by Melissa Donovan
Today I’d like to share a few excerpts from my book 10 Core Practices for Better Writing.
These excerpts are from “Chapter Six: Process,” which examines methods, strategies, and other approaches to developing and fine-tuning a writing process that works for you.
Understanding The Writing Process
“I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.”
— Ernest Hemingway
A process is a system or series of steps that we take to complete something. When you write, you use a process, even if you’re not aware of it.
There may be a few writers who can sit down and write without any planning or preparation. They go through a different process for each project and don’t really think about it. They just dig in and do the work. While they may not be conscious of their process, these writers will be able to look back and explain the process they went through to finish the work.
But most of us do use a process and we become increasingly aware of it over time. It may vary from project to project, but we know what steps we have to take to get to the finish line.
For most writers, this process develops organically. We start a project, tackle it in whatever way makes sense at the time, and eventually complete it. As we successfully finish more and more projects, we eventually find ourselves using a consistent series of steps to complete our projects. We refine the process a little bit with each project until we have perfected it.
Think about a writing project you have completed. What steps did you take to complete it? Did you attack it without any foresight or did you work your way through a detailed plan? Did you take steps to complete the project that were unnecessary? Were there any steps you didn’t take that would have improved the project?
Tips for Developing a Writing Process
“You have to play a long time to play like yourself.” – Miles Davis
Your writing process can be as simple or as elaborate as you need it to be. I often make a list of everything I need to do for a project. I put the steps in order, but there’s a good chance they will overlap. I might be brainstorming and world building simultaneously. I might pause during a rough draft to go back and rework the character sketches I created during an earlier step.
Be flexible as you develop your writing process, and be willing to try new things, even things that seem counterintuitive. If you like to follow a strict series of steps, then just for one project, try diving in without a plan. If you tend to write freely and without a plan, then try outlining for one project.
- Start by identifying your current writing process. Make a list of steps you take to get a project done. If you use different processes for different projects, make several lists.
- Review your current process and determine whether you’re wasting time on unnecessary steps. Are there steps missing that would help improve your process? Look for opportunities to group similar activities together (like conducting research, interviews, etc.).
- If you’re not sure about your process, think of a project you have planned or recently started and map out a process that you think would work for that project.
- Consider building deadlines into your process. If you schedule your writing sessions, establish goals using timers or word counts.
- To determine the effectiveness of the process you’ve developed, try it. Start with shorter projects, like essays, blog posts, or short stories.
We tend to look at certain approaches and think they would never work for us. When I first heard about discovery writing (or pantsing), which is a method where you write without any plan whatsoever, I thought it was interesting but way outside of my personal working style. Then I tried it when I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2008 and was thrilled with the results. In fact, that was the first time I managed to complete a novel that I had started.
Don’t assume that a particular method or process would never work for you; you won’t know for sure until you give it a try.
We don’t have to rely on one writing process. We can have several, and we can adjust the process to accommodate each project’s specific needs so that we’re always going through a series of steps that are best suited to that particular project.
Writing processes are methods we can use to improve our writing. The reason so many writers develop these processes is to be more productive and produce better work. Writing processes and other techniques and strategies can be helpful, but it’s our responsibility to know what works for us personally as individuals and as creative writers.
Now tell us about your writing process. Do you have one? Have you ever thought about it? Do you think that a clear, coherent process would help you produce better writing? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it.