Writing Process

writingprocessSMALLBack in college, I had an English professor who talked about her “process” all the time. She talked about slaving over a piece day and night until worried friends finally took the type-written pages from her sweaty hands and turned them in for her because she never felt like her writing was good enough. Of course, once it was submitted, it was accepted and praised. The message my eighteen-year-old self took from hearing a semester’s worth of this kind of talk was that a writer’s process was necessarily difficult and even painful. I didn’t take any more English classes during my undergraduate career.

For years I thought all writers had the same process and I thought it was more difficult that a career in medicine.

Now, many years later, I realize each writer has their own process, and it’s up to each writer to figure out what process suits them best. Over time, I have come to see when and how I write best. Not just whether or not I’m a “seat-of-the-pants” writer or a “plotter,” although that’s good to know. (I’m more of a “seat-of-the-pants” writer, although I have been known to outline. Every writer has a different process and what works for one writer doesn’t work for every writer.

Here are some aspects of “process” my English teacher never mentioned:

Environment: What kind of environment do you like to write in? I write best at my desk in my home office, but if I have an idea and a few minutes, I can write almost anywhere. I like cafés unless there is a very loud conversation going on right next to me. Many conversations are much better than just one as they all become background noise. I also need to be physically comfortable—not too cold, especially. If a café is so cold I don’t want to take my coat off, I get my coffee to go. Driving home takes some time, but sitting in a cold café focusing on how uncomfortable I am takes a lot more time—and energy—that I could have used on writing.

Timeframe: Do you have to plan out your writing or can you just dive in any time? I write my best when I’ve given myself a chance to think about my topic over a few days (or a few weeks.) Then I take the pressure off by telling myself “I’ll just write about this for 15 minutes and see what happens.” If I carve out a big block of time to write on “this,” (whatever “this” is,) I will stall until I’ve wasted the precious time and have nothing to show for it. Even if I know I have two hours to write, I’ll tell myself I’m only going to spend 15 minutes on “this.” It’s my version of Anne Lamott’s “*&%$ First Drafts.”

Time of Day: What time of day or night works best for you? I know I do my best writing early in the day, but I now often write in the evenings, too. I just don’t rewrite and polish at night because my brain isn’t at its sharpest then. If I have thoughts or ideas waiting to be written, I can spew them out onto the page in the evening and rewrite in the morning.

Rewriting: How do you approach the rewriting process? Once I have something down, I can go back in and rewrite and add to the piece without feeling the pressure. My fascination with words, from grammar to style to creativity, kicks in and I can keep going. I always enjoy returning to a piece because I’m usually surprised at how much I like and want to keep. Even if I don’t like what I’ve written, I can usually see what’s wrong after a break from the piece. I recently came back to a blog post that wasn’t coming together and immediately saw that it had two major ideas in it and needed to be broken into two different blog posts.

Managing Distractions: How do you do it? At last fall’s New England Crime Bake (a mystery writer’s conference), a best-selling author I admire said her latest book would have been published a year earlier if it wasn’t for Facebook. Since that comment, I’ve been much more careful about eliminating distractions. I sit at my desk and use the Post-it Note method. If I think of something that needs doing while I’m writing, I just put it on a Post-It note (or, if I’m at a cafe, I put it on my phone under Reminders.) Once “buy toilet paper,” or “pick up salad greens” is out of my head and on a note somewhere, I can get back to writing.

Knowing how and when I work best has helped me arrange my day better to increase my output as a writer. It also gives me permission to put my laptop away and move on when, say, a loud conversation starts at the table next to me in the café.

Do you know what your ideal writing process is?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. I just discovered Bookbub and immediately downloaded six books to my Kindle app. Is this yet another distraction I’m going to have to manage?!

16 thoughts on “Writing Process

  1. Reblogged this on Freelance Writer & Editor and commented:
    This is definitely not my own process, but it’s a great article and managed to make me think about how and why I write the way I do. Did I have a reason for my process steps, or were they just “the way I’ve always done it”? Is it time to re-evaluate some of my processes? Anyway, enjoy! What does this article make *you* think about?

  2. I’m not a pro, but I have found that a few things work for me when I have to write an assignment or a story for fun. The place can’t be too noisy for one. I also do my best work at night. When approaching any type of writing, if time or conditions allow, I like to think about the topic for several days, before withing anything.

  3. This is fantastic! Thank you so much! I have had an incredible problem with getting back into flow and finding what works for me. I have taken a lot from this post and plan to utilize these tools for my work and my love for story-telling! Thank you 🙂

  4. Thank you for posting! The best thing I ever did in terms of my writing process was buy a pair of noise cancelling headphones. If I’ve got those on and some music, I can write for a good while.

  5. I like to do my blogging and social media in the morning when no one’s home (with my newly discovered Coffitivity noise in the background), and then if I have time, an hour or two in the afternoon with my notebook in a cafe. I’ll have to figure out a new schedule in the summer, when my daughter is on school vacation, but I’ll make it work. Thanks for sharing your process.

  6. I enjoyed reading about your writing process as I also use some of the same strategies when writing. The best time for my writing is early in the morning. My mind is clear and able to think through various ideas. I also enjoy going to Starbucks where I can sit and focus on my thoughts without distractions from my house.

  7. Pingback: Writing Process | Lissy Reads

  8. I had a high school English teacher who was far more interested in symbolism than the whole of the story. She ruined writing for me for a long time. I’m glad we both made our way back.

  9. Appreciating the persistence you put into your blog and detailed information you provide.

    It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the
    same outdated rehashed information. Excellent read!
    I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  10. Reblogged this on Writer's Zen Blog and commented:
    Here’s some interesting thoughts on a writer’s process.

    I especially liked this comment under ‘Distractions’.
    “At last fall’s New England Crime Bake (a mystery writer’s conference), a best-selling author I admire said her latest book would have been published a year earlier if it wasn’t for Facebook. “

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