Whether you’re a fiction or nonfiction writer, developing a writing process will make you a more prolific writer and improve your craft. With a process in place, the act of writing becomes like any other routine task, such as getting out of bed or showering. It’s no longer a question whether you’re going to sit down and write—and that’s a powerful thing. Even if you think what you’ve written during your dedicated writing time is terrible, bad writing is better than no writing. Every time you write, you’re creating raw material that you can shape over time, and you’re improving your craft. As Octavia E. Butler said, “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.” So how do you develop a writing process that works for you?
Step 1: Devise a writing schedule
First, come up with a writing schedule. What days and times will work best? Will you be able to write every day? Twice a week? For an hour? Thirty minutes? Match your writing time to your circadian rhythms if possible. Choose regular times, aiming to write at least weekly, and stick to your schedule.
Be realistic about the other demands on your schedule. If you have young children or other dependents or you can’t work on your personal writing projects during the workday, dedicate some time early in the morning, late at night, or on the weekend. Despite traditional writing advice, writing daily isn’t always possible, and some authors find they can jump right back into a story even if they’ve spent a few days away from it.
Step 2: Create your space
Allocate a dedicated place for writing. For some people, this space will be your kitchen table. For others, it will be a coffee shop or a writing nook or room. Use the space you have available to you, but make it somewhere you truly want to be. Stephen King writes about the importance of a writing room in On Writing. For King, the room should have a door and be free of distraction. For other people, the ideal writing space is filled with beautiful objects that inspire them. Having a writing space tells the world, and yourself, that your writing work is important.
Step 3: Think about your writing project throughout the day
Mull over your words even when you’re not writing. We often get our best ideas when we’re doing something else. Our brains have a way of working out problems when we’re not obsessing over them. You might come up with the exact point you need to make or the perfect plot twist in your mystery while you’re taking a shower or walking the dog. Have your cell phone or a notebook handy so you can jot down ideas; you might not remember them later.
Step 4: Give yourself a little grace
Despite what I said about sticking to your writing schedule, give yourself a little grace when it comes to that schedule. After all, we’re humans, not machines. Make sure to dedicate some time in your day to things that make you happy—watching movies, going for walks, or talking with your friends. Honestly? When you feel particularly worn out, do those things even when you’re supposed to be writing—but vow not to miss your next writing session.
If you don’t feel like writing during your regular writing time, try this trick: tell yourself you’ll only write for 20 minutes. Often, once you get started, you’ll write much longer than that.
Step 5: Get inspired
Find and do what inspires you. Watching a movie or reading a book in a genre similar to yours may give you a much-needed jolt of inspiration. Visit an art museum. Sign up for a class. Go on a hike. Many writers extol the benefits that taking walks has on writing. Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, and Kate Chopin are just a handful of famous writers who walked. Among other things, walking frees your mind to tackle your writing problems creatively. Annabel Abbs’s Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women is part travelogue, part memoir that literally follows the footsteps of inspiring women—artists and writers—who walked long distances as part of their creative processes.
Step 6: Write
And now write—the thing writers live for. When you sit at your desk to compose new material, give yourself a few minutes to leave behind the conscious world of rules and rationality and let your subconscious reign. Developing a writing process is all about having a routine, but the act of creating is more mysterious. My former writing mentor suggested meditating on your story. You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor. You could sit in a comfortable old armchair—or at your writing desk. You’ve probably heard the expression “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Although I’m not advising you to write drunk, the idea is to let loose. This might also be the time to embrace superstitions or your spirituality—that lucky mug, citrine crystals (to improve your energy and perception, of course), a singing bowl, or whatever works for you.
Know what you’re going to work on before you enter your space so you have a purpose. Go over any notes you made the previous day or the last few paragraphs you wrote. Your writing goals might change, but you’ll have a place to start. As you continue to write, always return to steps 1 and 4. Creating a writing process is a very personal thing based on the demands of your life and your personal preferences. But, once you’ve created a process, it’s a constant balance between sticking to it religiously and giving yourself a little grace.