creative writing process

What is your creative writing process?

What steps do you take to get a creative writing project completed? Is your method sheer madness?

One day, many years ago, I was working in an office. The executives were having a meeting to discuss new procedures. It was a hot day and the conference room was small and crowded, so the door was open. As I passed by on my way to the filing room, I overheard my boss saying, “Melissa can handle that. She’s very methodical.”

Methodical. I tried it on and decided yes, it fit. “I am methodical,” I declared, and went about my business. 

And it was true, too. I was organized to a fault, always looking for systems and processes that would streamline the workflow and make business more efficient and therefore more effective. The clothes in my closet were organized by season, length, and color. I didn’t have to flip through my hangers to find an article of clothing. Everything was neatly filed in its place.




Selling the Method

Writing gurus and mentors often want us to believe that there is only one true creative writing process. It usually goes something like this:

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Outline and research
  3. Rough draft
  4. Revise (repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat)
  5. Edit, proof, and polish

This is a good system — it absolutely works. But does it work for everyone?

Assessing the Creative Writing Process

I’ve been thinking a lot about the creative writing process. Lately I’ve found myself working on all types of projects: web pages, blog posts, a science fiction series, and a children’s chapter book.

How do I tackle all these different projects without some kind of plan or system?

I’ve thought about the steps I take with my own writing and realized that the writing process I use varies from project to project and depends on the level of difficulty, the length and scope of the project, and even my state of mind. If I’m feeling super creative, a blog post or an article will come flying out of my head. If I’m tired, hungry, or unmotivated, or if the project is complicated, then it’s a struggle, and I have to work a little harder. Brainstorming and outlining can help. A lot.

It occurred to me that I don’t have one creative writing process. I have several. And I always use the one that’s best suited for a particular project.

March to the Beat

One of my favorite sayings has to do with marching to the beat of your own drum. I like that saying because that’s how I walk — to my own rhythm. If I didn’t, then I probably never would have started my own business or believed that I could make it as a writer. In fact, I probably wouldn’t be a writer at all.

Some writers can sit down and pound out an article, a short story, or even a novel without ever planning or outlining. Others have to follow a strict but creative writing process or they get lost and confused, tangled up in their own words.

For example, when I am involved in a copywriting or nonfiction project, I find that brainstorming and outlining are essential. I need to organize my thoughts and make sure I cover the subject matter thoroughly. But with creative writing projects, such as fiction and poetry (and even the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo back in 2008), I just start typing and let the ideas flow.

Conversely, the NaNoWriMo project I did this year had a full, detailed outline. So with two different novels, I used two very different processes.

Listen to Your Own Rhythm

We all start with interesting creative writing ideas and hope to finish with a completely riveting piece of writing.

That day I overheard my boss saying that I was methodical was a long time ago. Since then, I’ve loosened up my methods. Oh, I can still whip up a streamlined procedure and implement it. I have to do that for my own business all the time, whether it involves maintaining my client contact list or managing my quotes and invoices; using a system for that stuff is extremely helpful.

But my closet no longer looks like it’s maintained by Martha Stewart. It’s still pretty organized, but not by color and season. It helps to know when a system works and when it’s all hype. The first few times I tried to write a novel, I did so using the exact same writing process that I used for writing essays in college, and it simply did not work. It wasn’t until I totally changed the process that I was able to succeed and complete that massive creative writing project.

Creative writing processes are good. The reason our predecessors developed these processes and shared them, along with a host of other writing tips, was to help us be more productive and produce better writing. Techniques and strategies can be helpful, but it’s our responsibility to know what works for us as individuals and as creative writers and to know what will cause us to infinitely spin our wheels.

It is only by experimenting with a variety of processes that you will find the creative writing process that works best for you.

I Showed You Mine…

…now show me yours. What’s your creative writing process? Do you have one? Do you ever get stuck in the writing process? How do you get unstuck?

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