How to Develop a Writing Process

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.

Bess Vanrenen

Bess Vanrenen has an MA degree in English from the University of Colorado Boulder and an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. Her short stories have been published in Sand Hill Review, the Magnolia Review, and KYSO Flash, and her newest story is forthcoming in Tampa Review. Her personal essays have been published in a variety of print and digital publications, including Role Reboot and the Manifest-Station. A writer, editor, and (mostly armchair) traveler, she lives in Denver with her family. She can be found online at BessVanrenen.com.

10 comments on “How to Develop a Writing Process

    • Thanks, Amber! That’s a great point. A writing group or partner will help keep you writing regularly and support you through the tough stuff, like rejection.

  1. Thanks for sharing your insights! I’m a big believer in taking walks! First, there’s that adage: Move a muscle, change your mind. A walk can get you unblocked. And I find that I often imagine dialogue between characters as I walk. I probably look like a madwoman when I’m strolling along and talking to myself, but who cares? Sometimes I dictate into my phone as I walk so I can remember a snappy passage of prose.

  2. I have to agree with Laurel to always have something with you to jot thoughts down on when you’re out and about—or record voice memos or whatever. I always have my phone with me for just that, and it’s got to be annoying when I stop suddenly in the middle of a sidewalk because of an inspiration and make everyone else walk around me. Sorry folks?

    Bess, you also make me think of the example of James Patterson who started writing when he was in advertising. Work started at 9:00 am, so he would be at his desk every dat at 7:00 am with a sign on his door that said something along the lines of “Don’t knock until after 9:00.” Whatever you can to to carve out a quiet, creative space without distractions, that’s what every writer needs to be regular in doing. 🤓

    • Ha! Yeah, non-writers must really think we writers are nuts. 🙂

      That’s a great example about James Patterson, too.

  3. Thank you, Bess. It’s interesting how we’re each inspired by different spaces and routines. I need tidiness because visual clutter distracts me.

  4. Bess, what a lovely, inspiring piece. Suddenly I’m imagining writing a book called “Writers and Their Nooks” (copyrighting that!). Thanks for giving us permission to dream big and write small … or whatever size and shape fits the moment.

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