Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Build a Strong Writing Process

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

If you didn't catch Monday's post, I talked about the idea of pursuing a process rather than writing goals. Which led us to the question of how to go about creating a writing process.



It's important, I think, to recognize that your writing process is unique to you and to your time of life. It'll change as you enter new phases (college versus high school, kids versus no kids). There are also seasons within those seasons. I always have kidsbut part of the year they're in school and part of the year they're at home with me. That impacts how I get stories written. You might be in school nine months out of the year, but for three of those months you play competitive volleyball. That'll make a difference.

So the point of this discussion is to help you determine what works best for you right now. I love Theodore Roosevelt's advice, "Do you what you can, with what you have, right where you are."


Could you be a more productive writer if you didn't have to be bothered with Geometry and if you had your own office? Probably, yes. But if that's not where you are right now, then it doesn't do us any good to dwell on the ideal. Instead, let's figure out where you are and how to build a good process.

Evaluate where you are in regards to:

Writing time: When do you write? Where do you write? How often do you write? When you write, how long do you do it for? Do you turn off distractions to focus on writing or do you frequently take breaks for a quick email or Pinterest browse?

Organization: When you have a book idea, what do you do with it? If you read a thought-provoking article on writing, do you have a place to store it? What do you do with notes that you make about your current manuscripts?

Getting the story down on paper: How much time do you spend writing, and how much time do you spend talking about writing? Do you write fast first drafts or do you edit as you go? How much planning do you do beforehand? How do you develop your characters? Are you able to write full books or not yet?

Growing as a writer: Do you take steps to grow as a writer? Do you read craft books or download classes? Do you have blogs you read? Do you have a critique group or partner? Do you read in the genre that you write?

Evaluate what's working and what's not:

I don't know who first said, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten," (my brief internet research credits it to Einstein, Mark Twain, and several others) but it certainly applies to writing books.

As you consider the way you currently do things, ask yourself if it's working for you. And I don't mean that as, "Are you a bestselling novelist?" or even, "Are you writing publishable books?"

By "is it working for you?" I mean, does what you do now consistently lead to improvement in your writing? Maybe progress is slower than you'd like, but is it there? Are you doing the best you can with what you have right where you are?

If not, what can be changed?

Here's three examples from my past of ways I've had to consciously change my way of doing things:

  • When Jill and I were working on Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book,between the book and the blog, I was spending way more time talking about writing than actually writing. As soon as we finished that project, I knew I needed to re-calibrate how I spent my time. It was surprisingly difficult to get back into the discipline.
  • Years ago, I realized I was in a bad habit of writing half a book, going back and revising the first part, and then getting frustrated and putting the story aside. I decided I need to try writing bad first drafts, and that's worked really well for me ever since.
  • I used to get so excited about story ideas that I just plunged right in and wrote until I ran out of steam. I later figured out that spending a little time plotting before I wrote helped me to stay excited about a story for longer. I still hit stretches in the first draft where writing feels incredibly hard, but I'm able to power through much better. 

Just because a method for writing a book feels comfortable or natural to you doesn't mean it's the best way for you to go about it. My natural bend as a writer was as a pantser, but as I moved further in my writing career, I saw how it benefited me to plot. On the other side, some people hide behind planning and storyworld building as a way to procrastinate from writing.

Have you learned anything from evaluating where you are? Do you have ideas for things you want to adjust?

23 comments:

  1. I'm bad with staying focused on writing, so much that I 'unpinned' my internet browser icon from my taskbar. When I have a document or six open, it will take me longer to get to the desktop icon--and then I have time to think, do I really want to do that? Since I can't see the internet icon when I'm working, I don't have as much of a problem anymore.

    But I DO have a problem with frequent editing. I love to line edit. That wouldn't be so much a problem if I had a finished manuscript, but I'm only about ten thousand words in. Lately I've been doing content edits--inserting scenes in the first few chapters of my manuscript--and I've been letting myself do that because that's good, actual editing. (I'm still writing.) And I love the bad first draft idea, so much that I even tried it, and I must say I've never been so miserable in my life. I felt like a horrible writer, which is silly--you have to let yourself be bad so you can get the whole story out--but I couldn't control it. I went back to editing as I go and I think editing gives me a kind of 'push' to get writing again.

    Thanks for this post, Stephanie!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I'm not good about it, I can be very similar about getting distracted by the internet. I finally had to start setting a timer for myself, or I would tab over to check my email every five minutes. I set my timer for 25 minutes, and when that's over I get a five minute break to go to the bathroom/check in with email. That's worked really well for me.

      In regards to editing while you write, maybe that's just the way you roll. Nothing wrong with that! I have several writer friends who work that way. I think it's great that you tried the bad first draft thing, though.

      Delete
  2. Great post! I've had to rework my writing this semester, and I've just now figured out some kinks. Little late, but I've getting into a productive groove : )

    Also, the quote is from Anthony Robbins I think.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I saw his name several times too during my search. Whoever it was, I agree with them :)

      Delete
  3. I find that I have trouble focusing on writing, and I need to use the goal-oriented part of me to get anything done. However, this aspect has been forcing me to stay in front of the computer for long periods of time, and I haven't been spending very much time with my family. I think I'll need to plan a set schedule and a certain period of time where I just write and don't do anything else.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like that idea, Rcubed. If I have a time limit, I'm much better about buckling down and focusing!

      Delete
  4. I have trouble staying focused on writing. I am a writer who writes with little description, so I get frustrated when I am attempting to write a novel and it comes out in only 10,000 words or so. Then, I stop and never finish.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Length can be very frustrating! I used to struggle with books that were shorter than I wanted them to be. Learning about story structure helped me a lot. As did learning how to pace a book, which just takes practice.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Mrs. Morrill! I am happy to know that I am not the only on struggling with length!

      Delete
  5. I recently had to finish my book by ditching my laptop entirely and writing it out on a notebook. I did finish it, without the constant distractions the internet has. I've started plotting more too, I'm a panster. So when I'm writing an outline or something I keep thinking that I'm wasting time that could be spent on writing. I'm starting to take the time though, outlines are a very useful tool.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ooh, I think we're very similar, Skye. When I first tried outlining, I went waaaay overboard and planned out everything. And then when I was writing, the whole thing got derailed around chapter two. So then I was definitely in the camp of, "plotting is a waste of my time." It took a couple tries for me to figure out how much planning was beneficial before it tipped into "waste of writing time" zone.

      Delete
  6. I get caught in edits all the time when I'm scrolling down through what I've worked on to get to where I'm currently working. I've found that I have to make two word documents, the story I'm writing and a document that is called 'Edit' As I finish a page, I cut and paste it into 'Edit' and I don't look at it again until I'm ready to start editing. This way, I don't scroll down through work that I'm constantly picking apart AND I can always start writing at the top of the page!

    On a side note, I usually turn off my wireless when I'm working so I don't get caught on Pinterest which happens all the time!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very smart! I love how you've determined your stumbling blocks and found creative ways around them!

      Delete
  7. On Monday I shared that my system is to write 500 words a day. But this past week, I found myself with lots of free time (no work and kids in school) and decided to finish the last book my series, a book I have been working on for the better half of a year. So for the last three days I upped my word count to 3,000. I've only written that much maybe a couple times in my life.

    I'm so glad I did. I did not find it half as hard as I thought it would be, as long as I broke it down into 1k increments throughout the day. Yesterday, I stopped at 2,700. I wanted to push to 3k, but I remembered your article about systems and told myself no. I'm fighting a cold and I needed the rest :)

    By the way, I've been following this blog for a year and although I'm not a teen (unless you count my heart ;) I love the advice you give and point all the writers in my youth ministry to your website. Thanks for all your encouraging posts!

    ReplyDelete
  8. These are some great points. I've recently been changing some of my habits to see if they work better. I'm a pantster but I'm trying to plot/outline my story to see if it will keep me from rambling and make the story tighter. I'm still working on the outline, even though I've written a few chaps to start, so I'm not sure but as I put things in sequence and see what I have, I'm noticing how much more excited I'm getting to see a solid foundation of building blocks forming.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you so much for this post, Stephanie. I am in a season of my life where all my writing energy goes toward school projects and I live with a very exact and unyielding schedule. Although I need to be okay with not writing fiction as much (or lately, at all), there are still steps I can take to hone my writing craft and do the best I can with what I have.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've also learned that it really helps to have my entire story plotted out to some degree (usually not in much detail), but just so I now the general direction that my story is going.

    ReplyDelete
  11. These are great points! I used to take constant breaks when I was writing, but I've learned to set aside a certain amount of time just to write without any distractions. It definitely helps in keeping focused and getting the job done.


    Alexa Skrywer
    alexaskrywer.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  13. "Go Teen Writers" has been included in the Sites To See for this week. Be assured that I hope this helps to point many new visitors in your direction.

    http://asthecrackerheadcrumbles.blogspot.com/2014/03/sites-to-see_28.html

    ReplyDelete
  14. Probably the biggest problem of all of these that I have is not having a writing partner/group. I don't know any fellow writers at all.
    I'm in a writing community on the internet, but it's definitely not the same as in real life.

    ReplyDelete

Home