How to Explicitly Pin Down Your Writing Process


Your writing process—what is it?

If you’re only a tiny bit like me, you’ll have a process, but possibly you’ll break it from time to time, or forget it in the lust for a new story idea. Can you write it down?

On a whim (during NaNoWriMo, I really shouldn’t allow whims, but here we go;-) I joined up on a week’s writing course at SavvyAuthors. It’s called Applications for Writers – something my own geeky heart is keen about. Taken by Peter Andrews, the first day of this course lists a whole heap of links and applications we might consider—but the exercise is to do with writing down (in 2 minutes) our writing process.

Peter does his in a notebook, and using various other tech tools as help. He also points to this little article at How to Write Fast, called Creating a Writing Process Diary, which offers an entry point to nutting out what is process and what isn’t.

It is important to have an understanding of our writing process, but something I had forgotten to do before now. As Peter says:-

I’ve seen similar problems with writers who haven’t done any work toward making their processes explicit. It is very difficult to choose the best tools and adapt them to your approaches if you only have a vague idea of how you actually work.

Peter’s workshop offers the following categories for a writing process (for the start of writing, his agenda will later take us through some other areas which I include below) but he suggests: –

  1. Capturing Ideas
  2. Planning and Developing
  3. Character Development (I would add Setting Development also)
  4. Plotting Help

which he offers further broken down in a template as –

Concept development
Character creation
Scene drafting
Beats check
Character arc check
Scenes check
Dialogue check
Language check
Mechanical check

My own processes go on from that, and include areas such as –

  1. Research (and when and where it’s done during the process)
  2. Writing – draft one
  3. Writing and Revising – further drafts
  4. Rework, Editing to final draft
  5. Feedback, rewrites
  6. Time management of the above tasks
  7. Submissions, queries etc or
  8. Publication preparation (book cover designs, blurb copies etc)
  9. Marketing and promotional work including further copy and supporting material to be written.

Which doesn’t include other roles such as platform building, social media, etc.

My Starter Processes (written in 2 minutes flat, okay, slightly more) look something like this:-

  • Idea Generation and Documenting – I use Evernote for just about everything (or course!)
  • Planning and Developing – I use Evernote to start off with, other apps like brainstormers, outliners, (cloudoutliner for iOS actually integrates with Evernote), mindmappers (normally on my iPAD when out and about), and handwritten notes (scanned into Evernote), then move larger written plans and documents into a new Scrivener Project.
  • Research – I try to do relevant research for a writing project before starting drafting, but often research answers are needed during the writing. There is also other research areas that aren’t needed for the project, but do have tie-ins with my interest. Research is normally taken into Evernote via web clippings or document inserts. For project-relevant research, I take this into Scrivener. I research-if needed-in the middle of writing or drafting. I find leaving gaps in my writing where I don’t have knowledge or a name, jarring to my flow, so I allow myself the time to go and look up what is needed.
  • Character and Setting Development – for fiction – I do this in simple templates in the Scrivener Project, often using questionnaires or templates I’ve found on the web to start me off.
  • Plotting Help*
    • I use multiple apps on my iPAD and send the documents as PDFs or images into Evernote, and Scrivener. I also use spreadsheets for scenes, and Index Card software to nut out things like GMC or scene points, characters to scenes etc.
    • I am a heavy plotter/planner normally, following several different beat sheet methods. I’ve also used several timeline softwares, and scene card software, but normally end up looking for more freedom, so capture most organisational aspects onto a large spreadsheet.
    • I use a combination of several plotting or structural concepts such as beat sheets, plot points etc. (I’m collecting these all currently via a grouped reference collection for Writing Craft Self Study which you’ll find on my website here).
  • Writing – Scrivener. Multiple drafts and revisions. For marathons, I also use spreadsheets to capture daily wordcount records. I also have a folder in the Scrivener Project to capture my writing journal or thoughts on progress during the writing day, any ideas or points I need to go back to. A style-sheet folder is also kept alongside character and other profiles, to make sure I spell character names the same throughout. If I’m working on a series (or possible series) I also keep a separate Scrivener project as the Series bible for all event timelines etc.
  • Time and Daily Task Management – I use a daily checklist in my agenda notebook in Evernote, as simple as that. Each week I write out tasks per day, each day I rewrite these, and concentrate on my targets for the day. Sometimes I use a Pomodoro timer to manage task drives, but normally function better with longer writing periods of up to 90 minutes of flow. Reminders for important tasks with deadlines, are set into Evernote, and also appear in my Gneo app on my iPAD, which integrates with Evernote, and my Google Calendar so I can see everything at once.
  • Multiple and/or Large Project(s) Management – I normally concentrate on one writing project at a time (two max) but writers also have blogs to upkeep etc, so there’s always some multiple tasks going on. This month, with NaNoWriMo, is an anomaly as I have several tasks on the run. The following tend to be one-off’s for larger projects, and once done, I get on with the actual writing process itself-
    • For large projects, like the full production of my first ebook, I created a project management timeline on an iPAD app, showing timelines and high-end tasks, and milestones. This helps me plan the attack firstly, but once I’m off, I rarely go back to the initial plans. This hooks into a full Marketing and Book Plan I write using word templates.
    • For multiple projects attempted at the same time, I use simple personal kanban type swimlanes for planning. This is done electronically, either using the free version of LeanKit, or the forever free Trello – both are web-based agile kanban boards with an iPAD app version.
  • Revision and Editing – I’m still learning about this. At the moment I revise through Scrivener, but I also like to take a copy out onto another device, such as a PDF annotator app on my iPAD, or directly read through the Kindle app, where I can leave notes for myself. As I read through those first drafts, I go back to my planning spreadsheets and find I’ve changed a lot of things, so it takes me a lot of time to update those spreadsheets and scene cards, and to then note down my revision notes of what needs to be changed. There is a lot more to do here, and for me to learn.
  • Prepping for publication – Scrivener does some fine work on ebook (various versions) compiling, but I’m also looking into using Word / Jutoh, or other methods because sadly, the Scrivener for Windows current version doesn’t compile internal scrivener links between book pages, something important for my non-fiction ebook.

I took a look at the above, and started considering the time aspects to this. I’m a heavy plotter normally, but once the ideas are out as a plot outline, I’m relatively done with it. Once I have the main characters, and a few plot points that need to happen in the story, I tend to wing it through the draft writing process—often breaking my original plans. What’s missing in this is to go back and revise those plans, to bring them up to date to allow me quicker work when I go into rewrites, but at the time I don’t want to break flow on that initial writing.

For shorter fiction, I often get an idea, and just start writing, sometimes unsure how to finish the story. Which means that some of those stories are on the back-burner without endings or because I lost my passion for them.

*My play process – the large planning exercises that go on before I pick up keyboard to start that first draft, also incorporate explorations of new technology or plotting structures or ideas to help in generating the important plot points. It works for me, as it increases my excitement in the project, to allow me to play and plot and create lots of creative documents around the original story idea. I wish I could say the same of the revision process. I imagine that true pantsers have a very different process than mine, and no two processes for writing are the same, the world over.

What’s your own writing process? Have you explicitly thought about this, and what you need to do to write? And (like mine), what areas could be improved upon to make you more productive?

Tools MentionedTechforWriters100_thumb.jpg

This wouldn’t be a post without me getting all techy about it. So here are the links to the tools mentioned above.

  1. Evernote – brilliant for writers, note-takers, researchers, and free. This [affiliate] link will get you a free month’s worth of Premium Evernote to try out – but don’t forget, most of the great features are free anyway.
  2. Scrivener – I maintain this one is the best. Scrivener. And it will be even better when the Windows version is updated, and that iOS version comes out.
  3. A couple of iOS apps which integrate with Evernote – Cloud Outliner (also on the Mac for this one) and Gneo (formerly AnyToDo).
  4. Personal Kanban webapps for task management – LeanKit (the free version is ample for me) and Trello (forever free) – both have webapps and iOS versions.
  5. Index card / scene card software – I mentioned using some of this, but tend to use large spreadsheets nowadays. If you’re after some, that work on Windows or some very good iOS apps see this old post of mine.
  6. Revising via Kindle Reading app (available for all mobile devices) and PDF annotation apps (there are various).

6 thoughts on “How to Explicitly Pin Down Your Writing Process

  1. Great post. It’s really helpful to think the whole process through. I tend to focus on overcoming obstacles as they happen rather than looking at my writing from a wider perspective. I’ll put more thought into this now! Also, I’ll discuss it with my novelling students.

  2. This is all very substantial material. And why make the writing process a simple or basic process when you can make it so utterly complicated and time consuming to the point where no real writing gets done.

    I’d have to go to uni and do a masters degree in IT to figure out what’s been discussed here.

    I’ll stick with Dent’s menthod and a pencil and an eighty cent exercise book from the newsagent.

    1. I think it comes down to many ways of looking at writing, and what parts of it we each consider as “writing” and what sits around it. My own continues to flow and ebb, and change as I go along, so the occasional analysis of what works and what doesn’t for getting words out helps me be more productive with my time. I started off following somebody else’s structure or process, much like a formula, but as time has passed my own has developed. Thanks for commenting.

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