Let me say this up front: if you’re a writer of any age or experience level, you need to be looking at your writing process. Always. Yesterday, today, tomorrow. You gaze into it to see if there’s anything you do to change it. Anything you can do to understand it better. You’re looking for bolts to tighten, widgets to wax, hedgehogs to tickle. Anything to fully weaponize your writing process.
You don’t do this to become some kind of CRASS FICTION FACTORY. This isn’t (necessarily) about becoming faster. It’s about getting better. Why wouldn’t you want to tell better stories? Why wouldn’t you want to refine your process and make the thing that you do easier, more fun, and more awesome? WHY DON’T YOU LIKE AWESOME THINGS.
My process is this, roughly:
At 6AM, I get up. Like a vampire rising from death into monstrous revivification.
I make myself some coffee. Pourover, because there’s something meditative about it. And the coffee is fucking amazing — I don’t just drink coffee for the kick. I drink it because it’s delicious.
I also drink it black as a mirror at night.
I put the coffee in a carafe — this one, actually — to keep it warm all day.
I get quick shit out of the way — any outstanding ASAP emails or tweets or silly stuff like that. Sam Sykes may be tweeting at me from the end of his day and the start of mine.
And then by 7AM, I get my ass to work.
I write in Microsoft Word. I’ve tried Scrivener, because people love it. It’s not my thing (though I am pleased if it is yours). Learning curve is too steep, it’s ugly as bad wallpaper, and I’m comfortable with a draft in Word going all the way through to the Track Changes stages of editing.
One small ritual ritual I have is, I have to make sure the font is right on the story.
Just a thing I gotta do. Probably the only “quirky” ritual component.
(That and the “bathing in goat’s blood” at 11:11AM every day.)
Eventually my son will be awake, and when he is, I am summoned by text message and then I head inside to do the whole breakfast thing, where he eats whatever it is that he wants to eat — pancakes or eggs or maybe he just wants to gnaw on the table like a nibbly bunny.
Then I walk with the dog every day and some days, run.
Then it’s back to the keyboard.
I write until I’m finished for the day, which is — nngh? Bare minimum, 2000 words in the day, but ideally I go above 3000. Like, for me, 2k is a barely passing grade. A D+ or something.
I write roughly 1000 words an hour. The first 1000 words is a bit sluggish, but the second 1000 words is where I usually move at a brisker, more limber pace.
I generally write for an hour, then take 15 minutes off to, y’know, fuck off in and around the Internet. I get on Twitter and TWEET THINGS. I get on Facebook and BOOK FACES. The usual.
I’m done writing new content by early afternoon, usually.
Then it’s onto lunch and whatever administrative or extraneous stuff needs a-doing. Outlines, emails, spreadsheets, finances, remembering where I put my pants.
I tend to do blog posts on weekends, though sometimes throughout the week too if there’s something that chafes my pee-hole enough that I have no choice but to write about it ASAFP.
Again, everything gets written right into MS Word.
And everything gets edited there, too.
First drafts get a look ideally from my agent, and then an another edit/polish (again: perfect world) before it gets catapulted into my editor’s eyeballs.
I track my day’s writing with a spreadsheet. I know if I’m over or under my daily goals. And I also know where I’m at according to my overall writing plan.
I tend to write a new novel ever one to four months. That’s first draft. Edits take longer.
And I think that’s it. That’s the process.
But now, I turn the question around to you. What is your process? How do you do it? How much time per day? Do you write every day? Whatever you feel like telling us about your writing process, I’m all ears. Like I said, I’m always a process monkey and it’s interesting to hear how everyone does it — no writer has the same writing process as the next. Some are similar; others are wildly different. Hell, just the quest to discover one’s writing process (similar to the quest to discover one’s voice) can be epic. Where are you at in this quest?
121 responses to “The Process Monkey Asks: What Is Your Writing Process?”
I’m an old newspaper guy, so any time-consuming fear of writing I had in my early days was long ago smashed into smithereens. There is nothing in the world of writing like getting a story in 20 minutes to deadline. Not at all easy at first, but after time you learn how to do it:
If you’re lucky enough to come up with a good lede, the story writes itself. I’ve done it in less than 10 minutes, and many of those stories won national awards. If I have more than a couple of hours to write, say, a column, often too much time destroys the life that spontaneous writing creates.
I remember the old days of writer’s block, and today I just smile. It’s just childish self-centeredness that creates that block. On deadline, there’s no chance for that nonsense to get in the way of writing.
When I’m writing a book, I always start out writing in my daily journal, which I never show anybody. It’s a real good warm-up. Then I’m ready to go, and just let the creative process take care of itself.
I do want to share one crucial aspect of writing that I have learned the hard way: Writing and editing are two different animals, which use completely different areas of the brain.
When you’re writing, the brain works one way, letting the writing come through you.
When I’m editing, a completely different part of my brain goes to work.
So I always take a break before I review my work. But even then, I am aware that my writer’s brain may interfere with my editing brain. It usually does — after all, I wrote it. The solution is to have another pair of eyes look at the work; eyes that are used to editing, not writing. So I have a couple of people I trust to do this.
The one thing I always look for, that I can catch editing, is if I ever break the cardinal rule of branching to the right. This is crucial to being understood. ALWAYS branch to the right in sentence-structure.
Subject, verb, branch to the right. Put anything in front of the subject and verb, and you damn well better know what you’re doing.
That’s because the reader’s brain works in a completely different way. Branch to the right, and the reader will understand what you’re saying. Branch to the left, and that reader will easily stray and put the book down.
That’s my two cents.
Since you asked!
I have no process yet. I certainly have no routine.
I work irregular overtime shifts on a tiny contract. I have no *life* process, let alone routine. I wake up a different time every day of the week. Frequently I have no clue what I’m doing at any point in a given 24 hour period. I have to make a snap-decision and force myself to spurt out 300-500 words at a time, somewhere within my improvised daily “plan.” If I can do 3 sets of 300-500 in a day, It’s an amazing day and I congratulate myself. If I write only one sentence, it’s a bad day.
There are days I have paralytic panic attacks or deep bouts of depression. No writing gets done. I resolve to try again the next day.
My courage wanes besides: all of my writing is broken and horrible. Not that this matters since all writing (so they tell me) is, as you approach a vanishing point of genius, broken and horrible. The book I’m working on is broken and horrible. I’ve promised myself I would finish it.
Micronesia lost 46-0 versus Vanatu this year. They didn’t walk off the field, even after the 45th goal against them. They kept playing until the game was over.
My writing process has only really grown stable recently. I work Mon-Fri from 8-5 everyday which cuts into my time.
The process works like so.
At work I take my lunch around 1 or 2pm and try to find a room no one is in. I do some writing there, using google docs for rough drafts because it lets me access my writing from anywhere I want really. Depending on business at work this lets me get about 500-1200 words down in the hour. After work I come home and since I’m the first one home I clean up the kitchen/make dinner that sort of stuff. Then I’m online taking care of social obligations (talking to friends, playing games, and dealing with all the interruptions the day likes to drop on you.) At around 10pm my friends tend to call it quits for the night and I go back to writing. At this point I write until the chapter I’m working on is done, and then write about 100-500 words on the next chapter.
I keep my chapters short and tight, about 2300 words. This means on average I’m writing about 2k-2.5k words a day. I never leave off without beginning the next scene so that I never have to face a blank page starting point after the novel has begun. I tend to send the completed chapter to my fiancee because it is easier to stay up until the work is done (and push myself to do it, and defend the time) if I have a ‘deadline’ for the chapter to be done. It also helps me plod through a book because around the time that I’m getting to the mushy middle and saying the book sucks is around the time I start getting death threats if I stop writing the story (and if they’re not there, obviously the idea isn’t working.)
I’m about 4 chapters shy of finishing my second first draft in this method and it works. Writing on weekends is sporadic, but the goal is to have at least 1 new chapter for Monday-Fri so the fiancee can read on her breaks at work. It also gives me ideas and perspective about things in the story that need to shift. Like if she hopes someone dies real quick, then maybe they should live a bit longer. If she thinks things are getting too rough, perhaps a bit of a tension break is good.
So far it works. We’ll see how well it scales beyond this story. Also, I need to fit in time for editing/revising past works. Once this first draft is done I’ll have 3 completed novels for this year in need of review/revisement.
On a perfect day:
I wake up between 4 and 5 in the morning, make a cup of coffee, and stumble out to the barn. If the morning is peaceful (50/50 chance), I can enter a fairly solid flow state while milking the cows. I pick apart what wrote the previous day, bounce ideas off my husband, and make plans. Most of my best ideas occur during milking.
We wrap up stuff in the barn around nine, eat breakfast, sometimes go to the gym, and get kitchen work started. How much writing I get done all depends on what I’m making while writing. Cheeses afford a solid two to three hours of writing while they are culturing and coagulating. These are best. Yogurt, kefir, and chocolate milk all get done more quickly, but require more active work. If I can get a thousand words written in a day and NOT soak my keyboard in whey, I feel accomplished. Barn work starts up again in the afternoon and we’re busy until evening. If I was onto something really good, I’ll start writing again at night until I fall asleep.
On an imperfect day:
Cows have babies, there’s more work than expected in the kitchen, an extra delivery has to be sent, some employees call off, something explodes… I stumble into the house around eight at night, scrape something together for supper, and pour a large glass of red wine. The red wine really kick-starts my writing. I write fiercely for as long as I can, generally for two hours. These are 300 word days, but I’ll take what I can get.
I work an FT job, so when I’m in Writing Mode (like I was last month when I was participating in Camp NaNoWriMo), I write during my 2 15 min breaks, my 1 hr lunch, and then I’ll try to get some more writing done in the evening after my husband goes to bed. If he’s out and about on the weekends, in the evenings or during the day, I may try to get something done then. Otherwise, it’s not happening.
Hey, Camp NaNoWriMo! *high fives* This was my first year there, after making a couple of half-hearted attempts at the November thing a while back. I enjoyed it so much I plan to plan events at the library where I work around it next year, as an alternative to summer reading. I work full time and am a grad student, so “writing” on any given day is a fiction project OR a school paper OR blogging and sometimes more than one of those, but not necessarily.
I’m planning a blog post in reply to this, so short version:
7am: up, make coffee, stagger around doing half an hour of housework.
7:30: the coffee is starting to sink in, so sit down at the computer. If I work with content burning in my head, I write; otherwise, I read through what I wrote the night before, do some light touch-up/revision, and by then the ideas are flowing and I write.
8-9am depending on the day: quick read-through of what I just wrote, get ready for work. Walk to work, music from my current project playlist on the headphones.
9-10am: at work. I’ll write on my lunch break, and sometimes, if it’s quiet, I write on my reference desk shift. While I’m in my office, I’ll keep my current project document open, and if something hits me out of the blue I’ll jot it quickly down but otherwise I really try not to *write* write while I’m, you know, gobbling taxpayer dollars.
6-7pm: come home, help fix dinner, do some housework. Sit down with some Netflix or a movie or a Rockies or Broncos game. (I’m not a sports fan as such, just a Rockies and Broncos fan.) Do homework. As soon as I’m done with my homework, take a break, stretch, maybe walk the dogs. Write till midnight. Fall down. Do it again.
I write in Word, unless it’s a blog post, in which case I write directly in WordPress. Save, read through, and revise after every burst of writing.
I create a custom Pandora station for each big project and listen to it CONSTANTLY – at work in my office, while doing housework, whenever I’m not sleeping, basically. It sets the emotional tone for the work and keeps my head in the story between bursts of writing.
I’ve found that the long breaks between relatively short bursts of writing really help sort out my thoughts, and when I have a chance to sit down at a keyboard, I just GO, and by the end of the day, I have a ton of stuff built up in my head.
When I get stuck, my fiance and I take a nice long drive and I dump on him, and he is amazing and brilliant at teasing out plot holes and connections. We drove my youngest kid back to college last weekend – a nine-hour round trip – and I spent the entire drive walking through the outline of my upcoming project. By the time I got home, I had the “I can’t move forward without solving this problem and I have no idea what to do” problem solved, and it’s fantastic.
“If I WAKE UP with content burning in my head, I write.” Which I often do. And start writing before the coffee really hits, obviously. One of these days, I’ll learn.
I tend to write a journal like thing once a day on a not so serious blog under a tag “I write these so I don’t forget” and then when I feel like I have a project I want to work on, I usually go through those, any posts I’ve put on my best friend’s Facebook, tweets, and scraps I’ve written on in the past few months or so and put that all in a document. Like recently, I thought I was gonna submit to a poetry book contest and I’d done all the above and was writing a couple of poems a week, but the deadline is coming and I had a better idea of how I want to sort everything out so I’m taking longer to do it but it’s better.
If I can get coffee in, I’m gonna do some solid work for a good three to four hours
I guess my routine is I write basically whatever I don’t want to forget (and I don’t want to forget a lot of things) so the timing is really up in the air, keep them all in a document of sorts and go through them when I want to make a bigger project. At the moment, its a big bang of fanfiction that is kicking my butt but I’m super excited about it
Tom Robbins has a writing process unique to him. We became friends after I was able to get the first interview out of him after an eight-year silence. How did I get the interview? I met him at a book signing event in town. I told him I was a sports writer.
“Sports Writer?” he said, “I started out as a sports writer!”
Then he arranged to meet me the next day for the interview, in San Francisco.
Tom said he writes his novels in a spiral notebook, using a pen with real ink. He writes one sentence at a time, until it’s perfect. Then he moves on to the next sentence, writing it until it’s perfect. He continues that way until the book is done.
“I never go back because I know every sentence is perfect,” he said.
He has a general idea what he’s going to write about, nothing beyond that. “I want to see what’s going to happen!” he said. “I never really know where it’s going to go, just the general idea that led me to write that book.”
For instance, in Still Life With Woodpecker he was writing about a breakup he had with a girlfriend. He wanted to find out how to make love stay. So he wrote about it. Oddly enough, he started out the book by giving the reader a peek into his writing process.
In the first chapter he describes a brand new electric typewriter he was trying for the first time. “This is the brand-new Remington (such and such, and he describes the typewriter as a super machine that can’t be matched).”
“If this machine can’t do it, then fuck it! It can’t be done.” he writes.
In the final chapter he describes how he systematically destroyed that typewriter, in elegant detail. He writes the final chapter in longhand, on purpose, to show how he always wrote before, and has ever since.
I asked him if he really did destroy that typewriter. “Oh yes,” he said. “Exactly as I described in the book.”
Tom has never owned a computer and never plans to own one.
Personally, I consider Tom Robbins to be America’s best living writer. And I’m certainly not alone.
For those who asked, this is more on how I got the interview, and why he stopped giving interviews for eight years.
I asked Tom why he stopped giving interviews. He said he got real tired of hearing the question, “What do you think of John Updyke?”
“These interviewers had obviously never read any of my books,” Tom explained. “In an open forum at a book signing, like yesterday, a girl might ask me, ‘If I bake you a pineapple upside-down cake, will you eat it?’ … and quite frankly, I considered that a far more relevant question. So I stopped giving interviews to those who considered themselves experts on writing and writers, and were just there to promote themselves.”
So I asked him why he consented to break his silence and give me this interview.
“You’ve obviously read my books!” he said. “I’ll always talk with anyone who has read my books.”
The interview was done on his 1995 book tour for Frog’s Pajamas. My interview ran in the Sunday Oakland Tribune, and proved to be the most-read newspaper story of the year for the Trib on the internet.
He gave me his home phone number, and invited me to call him anytime. I did. We had fascinating conversations. Eventually, he gave me tips on my own writing, and proof-read some stories before they went to press … mostly magazine stories, and a couple of books. I never dreamed I might have a mentor named Tom Robbins, but miracles do happen if you put yourself out there.
I love Tom Robbins. I have a Robbinsian project on the back burner. Ha! Bet he would hate that, and that I did that to his name.
I wake up whenever as I have no “day job” unless you consider stay-at-home mom a day job. (I do wake up with my daughter to get her ready for school.) I like to give myself about an hour to be fully functional. I hate coffee so I drink sugar-free red bull. After I’ve skimmed the internet for a bit, I log off and start editing and/or writing. My new thing is setting daily goals for myself as I have yet to actually finish a book. How do people do that??
On average I write around 500-1500 words a day, depending on how much time I’ve given myself and how much flows out. I don’t like to force anything when I’m not feeling particularly creative.
Nothing fancy, I guess.
I rise (but do not shine) between 7 and 7:30 in the AM. Drag myself through breakfast and a shower. Brew up a cup of green tea and if I’ve had a Facebook event the night before, I go through my posts looking for new comments, pick contest winners, whatever, and then delete the event from my saved folder. If I have an event coming up that day, I plan out my posts. If no Facebook business going on, I read. Have lunch about 11:30. Then I do the internet stuff. The emails and other Facebook stuff and putter around on youtube sometimes. About 1:00 I start the writing. I get up every 30 minutes for a 5 minutes pace around the room. Take a ten minute or so break around three for a snack. Then more writing all the way until 5:00. Unless an event gets in the way. Have dinner. Hit the track. Maybe read a bit more. Bed. That’s a usual day for me.
Sometimes I get an itch and I find myself writing in the morning or even at night. I’ve known days when I rolled out of bed and started writing before I was even all the way awake and nights when I’ve stayed up writing until I’m about to pass out over the keyboard. Mostly I try to stick the schedule, but I do tend to be a ‘do whatever strikes my fancy at the moment’ kind of person.
Copywriter here. The three most crucial components to my writing process are food, creative variety and exercise. Every morning at six, the breakfast ritual begins: a meat-toast-tomato ensemble with Kefer cheese, Tobasco and a light dusting of pink salt and pepper – which I then consume while reading a book (currently Zer0es, of course). This warms up the ol’ Word Brain, quiets the Hungry and steadies the mind for a day of bright, chaotic writing bursts.
The first 30 mins at my office goes to a quick creative blog sweep followed by the simplest, easiest thing on my plate to get the ball rolling.
Around 11, I break for 20 minutes to eat a banana and play scales and dexterity exercises on the bass guitar I keep at my desk.
Writing continues until 12:30, when I stop to yummy down on some company-catered lunch. I then go hiking in the mountains near my office, sometimes foraging for wild Dirt Squash and Lemonade Berries.
With the blood now a-pumpin’, I usually spend the rest of the afternoon on things that require heavy lateral thinking (ideation, concepting) or heavy agility (working through the client’s legal feedback).
Last two things before I leave: play another set on the bass, and set geo-location alerts on my phone for tomorrow’s tasks.
When I get home: craft a quick and healthy dinner, work on bass lines for my band, and read a different book before bed (currently The Stand).
My process isn’t nearly as organized as it should be. It is sporadic and unpredictable at best. This is something I’m working on.
My process varies, because I seem to get some sort of mileage out of changing things up and not letting things stagnate, though there are a few similarities. Any one location for too long and I get too comfortable, so I need to move, have that sense of “somewhere different”. This can be as simple as moving to somewhere different in the house, or the more complicated move of finding a new coffee house.
No matter what, my writing comes with me via my iPad which has a variety of tools to help me get my writing done. I have waited so very long for Scrivener to come out on iPad, which would be ideal, but who knows when that’s going to happen. Hence, I have a few different apps that take the role Scrivener would.
CarbonFin Outliner – great program for making outlines, and plotting things out. Also, it lets you backup your outlines onto their web interface, which is occasionally handy. This is what I use to make my story Bible.
iA Writer Pro – Clean writing interface for getting the words out. Its a little on the pricey side for an app, but it just feels good. My other favorite was Daedalus.
Storyist – Great for compiling all those words written in your ‘clean’ writing space. Also has handy story sheets for writing up character profiles, settings, etc. You can also use it to compile your docs out into eBook or word format.
Pages – This is where the editing usually happens, at least on short stories. Revision changes and all that jazz.
iAnnotate PDF – While I like to get a hard copy of my finished draft and write all over it with a red pen (just feels right) sometimes its handier to save all that paper and ink, and put my draft into a PDF, then use an app to annotate it. Its got the same red ink look and feel, plus I can organize my notes more. Also, I don’t lose any pages. This IS a bit slower though, and is easier to do if you have a nice stylus (which I do)
WordKeeperAlpha.com – Yes, this is a shameless plug, but it keeps me writing. If you like to keep track of how much you’re writing a day, have specific goals or deadlines, I made this tool to do all that. I like seeing my progress graphed out, and seeing how well I’m doing, or what I need to do to make my goals for the month/week/year. Its free, so do with this what you will. I love it…but I’m also highly biased.
Otherwise, I need a few other things to write. Something to drink (preferably of a caffeinated variety, maybe even of a sugared variety if I’m being bad), something to listen to, usually in tone with what I’m writing and some sort of snack.
In a general writing session I turn off the wifi on my iPad to get rid of distractions, turn on the music and, depending on the day, can get anywhere from 1000 – 3000 words done in the time I have between sitting down and having to stop. I’ve got a day job, so most of my writing happens after that, though the mobility of my writing platform means I can sneak a quick 15-30 minutes at random time.
I’m up at 4:40 every morning to make a 5:37 train from NJ to NY (and because I apparently hate myself a lot). Showered, shaved, and out the door by 5:10 am. I like to read on the train platform before the train comes, but once it comes, I’m unconscious for another hour because I was stupid and went to bed at 11 pm the night before. I never learn.
Once in the city, set up shop at a Barnes & Noble from roughly 7-8:30 am, where try to get at least 1,000 words done because that’s really the only writing time I have during the week. Nights and weekends are saved for spending time with the family and child wrangling, though on occasion the wife and child will nap on a Saturday afternoon and I can get another hour in for the week.
I write in Scrivener. I love it. It keeps everything organized for me and doesn’t make me want to slam my head into a rusty spike of rebar the way other programs do. I know one day I’ll have to migrate to Word for edits, but until then I’ll live inside my little castle of digital index cards and type type type.
My first drafts take roughly 3-6 months depending on how much I’m able to write each day. Some are better than others. Edits are another few months and then begins the querying process, which gets tracked in a Google Spreadsheet.
I should’ve specified – I work a 9-5 in NY, hence the morning-only writing routine.
I work a day job M-F 8:30 – 5:30, so my weekday process differs from my weekend process.
M-F: 5:50 AM, wake up. 6:15-7:30 3-6 mile run. 8:30-5:30 day job. 6:00-6:30 dinner. 7-8: Cloister self in home office and write solid for an hour. 8-9:30: Come downstairs, watch tv w/ spouse, edit/social media/blog. 9:30 – 11: Read. 11pm-5:50a – Sleep.
Weekends/Vacation Writer Days:
6:00 a – Wake up
6:30 a – Run (5-10 miles)
8:00 a – Breakfast / social media
9:00 a – Write
10:00 a – Go to coffee shop. Hypercaffinate. Write write write.
1:00 p – Lunch
2:00 p – Record podcast (Saturday) / Edit podcast (Sunday)
3:30 p – Write more
5:00 p – Dinner / Family time
9:00 p – Reading time
11:00 p – Sleep.
Generally I can get 300-1000 words on a weekday, and 1500-2500 words on the weekend. Caffeine is a vital part of the process, and reading is the best way for me to keep my brain fresh. If I was a worse husband, I could probably get more done, but I’m willing to be a slower writer at this point in order to have a happier home.
I’m the co-founder of the #wordmongering hashtag, so I’m a BIG user of the process.
From the :00 to the :30 I write…..I write like the wind as much as I CAN write until that timer goes off.
From the :30 to the :00, I do ANYTHING BUT WRITING!! (this has been the MOST important thing for me. I have a pretty ranchy case of ADHD, and I’ve found that if I don’t give myself regular dorking around with anything but work time….I am NOT going to get the work done! So I do that until the timer goes off.
Generally speaking, I can get about 1,000 words per half hour session….& I try to continue this process until I’ve got more than say 3 or 4 sessions under my belt.
But all told this method works best for me. (It’s worked for others as well! Which I’m ecstatic about!)
And yeah….Scrivener….it was NOT user friendly for me either! So Word is my go to….ALWAYS!!!
And it goes without saying that there’s TONS & TONS of caffeine along the way! 😀
My time is limited, so I put in, minimum, 1 hour a day, 5 days a week. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes less, because life happens. The work proceeds at a glacial pace this way, but so far I’ve managed to get the second draft of novel #1 out of my head and 20,000 words of novel #2, first draft.
Get coffee somehow – buy, make, squeeze from day-old grounds, etc.
Find relatively quiet place – secret company cafe cubby, car, basement office, park bench…
Fire up MS Word on the trusty laptop.
Depending on the day:
> Stare blankly
> Free write to get going
> Read the last paragraph and jump in because it’s all so awesome
> Write, delete, write, delete, bang head on nearby surface, repeat
Log process. Look at that pile of words mount up!
Upload to cloud (save early and save often!)
Shut down PC, pack up.
Look forward to the next day.
‘Tis a poor thing, but mine own.
Great provocation, Chuck. I love being mindful of my process. The way I write now is the result of an evolution, survival of the fittest. I started out doing it all wrong, kept doing it wrong, ended up with three dead novels, headaches, frustration, rejection letters…the typical startup process for most writers, I’m sure.
I’ve tried writing a bit every day, and that doesn’t work. I turn into a laundry press and though I can squeeze out words, the quality is inconsistent. I also do not write full time yet, so writing every day would amount to at most 1000 words, which is hardly enough to really get my head wrapped around a scene and fully immerse myself in it.
My writing process now I borrowed from my marathon training model. Extreme, all-out writing binges roughly once a week adding up to about 5,000+ words, followed by the rest of the week resting and thinking about my story before preparing for another attack. About mid-week, I go over my previous week’s writing with a mind for revision and some of the insight gained from stepping away from it and thinking about both the scene and the story as a whole. Usually, in a writing session I aim for no less than completing a scene, sometimes two if they are short.
I just love this process, because it allows me to balance a busy life as a freelance editor around my writing schedule. When it’s writing time, my mind switches into gear and I enter a new land where work and life and everything otherwise destructive to living and breathing story cannot interfere. Then I’m done, I take a breath, often a long walk and treat myself to a latte, and I jump into client projects.
Even when I get to the place that I can write full time (fingers crossed), I still think I’d keep this schedule, only on those off days I might dive into promotion and all the other business that is as demanding of time as the writing itself. I find it works well for me because I am easily distracted, so mixing my writing time with my other work on a daily basis takes away from my concentration.
I started this creative writing journey almost eight years ago with Nanowrimo. What I have to show for it is a great group of writing friends and seven uneditable zero drafts of novels filled with what I call Nano-dreck; useless, stupid words I wrote when tired or uninspired or hopelessly mired in plot but desperately needed word count. So I’ve been thinking about process a lot lately, specifically using outlining in the service of developing plot. If I can get a reasonably detailed outline, I know the story is ready to be written. Otherwise it needs to sit on the back burner for a while longer.
I use Scrivener. I love Scrivener because of its structuring features, and because I can save my WIP on my Kindle. But I never write in Scrivener.
I write in longhand. A Lamy Safari fountain pen on back-to-school composition books. Handwriting unlocks my creativity far better than typing on the screen. Raw ideas, writing exercises, book reviews, brainstorming, outlines, character sketches, world building, first drafts– they all end up in the same notebook. I’ll work on several projects at once. I keep it organized by numbering the pages and putting an index on the final page. I’ll count pages, not words (usually around 200 words/page) and work until a scene is done.
I will continue to do Nanowrimo each November, but every year I’m flying my rebel flag a little higher as I find a way to make the Nanowrimo process work *for* me. I need that artificially imposed deadline. I cannot just write straight through then “fix it in edits.” The words on the page need at least minimal quality or else I’ll get depressed and seriously consider taking up dryland shark-keeping or paint-chip cookery as a hobby. Writing is cyclical, not straight-through; there’s a sequence of daydreaming, researching, planning, composing, typing, and revising, then start over again with the next chapter.
I’ll use the file card view in Scrivener to organize my outline. I’ll rewrite a scene several times on paper to get it to behave, then type it. I’ll use Scrivener to compile to .mobi format and transfer the whole thing to my Kindle for easy reference. I usually don’t write at my desk– the internet is too distracting and it’s too much like work, so the Kindle keeps my guideposts close to hand.
Cloud computing? HA! I laugh! I worked in network management and security for 10 years; the Cloud just means I’m trusting somebody I don’t pay to store my critical data someplace I can’t control. With notebooks at least the NSA has to get a warrant before they peek.
As far as daily routine goes, I start waking up between 3:30 and 4:00 AM (my body’s choice, not mine). Usually I’m pretty groggy so I’ll turn on my tablet and listen to a podcast, or else I’ll doze and let my subconscious paint pretty pictures on the back of my eyelids. (Watching brain TV does wonders for my creativity.) By 5:30 I’m usually awake enough to dress/fix breakfast/check social media/do some houseworky things. I have no housemates, so I am my own cook and bottlewasher and litter box scooper and laundrerer and tub scrubber ad infinitum.
My day job involves a lot of sitting staring at a computer screen while researching and writing and thinking. By quittin’ time my thinky muscles are *tired*. I get home and fix dinner and get on Facebook to complain that I’ve been sitting staring at a computer screen all day (oh, the irony….). If the weather is nice I’ll ride my bike to the library to swap out some books, and since library books have a built-in deadline reading often takes priority over writing. I cut the cable a few years back and use my Netflix and Hulu accounts infrequently enough that I sometimes consider cancelling them, but then something like Agent Carter comes along. Besides, you can’t be a word-nerd ALL the time. I’ve tried.
Thursday nights my writer’s group meets at a coffee shop for a little face time and writing time and complaining about never having time to write. These evenings are not as productive as working at home because hello distractions, but people keep telling me how important it is to have friends who aren’t imaginary. (I remain skeptical.) Once a month it’s writer’s group dinner and drinks. Once a month we turn in a story.
On at-home evenings, the challenge is to get started. This is where I often fail unless I have a deadline imposed upon me by Other People. I’ll try to trick myself into writing for 15-20 minutes on the grounds I can do anything for 20 minutes, and that’ll often prime the pump towards finishing an outline or a scene or work out a tricky bit. On weekends I might alternate 20 minutes of housework, writing, and entertaining myself; rinse, repeat.
Renaissance festival season is starting in my part of the world which means I lose my weekends for two months. My world will narrow to Faire, paying job, just enough personal hygiene to keep paying job, and dreaming about how much time I would have to write if I didn’t need a paying job. Annoyingly, I suffer a chronic lack of well-pocketed housemates, and nobody is hiring cats these days (the cats also don’t clean, the little fu-… slackers). Faire wraps up just in time for me to catch up on some sleep, rediscover my carpets, and reconnect with my writer’s group for the next round of Nanwrimo.
No real process yet; I’m in pursuit of one, though. I work for a huge, vampiric, bigbox retailer; random schedules, inconsistent hours. The company basically uses up employees, destroying their mental and physical health, and then replaces them with other willing souls who still believe the myth of the family run company with its employee’s well being as one of its core values. I’m also a full-time student, so I can get a better job, and work remotely within the next three years. For now, though, that means that I only write when the pressure has built to the point that not writing means I’m a snarling, nasty mess. (Usually every three days or so.)
I do my best writing from ten pm until dawn. I’m not sure if this is because I suffer from insomnia, or if I suffer insomnia because my brain knows I write best when other people are sleeping. I can get around a 1000 words an hour if I know where I’m going, but when I’m plotting it’s much less.
Days go in shifts for me.
Summer it’s usually 8am until 10am or so, trying to get those first 1000 words out or something that feels productive. (Sometimes I’ll get the odd 4am-can’t-sleep-might-as-well-work bug which is also fine) Then it’s usually bike ride or gym. Come home, try and squeeze more words out until I get sleepy. Nap in the afternoon, get up, hang with wife, do chores and things that aren’t writing.
If I haven’t made my 2000 word goal already, I usually head back upstairs in the evening and bang out the rest from maybe 8pm to 11pm or so. Sleep and start the whole thing all over again.
Wife’s in school now, so I’ll probably start getting up earlier to get something done before her day starts. Evenings are the same.
A few months ago I quit my FT job to take a part time job and write. It took me a while of getting into a groove of writing non-stop 5 hours a day 3-4 days a week.
But then the fire nation attack–I mean summer camp started–and I was working pretty much full time again, only able to write in the brief hours I could eke out of the week.
Camp ended Friday and I’m kind of in limbo again, trying to get the hang of my process, my routine. It took me almost all day to get started yesterday yesterday and the day before, but by days’ end I had 2-3 hours of writing under my belt.
Today I’ve been worthless.
I am currently on a sort of sporadic writing process. Change (and French pressed coffee/green tea combo) has been my life force to keep the ball rolling. I used to be a pen & paper scattered in every nook and cranny of my apartment (including the occasional “I scribbled a brilliant idea on a receipt while I was running errands & I found it. Ruined. In the dryer.”), but I’ve converted to Microsoft Word (take that, pesky washing machine!). Currently, 3 docs split on the screen: 1. for questions that need to be answered to move the story along in a focused & functional manner; 2. For the actual meat of the story– First Draft; 3. For the half-assed, plan & general universe information if I happen to forget or absolutely have to make big changes. This is definitely the sassiest part of my writing, because I note things for Drew, my rational set of eyes to get me on track if I tangent off, & if I’m having a particularly bad day, I’ll write myself a sometimes-cute, sometimes-full-of-demon-diva-sass point at the bottom of the document that I will try again tomorrow.
As for my daily habit: wake up with the kids for the food fight…erm, breakfast,
Clean up, do toddler things with the toddlers until lunch, repeat,
And then the all glorious nap time, where I hash out 300-2000 words, or refine any foggy bits in my book that need refining. ALWAYS leaving off on a bit that will spark me for the next time I sit down to write.
Nap time is over, the fiancé is home/the babies activate ultimate play mode, Hunger demands a coin toss to decide who cooks dinner, eat, clean, wash up for bed, put the girls down to sleep,
Social internet things, spend time with drew, & if I talked myself into late night coffee, stay up writing until I’m falling asleep over the keyboard &/or drew wakes to the sound of me grumbling or laughing at the Terrible Things that I’m putting the characters through & reminds me that I need sleep to function with twins.
I’m about to stumble into writing my first novel. This is a great guide for me, although it’ll need heavily modified to fit with my other work. I have a question though – how much of an idea do you have of a book’s plot/structure before you embark on writing? Do you plan meticulously or just dive in and see where it goes? I’m leaning towards the latter, got a rough idea and planning on letting it take shape as I go. Just wondered if you had any opinions for or against that method.
I’m a paramedic, so I get paid to write. Sort of. I wake later than I should on work days, make bulletproof coffee ( look it up, it’s laser-focus in a mug) and head to work.
After the initial beginning of shift duties, the day begins. Busy day? Maybe no writing gets done. If it’s slow, I’ll spend hours in a recliner with the laptop, getting done why I can.
Sometimes we get posted out of the station, so I may be keyboarding in the ambulance, or a Starbucks or Barnes and Noble.
Breaks are varied for meals and work out time, it’s hard to have any kind of “routine” on those days.
I get three day weekends, with at least one of those days dedicated to writing. Those days are more structured. I still get up ( no set time, a perk of being single and child-less) make my bulletproof coffee and hit the internet/bill pay/Xbox for an hour or so. Then I’ll start, write for a few hours with breaks here and there with an extended break four hours or so in to break my fast. Then the gym and errands. Back home with a few more hours of writing, and I’ll cap the day off with either another workout, the Xbox or a float in an isolation tank to really help douche out the central nervous system.
I like your metre. Where can I read your stuff?
I can’t tell if my earlier reply went through. I’m very green, still. Though i did just post a few things on my WordPress page, pasted from my Tumblr. Think I’m migrating over there for now on. I love critiques, if you’re so inclined!
Hmm… Writing process…
Right now I’m doing short stories, trying to work my way up to a novel-length work. When I’m writing a short story, I tend to write every day until I finish the first draft. Then I send it to Critters (an online writing workshop, I highly recommend it!), wait for feedback, and then revise. I tend to do this twice, so this is a minimum of two months for a story, but usually longer because I rarely send the same one in two times in a row. It’s nice to see how much the story improves with the revisions. Usually, at least… Also I love seeing that I actually managed to fix a major problem, because it’s missing from the comments. To have stuff to send in, I need to write a short story about every one to two months and a Finnish one every twelve weeks for my Finnish critique group. I also do two Critters critiques per week and one critique for the Finnish group every two weeks.
I only sold my first short story this spring, so I’m very much a beginner. My current goal is to shoot for the pro markets, but I’m aware that it will probably take me at least a couple of years to get my writing up to that level, so semi-pro it is, for now.
I have three book projects in various stages of incomplete: a fantasy novel I wrote a few years ago that would need a complete rewrite, a sci-fi adventure, and a novel that mixes Victoriana with fantasy and Greek mythology. That last one I’m researching, but I think it’s too ambitious at this stage. I thought I’d try to get the sci-fi one finished, because it seems like the one I could actually do at my skill level. I recently got Scrivener and I thought I’d try it out on this project. (I’m only 10k words in, so it shouldn’t be too hard to transfer it from Word to Scrivener.) The problem is that I get distracted by new short story ideas all the time and then do those because I can actually finish them, and I never get around to working on the book. Maybe I should try the 350 word thing for the novel while I’m doing all that other stuff?
My process is a little crazy right now because life is crazy right now. My writing time is night because I’m a teacher by day, as well as a father and husband. My oldest daughter is 17, and lives with her Mom, but my younger is almost 3 and lives with me. Once she and my wife go to bed, 8-ish, I brew myself a cup of tea and either fuck around on social media or read a little. By 8:45-9, the tea is ready and it’s work time.
My overall goal writing goal is an hour, because the 2nd hour after wife and daughter go to bed is my reading time. I will be fine with 15 minutes of writing if I’m having a particularly grueling day, happier with 30 min, but would really like an hour. Right now I’m editing so I try to get in 20 pages in that hour. When I sit down to revise on Word the edits I made by hand, I’ll utilize the whole hour and sometimes go over. If I’m writing a first draft, my goal is 5-10 pages.
I’ll be starting grad school online in just over a month and that will change the process. I plan to schedule days for homework and try to put in SOME writing time every day, but I know that won’t happen. Still, I almost have a novel I can begin shopping around and another that is fighting to get out of my head, so things are happening. It’s not ideal, but I’m happy to still be able to do it.
I leave my bed three hours before I have to be … non-writing productive.
Caffeinate and medicate (don’t judge)
During those three hours, I usually work on whatever ideas have popped into my head overnight. Often it’s something for one or more of the contest entries I’m working on. Sometimes it’s a nugget for one of the three bigger projects I have planned but know enough to know that I don’t know what I need to know. Ya know?
Contests are good for me right now. Deadlines, direction, and feedback are helpful as I build my quill, feather by feather.
After the three hours are up, I’m usually functional enough to be the stay at home dad and perform at least some of the necessary duties involved.
Taxi duty for my teenage daughter is part of that. Waiting around or killing time (no, I don’t mind driving you 30 minutes each way so you can be at your friend’s house for an hour, really), is frequent so I read (Currently Chuck’s book The Kick Ass Writer: 1001 ways … , which I recommend, FWIW) about writing. Yes, The Elements of Style is next.
My health is not the best and I usually need to take a few breaks from dad duty. While on break, I’m often doing something writing related, but the occasional nap or purely frivolous activity does occur.
All day long, I’m trying to look at things with a writer’s eye. Ideas come to me. I make lots of notes. Google Keep is wonderful tool for this. When Google’s servers explode, you’ll know why.
By the time my wife and daughter are heading for bed, the creative bug starts biting again and I’m frequently up longer than I should be trying to get everything out of my head, so I can sleep, and do it all again the next day.
I was born too soon. I really need a neural processor with added internal storage and a limited artificial intelligence to organize it all for me. I’d buy the proofreading module too.
*shrugs and wanders back to dad duty now that break time is over, wondering why Grammarly didn’t explode with errors like it usually does*
Two weeks ago I commenced writing my first story. I envision it will become 3 novellas. I am 5 chapters into the first novella.
As a fresh- off- the- boat novice, my process is simple- and slow: to write a chapter a week.
As I work full time M-F, I dedicate either Saturday or Sunday to writing and week evenings when I really want to nut something out. I aim for 2,500 words; sometimes I hit this, sometime I don’t. I don’t beat myself up about it. I don’t want to hit a word count just because, it needs to be necessary to the motion of the story.
I write in Word and I (currently) post to WordPress to keep myself accountable- bizarre but there it is, it works for me. I keep a table (also in Word) to keep me on track, with three columns: chapter number; main events in each chapter, who and what is in it, how this will link to the next or subsequent chapters; then, notes to myself about what needs work, more detail, better description etc.
Once the first draft is complete (my deadline is June 30, 2016; if I finish before then, sweet!), I will have it professionally edited, and then my goal is to self- publish, another process I wish to learn.
This slow way of writing suits me, I’m mindful that I am less anxious and show up and do the work.
I admit I have several other stories on the go but this first is getting most of my attention- to finish one story would be the bees knees.
I love writing first drafts in as minimalist an environment as possible. I have always used notepad. For Mac users it’s just a bare bones text editor – as in plain text. No styling the text, and I love how the font is monospace. It reminds me of a typewriter.
These days though I often find myself swapping between laptop and iPhone and I also love to have my work auto-saved to the cloud in case of device failure so I use http://simplenote.com/ I can pull it up in any browser or on my phone, edit text, close it, and it’s saved. It’s perfect for me. It’s like notepad but with autosave to the cloud. I only hit the Enter key once when I make a new paragraph so when I format it later it’s all set to go for eBook publishing.
Once I have a chapter complete in simplenote I paste it into Google Doc (like Microsoft Word but online and autosaves to the cloud!). From there I format it to look like an eBook. Once I’m done I have the document ready to send to beta readers. I also like seeing the writing in a different format than how I see it when I’m writing the first draft. It helps me see errors more easily. I tried printing it off and taking a red pen to it but I like this better. I was born using a computer so it’s very native to me as pen and paper might be to those writers who are older and wiser than me.
My writing routine? That’s a pretty simple thing to address. It’s whenever the hell I have time. Between work, hobbies, chores and yard work (lame), video games, Netflix, snacks, kitty-cat and girlfriend time, sleep and the occasional spaz-attack, I find time to write. I always found the old stereotypes funny. The writer who needs half-light and silence from 10:42pm until 4:37am. The glass of gin with three shaved ice cubes, eight sticks of licorice and a crisp pack of Winston Selects. Anything less than this and the whole process falls apart. Sure, I’m guilty of taking speculative liberties here and indulging some asshattery, but I think my point is taken. I don’t have the luxury of being completely neurotic in order to write. But that’s cool, as long as it comes out, the exact process doesn’t really matter. (did I just describe a number two?) Anyway, back on track and to the nuts and bolts. I try to write about 3-4 days a week for about 2-3 hours at a time. I prefer to use Corel Word Perfect. Yep, I’m that awesome that I feel the need to make things outrageously difficult on myself come formatting time. I have a cold glass of tea at hand and a vaporizer. I would drink, but I have two beers and pass out. I’m that dude. I would smoke real cigarettes but I have aged and my asthma cares not for the inhalation of burning leaves, even though they’re damn tasty. However, like all writers, my mind tends to be something of a grab bag of quirks and mild unpleasantries. As such, I am guilty of contradicting myself, I have one rigid condition in order to write. I must listen to music. It gives me focus and distracts me when necessary. It inspires me and makes me dance in my chair from time to time. I have a playlist of about 500 songs. I put that sucker on random and type away. And speaking of typing away, that’s exactly how I write. I don’t outline or even really think about what should happen next, it just all spills out like a can of paint booted over. Sometimes it’s a mess and sometimes it comes out damn awesome in unexpected patterns. But it all relies on music. There’s something about the clumsy transitions from say, Tom Waits to Megadeth, Cracker to Depeche Mode, or Ghost to Anna Ternheim provides that makes the words flow. It’s an intangible thing and I like that, the sensation of not knowing what exactly sparks my writing. So there it is, all wrapped up in a fragmented nutshell of nonsense.
[…] about writing processes. I get obsessed in ways that are both healthy and not. Chuck Wendig had a great post on his blog this week where he detailed his writing process and asked his readers to weigh in. I haven’t got […]
At first, I used to be someone without any kind of rituals. I was writing when I had time and a little boost of inspiration. For a long time I’ve been in a chaotic mood regarding how my work was done. However, my routine has changed recently, and I find myself waking up at 6 AM, 7 at the most, even if I believed for so long that I was a nocturnal writer.
I always start a project by writing in a little notebook. I love the slowness of handwriting. I meditate, take some time to do research, and take notes. At this phase, everything can be written. I write about the characters, I write about the impossibility to write (when it happens), and I begin to tell the story I want to tell (or the theme I want to get into). When I feel that everything is in place, that I know where to start, I begin to work more seriously and more regularly on the project. I try to do 1000 words a day, and use the rest of the day to think, research and work on my other projects.
So now, I usually get up at 6 or 7 AM, with the sound of birds squawking. I shuffle some Tarot cards, write in my journal and go breakfast. After that, I’m ready to write for one or two hours. I go on until I reach the thousand words, then I’m free! I need this kind of freedom to think about what happens next, and to be in peace and connected with the project I work on.
[…] The Process Monkey Asks: What Is Your Writing Process? « terribleminds: chuck wendig […]
My process? Try for 1000 words per day, tracked in a spreadsheet, whenever I can get them in. I write in Word, saved docs are in Dropbox so I can get to them wherever, whenever. Then I try not to be jealous of people who don’t have to work a separate job all day. 😛
[…] Chuck Wendig shares his writing process and invites us to share ours. Terribleminds. […]
I work FT as a writer-researcher, so the process I follow at home is an attempt to break from the day’s thoughts and enter another world.
I realised I don’t like the idea of another hour at a computer screen after a whole day of it, so I prefer coloured pens and paper. I plaster pages of text and graphics over the paintings on the walls. I move back and forth; play music.
The textiles are gaudy and there is much to feast on. Hey, it’s a little Wagnerian in habit, but it always helped me back when I was scoring orch parts, why not while I drift into prose?
Most importantly: I have no private space now that I have family (no myth lab!), so these small habits really aid the sensory shift and the creative process. They help me to focus.
I work full time at the moment, so I write in the morning, and not for nearly as long as I’d like.
My routine is simple:
Get up, make a cup of tea, drink it while walking the dog around the park
But my system is fairly complex. I only work on one project at a time, right now I’m revising my second novel North of the End. I do that five days a week, though I’m considering making it four days and assigning one day for making a Youtube video once a week since I hate blogging.
I have a filing/workflow system which I’m constantly refining, cobbled together from a lot of Holly Lisle techniques and other writing advice, and some stuff straight up from my brain.
For my current novel I have a:
MANUSCRIPT – marked up with triage notes which link to…
TRIAGE NOTEBOOK – Every problem with the book, colour coded for character, conflict, settings etc.
CLUSTERING NOTEBOOK – where I mind map and work out problems, wrestle with issues and block out scenes. Messy work. Work’ing’
EXISTING OUTLINE – The entire unedited draft, plotted out on index cards, a macro view of the draft and its issues.
FOCUS OUTLINE – The working scene-by-scene outline for the finished book, incorporating and fixing all the issues from the existing outline, on index cards
NOVEL CODEX – A ring binder where I print out any information that I KNOW is going in the book, but is too detailed or specific for the Focus Outline. When I work out a character motivation, some world building, anything I want to actually GO in the book. Links in Focus Outline will refer to certain pages. This is the gold, the fruits of my efforts filtered out of the clustering notebook. The Answers I’m actually going to use.
It’s divided into:
My process is odd to some.
I come up with a concept, usually a collision of two ideas. When I have a lead character that can work with that concept, I start thinking of scenes and sequences. Eventually, I decide to dive into writing. I don’t go in order, I write what I want to work on.
As long as I have some appropriate music and a map of where scenes go in the work as a whole, I’m satisfied.
[…] must begin to think about writing as a part of your day that is as important as your day job or making sure your family is fed. You wouldn’t simply avoid […]
[…] Chuck Wendig on his writing process. […]