The writing process is different for each author. While I have my process which works for me I also keep it relatively in flux. I’m willing to look at new things and try different ways to improve my efficiency and get words on the page. While I’ve changed some of the software and hardware that I use my overall process has remained relatively static With that said there are a few things I do that haven’t changed since I was back in high school. A little background, throughout my school years, until my senior year, I was told that my writing process was flawed by most of my teachers. They always wanted me to follow a fixed process of outlining, drafting, peer review, then completion. That never worked for me. Many teachers told me that that I need to do things their way or I’d never succeed in writing. In my senior year of high school the English teacher I had told me to explore my writing process. Don’t focus so much on the rules focus on doing what it takes to get the words down on paper first then I can go back and fix the grammar and structure. After taking her advice to heart I devolved my own way of outlining, drafting, and review. Technology was always my key to success. In the first grade, my parents were told that for me to succeed I’d need to embrace computers. They bought our family our first PC and I took extra computer classes in school. This helped me then and now I use computers technology heavily to this day.
A good story comes from a single strong idea. I daily read the New York Times and the Washington Post through their apps and follow several podcasts that keep me in the know with the current events. I use these articles as the basis for my storylines. I save copies of the articles that give me inspiration to PDF’s which I will later import into my research folder. I use Apple Pencil to markup the PDF’s with notes and highlights. I dig into the technology that interested me about the story. Even though I was a network engineer technology has changed so much and I try to keep informed of the latest and greatest. Once I have the idea for main technologies I’m going to use in the storyline I turn to my outlining process.
I’ve never been one for brain maps or outlines so much, but I found something that works for me. I take a deck on 3.5-inch note cards and put the title on top, list the characters I wanted in the scene in blue ink, then give a short description of what’s going on in the scene. I note any importation details and usually highlight the clues that will later influence the story. I may layout thirty or forty scenes. I rearrange them to make the story and set up the flow of the story. I usually don’t use every card, but I add or remove cards depending on how the story begins to flow.
I use a custom template in Scrivener to build out a profile and history of every character I’m going to name in my story. I start every profile with a picture that I feel explipfies the character. I pull pictures from the internet of celebirtes, stock images, and mugshots. Most characters are just a baseline of the character description as if I was casting the character. I’ve yet to find one picture that fits every quality of the character how they appear in my head. Each profile is complete with a physical description and a history of the character. I have characters that I’ve profiled all the way back for years before they appear in the story. I understand that most of these character stories will never go public. These backgrounds give me details on how each character reacts to everyone else. We are humans are products of our environment and our experiences. I build these profiles on my characters complete with a history of them because how can I write without knowing all the details about what made these characters who they are.
Drafting the Story
Now that I have my outline on the index cards I convert them to digital by entering them into Scrivener, my word processor of choice. This is also the point where I import all the research PDF’s from above into Scrivener’s research folder. Now that I have the basic storyline in Scrivener I start writing the story to connect the index cards together. I didn’t always use Scrivener. I use to use Apple Pages and Microsoft Word before that. I switched to Scrivener after college and friend suggested it to me. I know that I don’t use half the features of the software, but what I do only strengthens my process. I also like that I can quickly move scenes by dragging and dropping the notecard on the corkboard view. It helps when I realize that this scene or that fits better at a different point in the story. Another perk to the notecard setup is when I get an idea for a scene I can skip to that point in the story easily without getting lost in an endless document. Soon I plan to write a review of Scrivener both for iOS and Mac so I’m not going to talk too much about it here.
The drafting process is the most time-consuming process for me and most writers. It’s also the point where distractions and procrastination are my biggest enemy. I find that I tend to do my best work at local coffee shops. Somewhere I can put in my Apple AirPods and focus on the page. It’s interesting because interruptions at home make it the least productive place I do work. Most would think with all the noise of a coffee shop and the draw to get into conversations with other patrons or staff would be a bigger distraction. Usually, that’s not the case. I can tune out everything going on around me as background noise. There are days, I will admit, where I find myself getting into conversations with others in the shop, but I find that social interactions tend to help my writing flow, even if it costs me a day of work. My rule of thumb is to complete 1,500 words daily Monday through Friday. On the weekends I try to get as much as I can but I don’t hold myself to the word count. If I don’t get my words in I avoid TV entertainment, whether that’s watching a movie, a baseball game, playing the latest Call of Duty video game, or watching the two shows I watch on TV weekly. Again this is a rule of thumb, but sometimes rules are made to be broken.
I find that setting a 1,500-word count daily helps me fight what the most devastating thing to a writers productivity, procrastination. There’re days that I find that getting 1,500 words is easy. Two hours of writing and I’m done. Sometimes it’s like pulling water from a stone. I can be working on getting words on the page all day. Days like that latter I just start writing anything. I work on my blog post for next week. I write an entry in my journal. I just scribble something down in the story. I don’t matter to me if this writing moves my work forward or if it’s just something I’m going to scrap later. Getting words on a page usually causes me to come up with ideas that I can turn into text for my project.
Once I’ve got a first draft completed I put it down for a month or so and work on my next project. This is a trick that I learned from Stephen King in his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” Side note that’s a great book for any author. After I’ve ignored my project for a month or two I pull out. I make a snapshot of the document in Scrivener in case I need to revert or look back at the first draft. I compile the document into a PDF and using the Apple Pencil I start off with a quick read through to refresh myself with the story, making notes on plot issues that I find. Once this is finished I start a second draft of the manuscript. I often rewrite complete chapters, adding or changing plot points in the story. I repeat this step once more and make any changes I feel strengthen the story. After this second edit, I consider the story set in stone as if that is how the events actually happened. I avoid making plot changes or major revisions after this point. I do this because this is where a lot of writers get sucked into the endless editing process. I, like most writers, am never completely happy with the story. I always feel that “well that scene would have been cool,” or “it would have been better if this happened differently.” If I indulge in these ideas and allow myself to change the story further I’d never finish a story. I don’t know what author said it, but it was said that, “We have to not worry about perfection, but that our story is good enough.” I completely agree with that.
The next part of the editing process is for me to run my whole document through Grammarly, an online editing tool that checks spelling, grammar, word use, and other features if you pay for it. I make the corrections to the grammar and structure of the document, again taking a snapshot.
Now that I’ve allowed myself to take apart my story two times, and fixed grammar and spelling I send it to my editors and beta readers so they can butcher with their red ink of hate. When I get their red lines, the corrections, and suggestions, from the editors and readers. I take a week or so to review each of them. While I most of the time make any of the changes they suggest. I pay them to edit my grammar and structure. I should listen to their assessment. There are times, however, where I disagree with a comment or suggestion. I usually contact the editor or reader to discuss the comment. I have to often fight the urge to blatantly ask what the hell they were thinking with this or that. After talking to them I find that sometimes I made a clue or a story element to hidden and they missed it. I note as a suggestion and if I get another reader or editor that has an issue with that missed point I know that I need to go back and change that element of the story to make it clearer. After making the changes and I run through this process again with another set of beta readers and if not major issues I send it off to be published.
Bonus Tips and Suggestions
While some projects take on different processes or need more or less editing this is a basic overview of my basic writing process. Also throughout the process, I use several tools to help me on my journey. One of the latest one in my arsenal is Drafts by Agile Tortoise. I’m constantly coming up with ideas for storylines or dialogue. Since Drafts bypasses iOS’s dictation timer I use Drafts to sometimes dictate whole conversations that can be several pages long. It also allows me to dictate quick hands-free notes from anywhere when inspiration hits. I also carry a Moleskin notebook both in my go bag and I have one at my bedside to take jot down notes when I wake up at night and when I’m somewhere use of my iPhone for notes would be inappropriate. I find that if I don’t write down ideas as they hit me I’m sure to forget them.
Furthermore, while this process works for me, each writer need to find what works for them. It may be that you skip the step of self-edits and pay for extra rounds of editors or beta readers. You may find that Scrivener is not for you. You may like Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, paper, and pen, or a typewriter. Each writer has their own process. This is mine. I hope I’ve been able to give you some ideas to help you find your process.
I invite everyone to commit how you write. Share your process, or just give a tip. Writers tend to be a very cooperative community and we can each benefit from the suggestions of others.