. If I’m lucky, there’ll be some downtime at work and I can work on a short story, or sneak in more for the WIP. (I can get quite cranky if my set schedule is messed up too. Happened this morning so I lost writing and reading time. Not a happy author.) Research happens as needed, sometimes burst of an idea will require sneaking to look something up fast.

    Go home, spand time with family, Do family stuff. (Have small notebooks and phone to do quick notes at stop lights. Brainstorming works for me in traffic. Go figure.)

    Weekend: Saturday morning (till hubby wakes): some emails, Tweetdeck, misc writing stuff. Saturday evening (Unless I’m at a Con) – marketing, look up stuff I accumulated during the week I need to research or prep, create CDs or banners or book trailers, whatever is on the ever growing author To Do List. Crash at midnight. Sunday morning (till hubby wakes): Write a movie review for the blog or whatever is on my mind. More email more whatever.

    My schedule, me and I! Simple really. :)

  • @Chuck

    I do seem to be moving more and more towards at least jotting down notes rather than trying to store it all in my head (I spent 20 minutes of my 15 minute break plotting out the end of the story in my notebook.) I think this is a side effect of taking my writing more seriously than I used to. That said, I find that sometimes writing something down in note form is more of a formality, a way of lodging the idea deeper in my brain-meats.

    Now to go implement some of those notes! *Scurries off to write.*

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