Welcome back to this series! Everything we’ve talked about thus far has been culminating to this post, so make sure you’ve read the rest of them first. 😉
There’s a billion different ways that people like to write. You hear people all the time preach plotting, and other people swear by pantsing.
Trying to find which process works for you is sometimes really easy. When you start writing, you tend to just fall headfirst into one or the other. When it makes sense to change from one to the other, you do.
But once you’ve been writing for a few years, the black-or-white answers no longer seem to serve your writing as well as they once did, now that you’ve grown in your abilities. You find that you have to tweak and fine-tune your process to fit you.
Just trying to find your process turns into a whole process. And sometimes, you’re just really confused about how to find it, how to figure it out, or even how to recognize it once you have found it.
If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you’ll know that last year I struggled with my own writing process. I finally realized the missing piece in it was joy. I’ve now made that a top priority in my writing, and in this series, I made it the subject of the first couple posts as well.
As I worked my way through experimental manuscripts, testing to see what worked for me, I kept off-handedly promising writers that I would eventually do a post all of its own on the writing process.
And, finally… here it is.
This has been a year in coming.
Before you proceed, remember that, while this is in an entire series, the last post specifically is a companion to this one! It’s on finding your unique writing style, and it is packed full of great actionable tips.
Have you ever read one of those choose-your-own-adventure books? At the end of each scene, it presents you with a series of choices you can make. Each choice tells you which page to turn to if you want to make that choice.
We’re going to set up this post a little bit like that.
I’m going to present information to you, and then, based on it, you can make a decision about a question I present to you. The questions will help you narrow down how you best work so that you can figure out what your unique writing process is. 😃
I feel like sometimes we can overthink what we’re doing and deciding and choosing, and that just overwhelms us.
Like me trying to decide which word to use to describe choices in that last sentence. Returning to the most simple stuff and being able to easily make a choice can help. It’s like you’re telling your brain, yeah, I know what I’m doing, don’t worry; I can figure this out. Look how easy that was just now! It’s almost like a little reassurance. And also, it helps you get clearer on what you want.
In my post on brainstorming, I talk about how a lot of people don’t think to define what they don’t want in a book. They go all crazy about what they do want, and then what they don’t want can sometimes start to creep its way into the story.
We don’t want that.
Ha see what I did there? …okay I’ll be quiet now.
As I present to you a series of choices, you’ll need to figure out what you do want. To do that, you’ll also have to eliminate what you don’t want. (Don’t worry, I make it a very clear and easy thing to do! 😊 ) And if neither option feels right to you, maybe see if there’s a grey area between them, or a way you can combine them. As I mentioned in a recent post, don’t just passively listen to me talking on my blog. Take action on what I’m saying! Decide what works for you, and chuck out what doesn’t.
Seriously, though; this is a generalized questionnaire of sorts. I encourage you to think outside the box about these things, especially if they aren’t really clicking with you. The first 3 posts in this series focused on helping you find what’s in your heart for a reason. Listen to yourself, and trust your gut.
You thought I was probably going to start with plotting vs pantsing, right? 😆
…with an important step before we ever so much as think about choosing between either of those.
And, truly, it is an underrated step indeed.
I have written a post before on how to treat plot bunnies. I mean, we all enjoy having ideas floating around in our heads; it’s cool! It’s interesting! It’s obviously destined to be the next Harry Potter! 🤩
But if you’ve chatted with me (whiiiiiiiiich you can do either by commenting on a post or subscribing to my email list! *hint hint wink wink*) then you might have already found out that I don’t actually enjoy brainstorming.
It’s not exactly a trait that I’ve found common among my fellow writers. They can come up with ideas *snaps fingers* like that.
However, me being me, I just… can’t?? It’s not something I can do on command, okay?
That’s something that I have to work with – and thus, something that will affect my process.
Every once in a while, great ideas will just pop out of the blue into my mind. It’s so great when that happens. 😆 Usually, I get a very vivid picture of something happening in a scene. As I have yet to figure out the details of my story in general, these ideas tend to be the big scenes of the book. (Like the Midpoint, Dark Moment, or Climax) So, honestly, if I had to have my brainstorming-ideas-problem, then I’m glad that my lucky breaks tend to be for those pivotal scenes. 😂
For me, knowing those scenes is so important! I like to call them my touchstone scenes. Everything else I come up with either happens before or after them, and I can always come back to them when I’m struggling.
- Something caused this scene; what was it?
- Something will happen because of this scene; what is it?
These scene ideas create sort of mini-targets I need to hit for my book. They give my story a sense of direction, because I’m working to that end. (Cause and effect is literally your BFF when it comes to planning a story 😆)
You likely just naturally gravitate toward a certain way of brainstorming. For me, personally, my brainstorming tends to be divided into 2 categories: ideas that come when I’m just playing with a plot bunny (something I tend to do while working on a different project – and therefore making the brainstorming not-so-serious) and brainstorming when I’m trying to figure out exactly what happens in a book.
Ask yourself: How do I currently brainstorm?
Note that the question doesn’t ask how you like to brainstorm. (For instance, I’d love to be able to actually do it whenever I wanted to. But I don’t really seem to be able to. *le sigh*)
Compare and Contrast
I want you to mentally go through the manuscripts that you have written. (By manuscript, I mean any story that you ever wrote; it doesn’t have to have been finished.)
Ask yourself: Which manuscript was the easiest to write? Which was the hardest?
By easiest, I mean that the writing flowed out of you, all the time, and you never got writer’s block. You wrote fast and furious, never getting stuck.
Easiest doesn’t necessarily mean that you ended with a big word count; just how easy it was to get into the characters’ heads, back into the flow of the story, and let it pour out of you.
If you’ve never written a manuscript that felt like that exactly, that’s okay. Just think which one was the easiest for you to write.
And now, turn to the other direction: which was the hardest? One where your writing felt stilted, difficult, and you got writer’s block – maybe constantly. You never felt like writing it – and maybe even *le gasp* procrastinated. 😱 Or never finished it at all.
Do you have your manuscripts in mind?
Great. Next question!
Ask yourself: Which was the funnest manuscript to write? The least fun?
This is entirely subjective to each writer. You may have enjoyed writing one manuscript that another writer would have found the least fun to write. It’s entirely up to you to decide which.
Ask yourself: Which manuscript am I the most proud of? And are there any that I never want to touch again?
It’s entirely possible you don’t have one of the latter – in which case, good for you! That’s great! 😃
But, at the least, think of a manuscript that you’re the most happy with in, in the sense of how the story came out.
Now, I want you to look at all your answers. Were any of the same manuscripts popping up multiple times?
When writing, we want to make things easy on ourselves by setting ourselves up for success. We want to enjoy the process, and we also want to be happy with the outcome. That’s why I’ve had you figure out which manuscripts were – and were not – like that for you.
It’s time to analyze your writing process for each manuscript you named. You don’t have to go into insane detail – just know generally how you went about writing each one. You really don’t have to be that formal about it, either. Just recount it the way you might if you were telling someone close to you about it.
And now, compare: what was different between your process of your easiest manuscript to write and hardest? The funnest and least fun? The one you’re the most proud of and the one that should never see the light of day again?
There likely are going to be some differences. I want you to know what they are.
Write down the steps of each separate process for your manuscripts: one list should be of the manuscript that you found easy to write, the one that was fun to write, and the one you are most proud of. The other list should be the manuscript that you found hard to write, the one you had the least fun writing, and the one you don’t want to touch again (if such a manuscript exists for you). You’ve already created lists of what these looked like, so now you can write up a version that’s a little more polished and clear on exactly what you did (because, if you’re anything like me, you spent the first time through just trying to REMEMBER what you even DID 😂).
These lists are very revealing about your brain. Each writer has their own unique way of being able to write at their best – and, therefore, on the flip side, at their worst. What works for one writer may not work for you. And that’s okay. We’re trying to figure out what works for you. Your unique process.
Back to Brainstorming!
Now, take a look at each manuscript.
What was your process when it came to brainstorming each?
Brainstorming is the source of your manuscripts. It’s where you start with any story.
There are so many jokes on the internet of how writers are constantly distracted by new story ideas. But actually I think that’s a very special time when it comes to your book.
I like to refer to the moment I have an idea as the ‘inception’ moment. It’s when an idea was planted in my mind, then slowly grew to take over my entire life. My daily routine was changed so I could work on it, my time was dedicated to it, and my thoughts overrun by it.
So, were there differences in how you brainstormed each manuscript?
Probably – which is good, because it’s decision time!
I want you to take a look at the good list of manuscripts and the brainstorming process you had for each.
Ask yourself: Which resulted in the best manuscript?
I can’t answer for you which manuscript was your best one. That’s entirely subjective. Was it the one that was the easiest for you to write? The funnest? Or the one that resulted in the manuscript that you’re the most proud of?
What matters to you personally about your process will affect which one you choose. Which aspect is the most important to you to have show up consistently in your process? If you’re attempting to simplify things for yourself, then you might want to go with the manuscript that was the easiest for you to write. But if you really need to bring joy back into your writing, then you might focus on the manuscript that was the most fun for you to write. If you’re already sitting at a good place with your writing, and you just want to continue producing really great manuscripts, then you might want to look at the one you’re most proud of.
Whichever one you choose is the first step in your unique writing process: brainstorming your story to help you produce either more easily, with more enjoyment, or more pride.
Take a moment to breathe. That was quite a big section, I know. 😆 But you did it! Great job!
The next phase of a book is the planning stage.
Now, this is where a large distinction can occur: some writers plot – plotters – and some wouldn’t touch a plot line with a ten-foot pole – pantsers. I’ll address that in a second, but we’re going to start by establishing things for you personally. 😉
Study Time, Pt. 2! 😛
It’s time to pull out your list of manuscripts again and look at your comparisons between them!
We all just love comparing ourselves, don’t we.
Begin by comparing things in pairs.
Ask yourself: Looking at the manuscript that was the easiest to write and the manuscript that was the hardest to write, are there any differences in my processes of planning them?
Ask yourself: Looking at the manuscript that was the most fun to write and the manuscript that was the least fun to write, are there any differences in my processes of planning them?
Ask yourself: Looking at the manuscript that I’m most proud of and the manuscript that I dislike the most (if such a manuscript exists), are there any differences in my processes of planning them?
This is a lot like the look at brainstorming. We are determining what the difference was in each manuscript process, so that we can take the best pieces from your different experiences of writing and put them together in the ultimate process for you.
The Extent of Planning
Now, this is a point I need to hit upon for the planning process specifically. When it comes to something like brainstorming, it can be slightly more ambiguous, as books come to you differently each time. You can tackle it in the same way – hence me including it in this post on your process – but the how is more up to you. (It could be spread out over time, done in sittings that are hours long, all visually in your mind, or written down on paper; it really depends on what you’re like as a person and creative, so I’m mostly leaving that alone. 😅)
However, when it comes to planning, things can get slightly more technical and factual – meaning that we need to take a look at that before we can continue.
I’ve yet to take the time to write a post that really dives into the whole plotting-vs-pantsing thing. I’ve mostly left the subject simply at mentioning it when necessary for a post, as for the most part, it’s simple enough.
…or is it?
As my recent experiences with trying to find my own unique writing process have shown me, it’s not quite as black-and-white as I once thought it was.
Many writers think that things only have two sides, but we’ve seen me debunk such ideas before. (why you shouldn’t actually listen to writing blogs, why you also need to think of things you don’t want when you’re brainstorming, the grey area between editing while writing or not, etc.) So, of course, it only makes sense that I managed to find another grey area here. 🤣 I mean, come on; it’s me we’re talking about here. 😆
The way you plot is almost as ambiguous as the way you brainstorm. Most people think that you’re just either a pantser or you’re a plotter. That that’s all the options we have.
But they’re not.
That’s why I’m writing this post – this whole series, in fact. Because you are unique. Because you do not fit in a box, and there’s no way for anyone to define what your process looks like; the only one who can do that for you is you.
I know there are writers who don’t have any idea whatsoever going into their story about what’s going to happen, and there are some who write outlines that are thousands of words long. I would consider those the two ends of the spectrum.
Now, I am a high school student, and as someone who is currently in a Social Studies course, I have had to look at a lot of graphs and spectrums and such. And people just seem to be really good at taking things to the extremes, or else mixing them up and leaving it kind of muddled in the middle between those options. Sometimes, things land exactly in the middle, not really leaning either way. Other times, they fall more to one side than the other, but aren’t taken fully to the extreme.
Writers are like that.
One manuscript that I’m proud of is the one that I consider to be my first good attempt at writing. 😆 It was my fourth manuscript, and comparing it to the first three I wrote (I didn’t even finish the third one) I can see the difference in my planning process.
There was barely any planning in that fourth manuscript. It’s the one I mentioned in the last post: my high fantasy one. But something about it was that I
- took the time to actually brainstorming stuff for it when I was just starting. In the manuscripts before it, I just made things up as I went, but for this one, I already had a few ideas in my head of what I wanted to happen. (Not specific scenes, but at least ideas for characters, their motives, and backstories.)
- knew how it would end. I had a goal for the characters (which I spoke on in my post about the one thing all stories need) and that helped the story so much. But it also helped me when I was writing it. Even though I didn’t know entirely how the characters would get there – I hadn’t outlined the story, after all – I knew where they’d eventually land.
Now, those are small differences in my planning process. There were huge differences that followed in my next manuscript, where I outlined a lot (and discovered that I don’t like outlining 😅), but we’ll let my example end there before I recount every manuscript that I’ve ever written. 😆
When you are studying what your planning process was for your manuscripts, don’t just say, “I plotted” or “I didn’t plan anything at all”. Walking hand-in-hand with those statements is the pervasive idea that writers have of only having two options: plotting or pantsing. People think that not writing any plans down means not planning – but that’s not entirely true. Look at exactly how you did these things.
- If you wrote plans down, how did you write them down?
- Did you just have some ideas for scenes in the Notes app on your computer/phone?
- Did you have a full-blown, in-depth, thousands-of-words-long outline that hit every single story beat, complete with snippets you came up with while writing it?
- Did you follow someone’s videos, blog posts, or books on how to do it?
- Did you just have a simple bullet-point list of scenes?
- Did you enjoy the way that you did it? (Remember the first three blog posts in this series: focus internally on your joy as well! Make the effort to make it a priority. Trust me; you’ll thank yourself for it.)
- If you didn’t write plans, how did they live in your head?
- Did you see scenes in detail in your mind?
- Did you ever run through them in your head before you wrote them? Was that how you made them up?
- Did you have absolutely no idea where the story was going to go, and literally was making it up every time you sat down to write it?
- Did you know where things were going to end, or have some touchstone scenes in your mind that you wanted to hit?
These all look like they exist under the same umbrella.
But in reality, they’re actually their own unique shades.
The extent to which people ‘plot’ or ‘pants’ a story can be vary a lot from writer to writer. Figure out exactly how you did it. Maybe you’ll learn you work better visually, or that you need an outline in front of you to help get you through a manuscript.
Ask yourself: Which resulted in the best manuscript?
Again, remember that I don’t know which manuscript you consider your best, and what qualities it has. Recall any goals you want to achieve in your writing process (i.e. simplifying your process to the easiest it can be for you, bringing joy in by focusing on fun, or to continue producing manuscripts you’re proud of) and take those into account.
Whichever one you choose is the second step in your writing process: planning (or not planning) your story to help you produce either more easily, with more enjoyment, or more pride.
This really is a choose-your-own-adventure thing, because I have no clue what your manuscripts look like. It’s up to you to determine your personally tailored process.
This is probably one of the most simple – and most complicated – sections of all.
We’ve set you up for success; now we need to find the best way to help you follow through and finish a manuscript.
Study Time, Pt. 3! 😆
Comparison time! 😝 If you remember, in the first section, we already wrote down the entire process of each manuscript in general. You can refer to that to help you out now. 😉
Ask yourself: Looking at the manuscript that was the easiest to write and the manuscript that was the hardest to write, are there any differences in my processes of writing them?
Ask yourself: Looking at the manuscript that was the most fun to write and the manuscript that was the least fun to write, are there any differences in my processes of writing them?
Ask yourself: Looking at the manuscript that I’m most proud of and the manuscript that I dislike the most (if such a manuscript exists), are there any differences in my processes of writing them?
We’re finding what the best – and worst – way for you to write is. Of course, there’s the possibility that you’ve written every manuscript the same way, and it’s just in the brainstorming and planning processes that the differences lay.
If you are at all stuck wondering how writing could be different – you’re just putting words down on paper, after all – then think about these prompts:
- Where did you write your story at?
- Was it in the same spot where you work on other things? (This isn’t entirely relevant, but quick note: your mind associates! When you’re sitting at the place you usually do school work, your brain might be in work-mode, and it wouldn’t be a good place to do writing at. Just switching chairs can help with this. Your brain will associate sitting in one place with creative-mode, and the other with work-mode. Seriously, that’s what Mary and I do: we switch seats before school. 😆 )
- What time did you write it at?
- Specifically, what time of day did you write it at?
- What season was it? Did that factor into your writing in any way? (It’s possible you might write better at different times of day during different seasons, and could change the time of day you write at during each season to best suit you. After all, some seasons are darker for more of the day, while others are lighter, or some are colder while others are warmer. You may like writing outside in summer and inside in winter, or early in the morning when it’s dark in winter or late at night when it’s still bright in summer.)
- Why did you choose these times? Was it because you wanted to write then, or because you had to? (For example, during this past NaNoWriMo, I would write at 5 in the morning so that I could get anything done. 😂 I was busy with school and driver’s ed, and by the time I was done my work on any given day, I’d be too tired to write. You might have chosen a time of day based on the fact that your family as asleep, meaning that you could finally write uninterrupted 😆 Or maybe when they were awake because you liked the noises in the background. Or maybe you did it in the middle of the afternoon because you felt like it.)
- Were there any times of day that you didn’t like to write at? (Perhaps for the same reasons I used as examples in the last point)
- What kind of book were you writing?
- I personally enjoy exploring different genres and trying new things. But some writers really prefer one over another. Take the subject you’re writing about and the genre you’re in into account (for example fantasy, contemporary, science-fiction, or fan fiction – which was a tip in my last post 😉).
- Sometimes you just click with a certain type of writing. But don’t worry; you don’t have to start writing in that genre with every manuscript. You could take elements that clicked with you and just use those. (e.g. a humorous character, a sarcastic protagonist, using a trope and flipping it on its head)
- How long were scenes?
- Were they thousands of words long, or quick and snappy?
- Maybe you like to write fewer scenes in a story so that you can spend more time on them, or perhaps more scenes in a story so that you can spend less time on them.
- How long was the whole manuscript, words-wise?
- Did you try and make yourself hit a certain word count? (NaNoWriMo could be a thing factoring in. I’ve done it 3 times now, but the first 2 times, I was more concerned with word count than the actual story. That probably got in my way.) (and btw, your word count/book length doesn’t determine how good your story is. I’ve read plenty of novels, but there are some children’s books that I still love more. If aiming for a word count doesn’t help your quality of writing, then you might want to consider cutting that out of your writing process for the time being.)
- Were there any points where you got stuck, tired, or bored?
- You might notice that you consistently struggle in certain spots while writing manuscripts. For instance, I tend to struggle with the second half of the second act. I think my problem is I drag it out a little too long, and then get tired and bored with it. I need to cut it down slightly to help, or make sure there’s some pretty obvious differences and new elements for me to play with in it to keep it interesting and fresh for myself. (Remember, you’re working with yourself. If things like this crop up, don’t fight it or bash yourself over it; help yourself instead. 😊)
All of these different things can really factor into your process. How you’re writing your story. Try to look at the big picture for each manuscript, but also look at specific days.
- What were your worst days? Your best?
- What were the differences between them? (And no, not just that it was your best or worst day 😆)
- Comparing them, did you write at different times of day?
- What were you doing during the rest of the day?
- Did you clear out time to write that day, or were you cramming it in?
- Did you have a snack while you were writing?
- Or music?
- Did something help or hinder you getting into the flow of things?
- Which experiences writing scenes do you remember the most vividly? (Either for being the best or the worst.)
- What did you do those days that made these stick out in your mind?
There are a lot of ways to set yourself up for writing success – like those triggers I mentioned. Your mind associates them with the idea of writing – but those are a different subject for a different time. You might have some already implemented, though, so take note of those and which manuscript you used them in! (Triggers can be things like the place you write specifically, certain things you wear, or drink – like coffee – or smell – like a candle.)
Ask yourself: Which resulted in the best manuscript?
Recall what your definition for your best manuscript has been so far in this post. Focus on that and those qualities that you want in your process.
Whichever one you choose is the third step in your writing process: the actual writing of your story to help you produce either more easily, with more enjoyment, or more pride.
I won’t go into things like editing, revising, and rewriting. We’re focusing on the writing process today, to get you from the inception of a story idea to the finished first draft. 👍
That aside, you now know how you like to go about writing your manuscripts!
Remember that your writing process will grow and change as you grow and change as a person. It’s not static, and will likely change again in the future. Knowing how you work is awesome, but if you ever feel like experimenting, go for it! 😃
And on that note, here are a few final parting tips on the subject:
- EXPERIMENT! If you have no manuscripts that even fit the bill of having been easy to write, fun to create, or resulted in something you’re proud of, make especially sure to do this. Try new ways of writing, and push the envelope.
- Figure out what makes you comfortable – and maybe even try what makes you uncomfortable.
- If you don’t know which manuscripts of yours came out the best, take a look at your editing process (if you’ve done that at all): which ones needed the least editing? (To some extent, all manuscripts will need editing, both on big things – character, plot, stakes – and small – prose, pacing, literally everything- …can anyone tell I’m currently revising a story? 😅😂)
- Try to remember what happened to your manuscripts. Did you ever post them online? Did you share them with a friend? Did you straight up burn them?
- Don’t get discouraged! Your process is something that takes years to refine – and will never stay the same, even when you think you’ve got it down. It will continue to evolve and grow as you do.
- Prioritize joy. If you do anything else from this post, do that.
- Experiment. Yep. I’m saying that again. But it’s so important that you do so that it deserves to be said twice. 😆 You can’t see what does and doesn’t work for you if you don’t try different things in the first place, so make sure you do this! (And if you’re afraid of potentially ‘ruining’ one of your really good story ideas – the way I was – use one that is a little more inconsequential to you. So, if you crash and burn in the process of writing it, you won’t mind the loss too much.) (But remember: you can always edit! If something goes horribly wrong, then you can always come back in the future and try again in a different way. Continue experimenting! 😊 Like, seriously; you can’t lose.)
- The more you write, the more you start to see what you need and what you don’t need – personally.
- You might realize that you don’t need to focus on planing something into a story because you’re just *hair flip* so good at writing it in when the time comes. 😝
- For instance, you might be able to write well-paced character growth over the course of a story, and not need to have it planned down to the scene in your outline.
- Other people need to plan those sorts of things into their books, so on the flip side, they know that they do need to focus on those things.
- Or, you might notice over time some essential story elements that you never want to write a story without again. If nothing else, you’ll make sure your outline includes those.
- For example, I always need a character arc, a Midpoint in my storyline, a heart-wrenching 3rd Plot Point/Dark Moment (because, duh, evil author stuff 😈), a Climax, and great internal conflict in a character.
- A different writer probably has a list of different essentials – and that’s okay. This is what matters to me personally, and they know what matters to them personally.
- You might realize that you don’t need to focus on planing something into a story because you’re just *hair flip* so good at writing it in when the time comes. 😝
I know that I’ve stressed this point a lot in this post, but everything in it today is to help you find your unique writing process that works for you personally – and gives you the tools to refine and continue finding it in the future as you grow as a writer. So, give it a shot. See what happens. And trust yourself. 😊
Now, go forth, and be awesome! *hands you coffee and a chocolate croissant because you’re awesome and read the entire post*
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
This post was really long in coming. I’ve had to try to piece together my process, and I’ve enjoyed experimenting and trying new things in my writing. There’s still more to come in this series, so make sure to subscribe! (That’s different from subscribing via WordPress, btw; you’ll get emails straight from me, rather than automated ones from WordPress. In those emails are exclusive things like snippets from my own writing, updates on what I’m doing in my writing – something I don’t talk about on my blog that much anymore – and even a free 7-day course on overcoming writer’s block and writer’s slump! So, if one of your problems in writing manuscripts was that you got stuck… make sure you sign up! 😉)
That’s the end of my sort of 2-part special in this series. They were sooooo long and so hard to write. And edit. And even come up with. And edit. 🤣
Do you have a specific writing process?
Do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser? 😛