I’m partnering with Derek Halpern of Social Triggers to talk about the writing process. I’ve linked to his video below showing the steps he takes and I’ll give some tips to find your own stages of writing from draft to finished work!
When is the last time you thought about the writing process? Or, more specifically, YOUR writing process?
The older I get, the more I know myself and understand how to tweak the writing process to fit what works for me. The writing process could really be called a system, the way we think of systems in business. Systems are simply the process, method, or course of action to get a desired result, especially consistently over time.
When we get to know ourselves better and how we work, we can tweak our writing process to work better for us. We write more, better, faster.
Check out Derek’s video where he shares a small box with big ideas, plus some of the secrets of his writing process! (Then come on back for more on process.)
For more great, daily content, I would highly recommend subscribing to Derek’s channel! He’s really ramping it up this year and sharing a lot of behind-the-scenes looks at life as an entrepreneur.
LOOSE STEPS OF THE WRITING PROCESS
You could break down the writing process in any number of ways, but I’m going to put it into four very loose steps:
- Collect ideas
- Write judgment-free drafts
- Edit ruthlessly
- Rest and then perfect
For the first two, you need to be really kind and generous to yourself, but in the last two, you must be ruthless. Let’s break that down!
The enemy of the writer is the blank page. This very common saying speaks to the fact that writers often struggle with the start.
It makes me think of the law of inertia, which states that an object at rest will remain there. Objects in motion will continue in motion. That start can take a lot out of you.
Often the start is difficult because we don’t have ideas. Or we aren’t sure where to begin with the ideas we have. This is when we can fall prey to distraction or what Stephen Pressfield calls the Resistance in his book, The War of Art.
You can help your start along if you have ideas. The page may still be blank, but your BRAIN isn’t. The problem is that we aren’t always as observant as we should be and we don’t think about collecting ideas like we should.
Derek shared a few ways that he collects ideas on the run in his video. Here are some things that you can try!
- Keep a box for notecards with quotes
- Have a notebook handy at all times
- Download an app that’s easy to use for notes like Evernote or the notes app
If you are constantly observing and stockpiling ideas, you can avoid so much trouble at the start! Once you have an idea, it’s time to move onto stage two.
WRITE JUDGMENT-FREE DRAFTS
I feel strongly that in the drafting process, you need to get out of your own way. You don’t judge your ideas but let them flow. At least (and especially) in the first drafts.
- Create a vomit version
- Write drafts by hand (which slows you down and may help clarify)
- Write down the page (kind of like making a list of ideas, scenes, descriptions, bits of dialogue)
- Don’t have judgment in your drafts
When you edit during your drafts and restrict the flow of your free-flowing thoughts, we may miss out on something that is in the back of consciousness. Connect with the page. No judgment.
If you’re still struggling with this, two thoughts. The first? Do what works for you. But…the second: don’t write this off too quickly. If you haven’t tried letting it all out and are used to editing as you go, just TRY this.
Consider Upworthy. You know, the site with all the viral posts that were all over your Facebook feed a year or two ago. They write 25 potential headlines per post. Check out this Slideshare from Upworthy, particularly slides 33 & 34.
Without letting out your bad drafts, you’re missing something.
Oh, and according to editor and author of the Story Grid, Shawn Coyne, you shouldn’t edit this at all until you COMPLETELY FINISH.
(I don’t always agree with that, but I’ll save why for another day.)
Now you’ve got some content on the page. It may or may not be good, but it’s THERE. Time for stage three.
Now that you have words on a page, you’re going to do the hard work. You will be critical and judgmental. You are going to go back to those words and cut things and rearrange things and find what doesn’t work and fix it. You need to be ruthless.
I really loved how Derek put this in his video. He talked about how we all assume people care about us and our story. BUT THEY DON’T. It’s our job to make them care, especially right at the beginning of our content.
Personally, I do something weird. I’m SUPER MEAN to myself in edits. I write mean and awful notes to myself. If someone else wrote these things to me, I wouldn’t want to write again, but I can do this to ME and it oddly inspires and empowers me.
Being ruthless doesn’t have to look like actually being mean to yourself. But it does mean being hard on your words.
- Take out unnecessary things
- Check that the flow works
- Have a goal and ask if your writing accomplishes this
- Listen to other people’s common criticisms
- Be ruthless – IF you are writing for other people
As for that last one, your WHY matters as you edit. If you are writing a diary or a passion project, you can be self-indulgent. You may not edit at ALL. If you are writing at all for an audience, you MUST be willing to die a little.
You need to find the balance of writing what you love, but still serving your people well.
You’re almost done. Next up: the final touches.
REST AND THEN PERFECT
This final step of editing is where you go back and really make everything perfect. I should point out that these four steps are not a literal four-step process. I go through many rounds of editing in the editing process. I may also go through several rounds of polishing. Here’s what polishing might include:
- Let it rest before you polish
- Find GOOD readers
- Listen to advice, but filter it
Polishing is when you will find the genius and the magic. You still might hit that point when you hate it (or is that just me?), but you’ll find that this is when you move into a work you’re pleased with and ready to publish.
Listen to Episode 123- Get Un-Stuck: Tips for Your Writing Process
I want to stress that I don’t spend a lot of time for EVERY kind of content. I spend the most time going through this process in my longer-form content like novels. Some blog posts get more editing and attention than others. I also tend to write more cleanly in the first draft of a blog post, so that my first drafts are pretty publishable.
With a blog post, I collect the ideas, potentially outline (usually on paper), and then write a pretty clean first draft that I will edit through once or twice.
Do you know YOUR process?
- Self-Talk in Sarah Rhea Werner’s podcast
- Story about being willing to listen to advice in Create If Writing Episode 122
- Derek’s video on his process
- Solve common writing problems
One question I have after thinking about the writing process and watching Derek’s video: Do YOU have any odd things you really prefer to have when you write?
Derek shared two things that he likes to use when he writes on paper–a specific kind of pen and a specific kind of notebook.