How to Find the Perfect Writing Process

Your first book took you five years of blood, sweat and tears.

Your second was a little easier: maybe a year. Maybe you enjoyed the process.

Now you’re onto your third, or fourth, or fifth.

Whether you’re an indie wanting to publish enough books to keep your readers happy, or a tradpubbed author with an editor breathing down your neck, you’ll be under pressure to get the words down.

And (and this is so important), you need to enjoy it. Otherwise, why would you write? A day job gives you a pension, and holidays, and all that stuff.

So finding the ideal writing process is a kind of holy grail for writers. It means being able to produce quality words (stories, novels, nonfiction, etc) at a pace that keeps your career sustainable and that feeds the joy that got you into writing in the first place.

So how do you find it?

Experimentation

For me, finding the ideal writing process is all about experimentation.

With every new project, I review what I’ve been doing and look at how I might be able to tweak it to improve the process.

Maybe I want to be more productive. Maybe I want to improve my craft. Or maybe I want to enjoy it more.

There are some parts of the writing process you’ll love, and others which will be a struggle.

Personally, I love plotting. I love the stage where a story and its characters are fermenting in my head and I’m building them up to create a book. I also love editing. I enjoy polishing the dull pebble that is my first draft, and turning it into something shiny,

But writing that first draft? Not so much.

I’m probably not typical. Most writers love the drafting and hate editing. Many writers prefer to write ‘in the dark’ without an outline. Maybe my planning is the equivalent of that.

But while I was working on my last project, I thought to myself, “Y’know, if I don’t like writing first drafts, why am I doing this?” After all, that’s the bulk of the work. And arguably the most important bit.

So I decided to try a new process for the next project.

Why I Hate First Drafts

The process I’m experimenting with for this new project involves a new approach to first drafts. Instead of racing through a ‘vomit draft’ that’s pretty bad and needs extensive editing, I’m going to write a polished first draft.

This means reviewing my work and editing it as I go along.

I know this sounds like I’m at risk of losing my flow. But hear me out.

The reason I hate the vomit draft is because it’s exactly that.

I’m puking out a horrible mess of words, I’ve decided in advance that it will be bad (or I wouldn’t think of it as vomit), and I know it will need work.

And the reason I don’t enjoy it is because no one enjoys producing bad work.

In fact, when I get to the second draft, I generally find that my first draft is better than I thought. It’s not vomit. It’s not a gourmet meal, but maybe it’s somewhere in between.

But because I’ve been too busy hurling that first draft out, I’ve had no opportunity to reassure myself that I’m producing something decent. Instead, I think I’m churning out rubbish. Not so good for morale, huh?

So this time I’m going to try something different.

The New Process

Here’s my new process.

  1. Work up a detailed plot. I tend to write 2-3 sentences for each of anywhere between 40-60 chapters. I normally add to these chapters, inserting new ones as I write and edit, but that gives me a good skeleton to hang my story on. This is the process I’ve been using for the last year or so and it works for me.
  2. Write the first two chapters. I’m going with two because I have two POV characters and I want to have a chapter from each POV character to review at my next writing session.
  3. Take a break (either a short coffee or lunch break, or overnight). Spend that time ruminating on what I’ve just written.
  4. Edit the first two chapters. Review them, polish them and fill out that skeleton further.
  5. Immediately write the next two chapters, when the previous ones are fresh in my mind. This saves me the job of making a detailed outline after finishing the previous chapters and before taking a break, something that helps me when I’m doing a vomit draft.
  6. Repeat until I reach the end of the book.

I know there will be parts of the book that will need more attention. The opening chapters generally get a complete rewrite at some point during the process. I’ll probably do this when I’ve finished my clean first draft of the entire book.

So far, I’m only 5,000 words in but I’m finding it less hellish than a vomit draft. Hopefully that will continue, and enjoying it will spur me on to write more, and faster. And to have fun!

I’ll let you know how it went, when I’ve finished the book.

What’s your writing process? Are you happy with it or are you experimenting? Let me know in the comments.

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