This post was inspired by Jake Jarvi’s latest PoPS update! (If you don’t know what PoPS is, you need to go here and get caught up now now NOW!).
I used to be a hardcore planner when it came to, well, everything. Especially when it came to writing. I’m a huge perfectionist, which you already know if you read this update.
The deeper I dove into writing, and the more frequently I started blogging, the more time I realized I was actually wasting trying to plan everything out before it actually happened. That, combined with trying to backtrack and polish every paragraph I wrote as I wrote it, made it nearly impossible to finish large writing projects.
So I have adopted a few new techniques within the past few years to refine my writing process, and to be able to do the kind of writing I do now (noveling plus this blog, and a few other pending projects). Here’s a glimpse into the process that has always, until fairly recently, worked best for me.
Writing as soon as I wake up
I am a morning person. I used to wake up at three in the morning just to be able to get as much done as possible before the rest of the world woke up and started bothering me. I can’t do that anymore, which is probably a good thing health-wise (I don’t fall asleep at my desk anymore!). But over the past few years I have gotten in the habit of writing as early on in my day as possible. Productivity to the extreme.
Throwing chronological order to the wind
At some point, I stopped writing my stories “in order.” When you’re running low on motivation, you often just have to write what comes to you when it comes, even if it doesn’t come next in the storyline. I got into the habit of skipping all around, going back and filling in all the holes later. That technique is actually what helped me finish the first draft of my latest book.
Clearing away all distractions
A lot of people get easily distracted when writing, including me. For a long time, I treated that as a bad thing. I refused to write with any kind of background noise. I had to disconnect my wifi, turn of my phone and basically lock myself in my room if I wanted to get anything writing-related done.
It all got done. It worked for me then. But lately, especially since I started working on a new book as part of NaNoWriMo 2015, I’ve been trying a few different tactics to help me get writing done while feeling a lot less isolated and restrained.
How (and why) I’m changing it up
I don’t usually write first thing when I wake up anymore. Being in graduate school and having a lot of other writing to do aside from my fiction makes it hard for me to concentrate if I don’t have at least some of my to-do list out of the way before diving into my novel. This is a completely new thing for me, and it actually takes me a lot longer to write 2,000 words in the evening than it does first thing in the morning. But sometimes, that’s actually okay. It forces me to spend more time with my characters, which I think is important for the kind of character-centric story I’m writing.
I’ve actually written 50,000 words of my novel straight through from the beginning. No skipping scenes I’m struggling with or moving on to scenes I’m more motivated to write. I’ve just been pushing straight through. It really forces me to think through what I’m doing and adds a tiny element of intrigue into the mix, which I’ve been struggling to find personally as I’ve been writing for awhile.
I am allowing myself to be distracted. Adding this to the ‘experiment’ was a dangerous move, I won’t lie to you. It’s part of the reason writing every day has been taking so long. I leave Facebook open. I’ll write 500 words and then watch a video or listen to a few minutes of a podcast. Taking five, 10-minute breaks actually really helps keep me on track, even though you’d expect the opposite. My brain gets tired. I’ve been working a little too hard these past few months, I know, I’m … working on it. I need short breaks between scenes. I never thought it would ever come to that, but it has.
I think as we grow and mature in our art or science or whatever you want to categorize it as, our processes have to change along with that growth. I’m not necessarily a professional writer, I don’t technically get paid to make words happen, but I’ve been writing for a long time. I’ve really noticed major shifts in the way I do this whole writing thing, even in the past few months writing for Lifehack and SuccessStory.com. And I think, I hope, that’s a good sign. I hope it means I’m ready to move to the next level. To actually do something meaningful with all these words.
It’s like a puzzle. I’m still figuring out how all the pieces fit together, maybe not the right way, but the way that makes the most sense to me. The way that will get me where I’m supposed to be, wherever, whatever the heck that is.
What’s your writing process like? Do you have specific techniques you use to get your work done? Have you noticed any changes in the way you write, process-wise, over time?
In case you didn’t stop reading earlier to check out Platoon of Power Squadron (or any of Jake’s between-episode updates), here’s the video he posted this morning, if you’re in need of a little writing inspiration (or more places to find inspiration to fuel your own writing process).
Image courtesy of John Lester/flickr.com.
Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.