Friday, 6 November 2015

Some tips for streamlining the writing process!

I've been writing long enough that I know the subjective nature of most writing advice. My weird process probably won't work for most people. For example, I draft fast because I need to keep my head in the story consistently from beginning to end, otherwise I lose track and the story ends up a confused, contradictory mess. I haven't always been a fast writer, and I've found that, over time, I've become more efficient at writing cleaner drafts in less time, too. So, here are some of my tips for getting some control over the chaotic process of writing a book...
  • Write everything down. Most of my ideas develop quickly because I have so many notes from old projects and ideas. I can't control when an idea will strike, but I can control the process of developing a concept into a workable outline (I've written about this before, and my process is essentially the same but more character-focused). I've had years of stalled and failed projects to learn from, and this planning process has worked for all the manuscripts I've written in the past year and a half.
  • Related: Scrivener templates. I made a workable template in Scrivener and I reuse it for every new manuscript. I used to plan by hand and still sometimes brainstorm in notebooks before an idea's developed enough to make a project folder for, but Scrivener makes reorganising and cut-and-pasting easy. So I have an "Ideas" folder where I write down my initial inspiration and any ideas that occur to me. Then I have different folders for the main characters and their arcs, synopses for each book, various areas of worldbuilding, etc. And then I have a main manuscript folder divided into chapters with my outline template pasted into them, complete with story beats. It did take a while to actually set up the template (it's a work-in-progress that changes slightly with each book), but now, all I need to do is create a new folder and the tools for writing a book are right there in front of me. I never entirely stick to the actual outline, but I've used this basic template for the last eight books I've written and the chapter/story beat estimator is pretty much spot on. Since setting this up, not only are my ideas much better-organised, but I'm quicker at outlining and actually *gasp* don't mind writing a synopsis. Much.
  • Things I figure out in advance: character arc, main conflict, goals, stakes. An issue with one of these can undermine the entire story, so by figuring these out in the beginning, I'm hoping to avoid major problems in edits. Even if I don't entirely stick to my outline, the one thing that usually doesn't change is the main character's arc. Figuring that out in advance is key to understanding that even if the story takes a new direction, it makes sense for the character(s). Most of my outline diverging happens when my characters take the reins anyway...
  • Plan ahead, especially with a series. I always pre-outline my series and it saves so much time in the long run.
  • Or have multiple projects on the go, especially when waiting for emails. I'd have driven myself crazy during the ten-month gap between edit rounds on the third Darkworld book if I hadn't had other projects. The risk, of course, is that everything will land in your inbox at the same time (as happened to me), but it's better than constant inbox refreshing!
  • Bookmark everything. I have folders of bookmarked pages on writing advice, plotting, research, etc. Again, it took a while to set up, but if I want to check on something, I can do so without falling down an internet black hole. (I also sometimes take notes if I find a particularly useful article, and work them into my Scrivener template so I can find them when I plan a new project.)
  • And... write everything down. I have a list on a post-it note of the steps to develop an idea into an outline, and another of the various editing stages. I keep these on my desk so I can grab them whenever I'm stuck mid-draft or before starting edits. Again, this is subjective, but after working with CPs and editors, I know what my own weaknesses are, so I can be sure to try to address them (see this post on my editing process). I hesitate to say it gets "easier" with each book, but you do tend to become attuned to your own problem areas as a writer after years of feedback! 
Obviously, this advice is coming from a self-confessed organisation-freak. Sometimes I wish I could just throw myself into a draft with abandon, but I've compared it to jumping out a plane without a parachute before and it never ends well for me. One thing I will say is: experience definitely helps reduce the fear of starting a new project!

Some excellent resources I've used:

Rachel Aaron - 2K-10K: Writing Faster, Better, and Writing More of What You Love
Libbie Hawker - Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing
Chris Fox - 5000 Words Per Hour


  1. Yess, I love your nuts-and-bolts posts! That Scrivener set-up sounds fascinating, I really need to research beats and structures more. I loved 2k-to-10k and will need to check out your other book recommendations. :)

    1. I'd definitely recommend Libbie Hawker's book for planning/outlining. I picked it up even though I'm a hardcore outliner already and it really helped me figure out how to get my story structure under control! :)

  2. Would love to see this scrivener template. I'm still learning how to use the program and I'm probably not utilizing it's full potential.

  3. Thank you so much for this post! I really, really am trying to plan more ahead of time. I'm a fast writer, but I'm sick of my plots getting muddled and sometimes abandoning books because of it. This helps ^_^

  4. Thanks for the tips! I need to get better at writing everything down. I use to have a keen memory but then I had a kid!