writing process

How to Create the Perfect Writing Process for You

5 steps to create your perfect writing processRemember the good ol’ days when your idea of a “writing process” was as simple as 1, 2, 3?

1. Sit down. 2. Put your hands to the keyboard. 3. Write.

For most writers, that quaint little take on the writing process died on the day they stalled out on #2, with hands poised receptively above the keyboard—and no words.

If you recognize that experience in any measure, then your next step—same as mine—was probably to start madly researching your way toward the perfect writing process. Like me, you probably read all the articles and interviews, eating up the words of famous and successful writers whose writing processes included a wide range of routines, superstitions, absolutist claims, and sometimes downright confusing contradictions.

You probably started experimenting, trying on first Stephen King’s writing routine, then Joyce Carol Oates’, then Brandon Sanderson’s. Undoubtedly, what you found was that what works for one writer—however brilliant—won’t necessarily work for you.

So you started borrowing bits here and bits there. And, slowly, your own unique take on the writing process started to emerge. Finding the right writing process is as simple—and complex—as that.

Outlining Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

Unlike other aspects of the craft (e.g., the actual techniques and theories that build a story), the writing process is inimitably personal to each and every writer. Some writers, like myself, create processes that optimize upfront outlining and planning. Others find this utterly stifling to their abilities. Some writers require solitude and silence; others need the static noise of crowds or even TV in the background. Some writers crank out tens of thousands of words in a sit-down; others piece together only a few sentences a day.

Writers sometimes resist the idea that creativity can be confined by rulesWhile this resistance is largely futile and self-defeating when it comes to the actual craft of writing, it’s absolutely worthwhile when it comes to the necessary individuality of the writing process.

Actually, there is one rule for writing processes, and this is it: Nobody can tell you or show you the right writing process for you. Every writer’s process will be slightly different, depending on any number of unique factors, ranging from personality to lifestyle. It can take time to create a writing process that will put you in the right place every time your fingers approach the keyboard. Likely, it is a process you will tweak for the rest of your life. As you evolve as a person and a writer, so too will your process evolve. Staying in tune with your personal needs and rhythms is the most important step in optimizing your entire life to help you write your best work.

Recognizing Writing as the Marriage of Order and Chaos

Much of the discussion about writing process comes down to whether or not an author finds it more comfortable to outline a novel upfront, or not. There’s a reason this argument is front and center. Within it lies one of the most foundational dichotomies of the creative life.

Chaos and order.

This everlasting, swirling dichotomy of power and control is one with which all writers are intimately familiar. Indeed, the best writing inevitably emerges from the tension point between chaos and order.

Creativity is the child of chaos; art is the child of order.

Raw inspiration is the intuitive understanding that funnels straight up from the subconscious. It is a chaotic experience. It is beyond our control, largely even beyond our comprehension. It’s a blinding swirl of light and color, images and feelings. It comes to us as little more than an unformed, inexplicable understanding. It’s often so fleeting we can barely grasp it on a conscious level. So many of these wild ideas fly away from us, like midnight dreams, almost before we remember they belonged to us at all. But in instances of great fortune, we hold the magic before our conscious mind’s eye long enough to capture it on paper.

In those moments, what we are struggling to do is bring order to chaos. We are taking the most ephemeral pantings of the human mind and confining them within the physicality of paper and ink. We are hammering them into the tiny, ever-tightening specificity of words. What begins as only the electric firings of our brains now becomes characters, plots, structures, stories.

This explains the almost unavoidable phenomenon Gail Carson Levine references:

Ideas are ideas, and words on paper are words on paper; they’re not the same thing, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves.

But both—the chaos of creativity and the order of art—are necessary if we want to create a book. Finding and balancing upon the tension point between them is where each writer’s personal writing process becomes crucial. For each of us, our best route to this end goal will be different—because for each of us, our respective relationships with order and chaos are different.

How to Upgrade Your Writing Process by Hacking Your Brain

Our brains all develop a little differently. We’re all wired in slightly—or, sometimes, dramatically—different ways. This is reflected in our personalities and, on an even deeper level, in our natural propensities and even skills.

Some writers will find themselves naturally wired to orient more naturally with the artistic order side of the coin, while others lean more freely into the chaos of creativity.

I daresay “order” writers are those who gravitate more naturally to  the idea of incorporating upfront planning and outlining in their processes, while “chaos” writers are those who prefer to lean full-on into creativity’s wild ride, only straightening up their art later on.

Although you may instinctively know which approach best suits you, it’s not always so clear in the beginning. When trying to figure out your natural strengths, start by keeping in mind these two facts:

Fact #1: Neither is better than the other.

Both arrive at the same end goal, after all. To me, it seems possible that “chaos” writers more naturally retain the purity of their creativity, while “order” writers have a comparatively easier time getting their ideas into working order. Obviously, both approaches have inherent strengths and weaknesses.

Fact #2: Neither necessarily creates more or less work than the other.

All writers plan and all writers “pants”; all writers must embrace both chaos and order. It’s just that some writers prefer to impose order earlier in the process and others later. Whether you’re doing most of your heavy organizational lifting upfront in an outline or later on in revisions, the workload tends to even out in the long run.

What’s important is recognizing your most natural mode and experimenting with ways you can hack your brain’s personal wiring to create a writing process that will help you get out of your own way, while minimizing distractions and obstacles.

5 Questions to Help You to Create the Perfect Writing Process

Heeding your brain’s natural wiring is the first and most foundational step in creating your own personalized writing process. Once you’ve done that, start paying attention to your work flow and patterns. Take special note of what’s extra hard and what’s extra fun. What makes you most efficient? What helps you produce your best writing?

Slowly, you will be able to refine every part of your approach to optimize it to your own special needs. You can start by asking yourself the following five questions.

1. What Do You Find the Most Challenging Part of Writing?

A well-executed writing process won’t, in itself, make writing easy. But if you can identify the parts you hate most, you can work on minimizing them—and in the process, you’ll chop half your excuses off at the neck.

For example, I hate revisions. Let me say that again: I hate, hate, hate revisions. When writing my early novels, I sometimes had to completely rewrite them. And I loathed every single minute. It was torture. But over the years, I have learned how to optimize my process to eliminate as much of the major revision work as possible by focusing on an extensive outlining process. I spend the time in the beginning to get my story as close to perfect as possible, so I don’t have to put myself through the agony of major revisions later on.

Other writers, however, hate outlining with equal verve. In which case, vive la revision!

2. What Part of the Process Do You Find Most Enjoyable?

Another dichotomy of the writing life is that writing is often equal parts agony and ecstasy. Even as you try to create a writing process that minimizes the parts of writing you find agonizing, you are, of course, trying to maximize the ecstatic parts.

So what’s your favorite? What’s the one part of writing you could do all day, every day—if only you could? Start looking for ways to put that part of the process front and center. If you can figure out how to take care of the heavy lifting in your favorite part, you’ve just killed two birds with one stone.

For example, not so ironically, I adore outlining. It is far and away my favorite part of the process. I love it even more than actually writing the first draft. For me, spending months upfront doing something I love (which, in turn, is going to help me avoid doing something I hate) is no sacrifice.

By contrast, maybe what you enjoy most is drafting or even (gasp) revising. Figure out how you might be able to put the bulk of your efforts into this section of your writing. More time doing the thing you love best is just good for everyone.

3. What Are Your Most Obvious Weaknesses as a Writer?

As writers, we’re all evolving. Whether you’re a greenie just starting out or a certified black belt, you will always be adjusting your understanding of the craft (including the placement of that tension point between chaos and order). In short, you’ll always be learning how to do something better. Fortunately, this is another area in which you can optimize your writing process to help you move forward with the fewest possible obstacles.

Structuring Your Novel IPPY Award 165

Structuring Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

Look at your body of work—especially your most recent stuff—and examine it as objectively as possible. What do you believe are some of your most prominent weaknesses as a writer? This could be anything from story structure to chapter endings to minor characters to narrative description—or any combination thereof. How can you craft your writing process to help you deliberately focus on and improve these weaknesses?

For example, something I’m working consciously to improve in my stories is the motivations and goals of minor characters, both in the larger story and scene by scene. I have consciously built into my outlining process the need to ask myself questions about all my minor characters. Instead of getting halfway into plotting the story before thinking about my minor characters’ personal agenda in any given scene, I’m trying to address these questions upfront, so not only will I know, but so these revelations have an opportunity to affect the entire story before I start plotting.

Similarly, you might try hacking your process to address weaknesses by outlining your story’s major structural beats or marking all descriptive passages for revision in later drafts.

4. What Is Your Ideal Writing Environment?

Setting up writing habits that include a daily schedule and optimized writing environment will contribute to the overall success of your process.

Once again, this comes down to observing yourself, knowing what triggers your best work, and avoiding what inhibits it. Depending on the circumstances of your home, job, and family, your choices may not always be optimal. But work with what you have. Insofar as writing is important to you, put in the effort to create the best habits possible. Nurture yourself.

Dreamlander (Amazon affiliate link)

For example, although I’m a pretty routine-oriented person (“order” strikes again), I’m getting better at flexing my writing routine when necessary. Right now, as I’m outlining the third book in my Dreamlander trilogy, my favorite writing situation is a low-lighting setting of solitude, away from my desk and computer, with music filling the room. It makes me feel nested into a cocoon of creativity.

1-19 Outlining Dreamlander 3

But others find they can’t write without background noise, even a TV show or movie running in the background. Or maybe you have kids and a day job and find your only opportunity for writing is getting in half an hour before the day’s other demands upon your energy begin. Whatever the case, try to give your creativity its best chance. Work with your life, not against it.

5. What Does Sustainability Look Like for You?

Recently, I read a brilliant quote on a sustainable lifestyle blog (not sure which one, unfortunately), which, paraphrased, applies equally to creating the optimal writing routine:

You’re not trying to be a perfect writer for a week; you’re trying to be an imperfect writer for the rest of your life.

Sometimes it can be easy to look at a famous writer’s book-stuffed writing nook, read their summary of their simple and seemingly effortless writing routine, and think, I should do that! I could totally do that! 

And maybe you could pull it off for one day or even a couple weeks. If, however, the routine hasn’t been optimized to your individual needs as a creative person, it won’t be the long-term answer you need. Nurturing a personal writing routine is a lifelong pursuit.

Don’t guilt yourself into believing writing routines are a one-size-fits-all hand-me-down from the geniuses who have gone before. The first step is realizing this is your routine and, quite literally, no one else’s. Knowing this gives you the freedom to do what is best for you and only you.

How awesome is that? How often does life give you that kind of carte blanche?

Optimized writing routines don’t make writing easy, but they do make writing easier. So have fun. Embrace the chaos. Respect the order. Observe your own brain. Cultivate the ultimate space for enjoying your creativity and making your art.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What is one thing you can think of that would make your writing process work even better for you? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Turn off the wifi… :/

  2. I trained to be a reporter. Gather the facts, write the story, meet the deadline. When I find myself stalled and without a deadline, I’ve realized that I can’t go on without more facts! Even though I’m (mostly) making up facts rather than researching, I need to have enough material to craft a story that makes sense. So back to the questions. Interview the characters. Talk to their neighbors and co-workers. There’s a reason the story stalled, and it’s usually a failure to fully investigate the story background.

    • Ditto. I find my newspaper training to be extremely helpful. As a writer of biography, facts must drive the story and newspaper writing is a great training ground.

    • I had the same training. I also had a teacher in high school who dismissed the concept of writer’s block for the same reason you do: you haven’t enough material, or you haven’t thought enough about the story to begin with. Reality has proved him right.

      I got out of one plot logjam simply by going back to the research and looking at “original sources” (well, translations) to see how people in the time period my fantasy is based on thought about the problem I had given my heroine, and how they “solved” it (it was a magical problem).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is a great analogy. I do find that the majority of writer’s block is ultimately caused by lack of information–in one sense or another.

  3. Magnificent.

    Of *course* it’s all about maximizing our strengths and covering our weaknesses. After all, the the real reason to write is the joy of it– no fame or fortune is worth the endless, endless hours locked in a room alone, unless we enjoy what we’re locked in with.

    This is definitely the guide too many writers need. There are umpteen systems and theories out there, and they all have something to choose from, but what matters is the choosing.

    Thanks once again, Katy!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think many of us (myself included) have subscribed to the idea that “if isn’t hard, it isn’t right.” And that, of course, is crazy. Mastery is all about finding flow–making the complex simple.

  4. Thank you! This is perfect. I have just been reconsidering some standard advice: write every day. It seems like common sense — do it every day, build a habit so it happens automatically, and watch your novel slowly accumulate.

    But it doesn’t work for me.

    I’ve tried writing a little bit every day, and I end up with random sentences in notebooks, neat outlines — even a few longer passages that encourage me a lot when I reread them. But none of this adds up to a novel.

    I can’t get into the writing mode when I know I’m only going to be writing for twenty or thirty minutes. I can’t make what I’m doing “real” — I get words on paper, but they aren’t a real commitment. They aren’t intended to “count,” to really be the story, and no amount of slow accumulation will make it so. The real work is hard, deliberate work, and it’s not like washing the dishes or tidying up the living room: it is never going to happen really automatically.

    I think it’s time to disregard the advice. Daily isn’t necessarily better for me. Two hours once or twice a week may be many times more productive than twenty minutes of warm-up exercises every day. And while two hours every day would be great, I know myself and my limits — I could never write fiction for two hours a day and still do first-rate work at my day job, and both are important.

    So I appreciate this, especially the advice that it’s better to be an imperfect writer for the rest of my life, not a perfect writer for one week. I need to work with who I am and what I do, and I’ve just realized this doesn’t mean not imposing any structure or rules at all. There is a middle ground between resolving to get up at 4:00 a.m. every day to write for two hours and just writing when I feel like it. I think I’m going to try scheduling two two-hour sessions a week (a firm commitment) but leave some flexibility on which days. If that doesn’t work, I’ll keep adjusting and keep trying — and stop beating myself up because someone else’s schedule or process doesn’t work for me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think there’s a time in certain writers’ lives when sticking to a rigid schedule is necessary to build discipline. But when the reason you’re not writing has nothing to do with discipline, other priorities arise. For example, I thought today was going to be a writing day. Alas, circumstances happened this morning to derail my best-laid plans. I could try to force my writing into what’s left of the afternoon, but I’m being realistic in realizing I’m no longer in a good place to write. I’m better off focusing on other things that need doing. For me, another writing day will come right around the corner, and will probably be better off for my having observed my energetic needs today.

    • parepidemos1 says

      Evelyn, I feel ya. I’m still trying to “write every day” but not the way Scott Moon does, churning out 1000 to 3000 words per day while he holds down a demanding day job. Like you, I just can’t do that.

      So I’m allowing myself to “write every day” but about all sorts of things: book-table ideas, story premises, article stubs, letters to my daughter, whatever my brain wants to focus on—whatever I will be able to write WELL during the brief daily time I have.

      And, like you, I’m going to try to schedule one bigger block of time for “writing sprints” focused solely on the book I’m writing right now. Just one block of time per week. It feels like a stupid idea, like way too little to really finish the dang thing. And yet, tbh, it would add up to more time that I’ve been spending on it.

      Like you, I will stop beating myself up and embrace what works for me. Yay team!

      • Definitely! I feel very encouraged reading your experiences, and I hope the new approach will work for both of us!

        I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before and realized that while my failure to complete my projects probably is related to discipline, it isn’t primarily a discipline issue. I’m failing to use what I know about my own work habits to my best advantage. Some people work best with a steady, consistent effort over time (marathoners), and some people really do work best in intense bursts with plenty of downtime in between (sprinters). Rubin’s third category is procrastinators — of course I procrastinate sometimes, too! But it was a huge insight for me to realize that working like a sprinter is not at all the same thing as being a habitual procrastinator.

  5. Five great questions to ask ourselves. The answers would be different for each individual.
    I need order; I do not thrive on chaos. I also need background noise while I am writing.
    I love endings and beginnings; I struggle with the middle.
    Outlining is also my favorite part of the process.
    I am more prolific at night than in the mornings.
    I am better at plotting than characterization.
    Great post, K.M. It gave me an opportunity for introspection.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You sound like me, although I actually like the middle best–fewer beats have to be hit just right and there’s more room to just have fun.

      • Now that you put it that way, the middle part should not be so intimidating. I tend to look at the middle as set-up for the ending.

  6. April Taylor says

    My problems at the moment are that life is getting in the way of my writing time and the life problems cannot wait – family illness, going into residential care and the rest.

    Putting the life issues aside, my current writing problem is quite a nice one. I’ve finished the first draft and yes, I did use a mixture of plotting systems, including yours, to put it together, but it lacks that certain something to lift it out of the ordinary. Finding that is the issue or rather, finding the time to let my brain concentrate on something other than domestic issues.

    I will get there because the two things I major on are persistence and determination. I am at my best between 6am and midday. I am writing this at 5pm, so the day is skewed and I am less productive now. I need routine, even if the occasional hiatus interrupts it.

    The most challenging things for me are seeding clues so that the reader overlooks them but, conversely, I love doing that. I am a “sort-of” plotter. I know the beginning and the end, but the middle could go down many roads before it meets the conclusion. I have a few titles out there now and this really is my job for life.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sorry to hear about your family’s struggles right now. I have confidence though, that even in the midst of a hectic concentration on non-writing, your sub-conscious is still mulling your major questions about your story. By the time you get back to the page, you may find the answer patiently waiting for you.

  7. My big, almost unsurmountable problem is to turn a mindmap into a story. I know innumerable details, have a great grasp of what is going on at any moment in space and time – and it is epic. But I cannot extract a single, linear text about it, because everything is connected to so many other things, and would be more powerful if those things had been told first to provide a backdrop, and on the other hand NOT telling some things beforehand would make for great revelations later on in the (nonexistent and never coming-to-be) story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s not my story and I know nothing about it, so forgive my glib answer, but: I vote for erring on the side of subtext.

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Oh my goodness, thank you! I have been trying to figure this out for years. You have provided me with the solid start of do-ability. I can see now the importance, the significance of being true to myself, and to no one else, in and through the writing process. And you’ve done it with poetry.

    “So many of these wild ideas fly away from us, like midnight dreams, almost before we remember they belonged to us at all.”

  9. I find writing flow easy when I know my story. I love researching but I need to force myself to do hard thinking on plot because I’m mentally lazy. So, I have a big list of outline techniques and mental games to play to get me thinking. I have mastered the art of outlining on Freemind and have built some flowcharts to automate the process. I use timed thinks. I learnt how to do philosophical contemplation. Also when I find myself stalling I do a quickfire call out of what I call Gimme10. Gimme10 conflicts, gimme10 complications. gimme10 reasons why he can’t just walk away etc. Somehow this feeds into the part of me that used to like showing off in class.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “I find writing flow easy when I know my story.”

      You’ve just summed up in a single sentence why I outline.

  10. Good advice.

    I like the idea of playing to your strengths. I’m a big picture person. My favourite part of the process is playing with the themes and symbols. I’m inspired by reality. Interviewing characters. Creating more exciting plot twists. These are things that make feel bogged down and overwhelmed.

    I’ve almost finished my first novel- which I pantsed. It has taken over two years to do the rewrites and final edits and I’ve hated most of this type of work. As a reward for finishing it, I’ve promised myself that I can start planning the sequel using something similar to Katie’s method. I can’t wait.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I would encourage you to take the further step of examining *why* you find interviewing characters and creating plot twists difficult. If you can pinpoint the true obstacle (whether it’s confusion about something or just an unnecessary complexity interfering with your brain’s natural wiring), you may be able to find your best option for simplifying these chores.

  11. K.M. Thanks for the blog post and especially the 5 questions which I found quite useful. After 30+ years of writing professionally I find myself in a time of struggle. Thus, the reason I listened to your podcast on the subject. So, most challenging? Two parts, like you revisions, and also finding myself in the first draft not knowing certain details that slow the drafting process down. What I most enjoy? The creating and outlining. What I see from these two insights: spend more time in the creating and outlining including looking in more depth at the details I’ll need, thus reducing the parts I enjoy less. My weaker area: adding ‘color’ and detail that will flush out a story. See above how to improve on that. As for the best environment. I think I need to explore that newly. I have a great office with a large monitor, remote keyboard, the works, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily the best environment especially when it comes to the creating and outlining phase. Okay, thanks again. It’s much appreciated. Episode 451 was it? Wow! That’s impressive.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      My ratio of time for outlining/drafting/revising these days, breaks down something like this 3/2/1. I love spending that extra time upfront. It’s a joy–and it just makes everything easier in the long run. It’s definitely a commitment that requires patience, but I’ve never known it not to be worth it.

  12. This is pretty much what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. It works for the most part; I’ve come up with a few methods that work for me. But now that I’m focusing on two projects full time, and thus able to get more work done, there’s a lot of pondering about how far and how wide I should go with outlining. I love outlining; getting the facts as quickly and efficiently as possible to avoid having to do tons of revising later on. And writing in itself isn’t the problem either; I write each day (and usually a few hundred words).

    I’ve run into a wall now, and I don’t know how to break through it. I know I don’t yet have enough to really start writing, but I also don’t know what to do with the outline. It feels like I’m running in circles in a dark tunnel without seeing the light at the end.

    My creative mind is so much of a mess that the biggest issue isn’t about *what* to write down, but *how* to write it and how to keep it *organized*. I’ve tried a wiki (either online or a hierarchy in Scrivener), rough sketches (as in the outlining book), and loose article-style prose. Sketches go well, but when I then try to write the “final” summary (like character biography, setting description, plot) I’m never truly happy about it (it’s either too broad/rough, or too short/simple). I think part of the problem is that I’m very verbose (like with writing this reply), and another is that I can be a perfectionist (though it has gotten better, but it’s more that I fear it won’t be *clear* enough for me to use it).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Perfectionism makes everything harder (and I speak from inside the prison). Sometimes I think we just have to pull the plug on perfectionism and forge ahead even when we *know* something hasn’t yet reached its optimal level. There is definitely truth about “bad words” being worth more than “no words.”

      • All true. It has become easier to just say “this is good enough”, now that I’m writing regularly. But the issue that stems from that is that I now fear that what I write down is not *enough*.

        Basically, I’m using the basic principles of the Snowflake method, like sculpting. I start with the broad shapes and then progressively add more detail. But now that I’ve gotten further than ever before, I get the feeling that the broad shapes are not good enough, or shaped correctly. And I fear that if I try to “fix” those broad strokes, the whole thing distorts and loses cohesion.

        I’ve still got a long way to go.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I recommend looking at the things that are niggling at you and trying to find the specific questions you need to ask about them. If you can find the right question to identify what you *really* feel is wrong, usually there is an equally specific answer waiting on the other side.

  13. This is fantastic, Katie. Thank you! I hope to put it to use some time soon 🙂

  14. Mark of the East says

    Thanks to you, I now consider myself a writer. After years of despair-style writing, now I had found comfort. This comfort I found in a notebook, away from my desk, with a bunch of high lighters, and a timer.

  15. Usvaldo de Leon says

    Embrace the chaos!

  16. Helen Aveling says

    The easiest time of year is Jan & Feb. If I’m going to get a load of words on ‘paper’ (i.e. computer) it’s invariably the first 59 days of the year. That said, I get blocks in the year. My biggest problem is that I’m a nerd and can perfectly happily spend 4-7 months or more researching, working out maps & diagrams, family trees and so on. My brain sees this as prevarication, me doing anything to avoid writing, but is it? I need to have worked out relationships, what is where in the home/city that the story is set otherwise I get muddled when I *do* write.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, even though summer is traditionally my “best” time of the year, it’s ironically not my best writing time. Too many distractions, I guess.

  17. Great thoughts in this article. Love the quote ‘creativity is the child of chaos; art is the child of order.’ My chaotic sister was extraordinarily creative yet lacked order in her lifestyle. After her untimely death it was heartbreaking to find songs, stories, movie scripts, drawings … so much potential but only scraps of paper that never saw the light of day. I’m the opposite: trying to be so ordered I can kill creativity. Trying to find the balance. Thank you for defining the process.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Very sorry to hear about your sister. We sometimes talk about approaching inspiration with awe and trembling. We often say it tongue in cheek, but there’s much truth to it. The chaos of creativity is a powerful force–one that swallows us whole sometimes.

  18. If I get the premise right to begin with, the writing goes smoother from beginning to end. I will spend a great deal of time creating the premise and testing it for sustainability throughout the story and refer to it often as I write.

  19. Nice article. I am new to writing. I am trying my hand at a novel with a bit of contrived history but good enough it could be real, a bit of time travel and small amount of romance. How real does a “fact” need to be? Odd question but some of my story is based on finding lost wealth by way of lost stock. Some of my research has led me to see that the reality of that by today’s standards may not wash. But is the idea good enough to pass or do I change the course. Would love to have input on when we cross the line with fact and wanna be facts so that we loose the story and the reader.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s hard to say. If you’re presenting it as fact, you may run into some problems. But if readers understand this is a “alternate” history, it may be just fine.

  20. Tom Youngjohn says

    G-d bless K.M. Weiland. She’s the best.

  21. This article could not have come at a better time. I’m returning to a mss I had to abandon about 3 months ago and having a tough time getting necessary thrust, torque, and launch lift. Mostly, I now think, because I’m spending more time dreading the parts I enjoy less than burrowing down into the stuff I do enjoy. Thanks so much for this smart reminder.

  22. Great post! I liked this one a lot.There are so many many writing reference books about “the writing process” out there. It took me a while, but I found out a simple process that works for me, though I might be a little unusual. One thing I could do to help my writing process is schedule my planning/outlining days like I’ve started doing with my writing/revising. It would help me finish outlining my stories faster.

    Thanks for sharing and congrats on your new book! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes! Once you figure out the basis of what works for you, you can always tweak it to make it more and more efficient.

  23. A great article, and quite timely too. I have been debating this very question about investing more sustainable effort into my writing. It’s probably a case of reorganisation, but your question about the most challenging part set me thinking about how I manage my time. Between full-time work, a side line in photography, freelance writing and local politics, to say nothing of an increased effort at reading more, I guess I need to find some small nugget of time somewhere I can start to string sentences together. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Thank you again. I need to think about a lot of it because some things I don’t know yet.

    I learned the last years that everyone needs to find their own writing practice. It is great to learn from others, but copying doesn’t work. Beating yourself up because you fail to do what ohter writers do helps even less.

    This year, I will try to not let my perfectionism get in the way of my writing. And learning to write when and where I can. In fact, what you said above: “Depending on the circumstances of your home, job, and family, your choices may not always be optimal. But work with what you have. Insofar as writing is important to you, put in the effort to create the best habits possible. Nurture yourself.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Being kind to ourselves is important. It’s the shortest and best route to figuring out why something may be difficult for us.

  25. Thanks for sharing. I have saved the link so that I can come back and read this again in the moments when I wonder what on earth I am doing. I especially appreciated your suggestion that every writer is both a planner and a panster. That brought me great consolation.

    When I sat down last year to start what I thought was a holiday distraction, a one-time opportunity to revisit my childhood dream to be a writer, writing came easy. I had an idea and I sat and typed as the words flooded from me. It was only when I was almost finished what obviously wanted to become the first book in a series of novels that I started to research how REAL authors approached their writing.

    A whole new world of jargon, theories and strategies, rules and guidelines. I made the quick decision that I must be a panster. Then halfway through the second manuscript, I sat down to outline the final chapters. At first, I thought I was letting pride take me into foreign territory, but when everything went back to the normal I-don’t-know-where-this-scene-is-taking-me craziness to wrap up the story, I thought the outlining phenomenon was a glitch, and tried to forget…

    Today, I discovered that is okay to be both. I’m not breaking any rules. I”m just like every other hopeful writer, trying to find a way to bring the story forward )i(

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A common idea among writers is the idea of “serving the story.” Ultimately, that’s all any of us is trying to do in finding a successful process.

    • Jean McReynolds says

      I’m happy to know that I’m not alone. Maybe, I’ll pick up that children’s story I’ve been working on for so long and finally finish it.
      Thanks for sharing.

  26. Abigail Welborn says

    Thank you for another great article! I enjoy your blog (and books). I had a question about your process… You have mentioned that you do most of your brainstorming and a lot of outlining by hand with an ergonomic pen. I also love freewriting by hand—I find it’s one of the best ways I brainstorm—but my pencil grip is abominable. My hand cramps up after only an hour. (College was exciting, let me tell you, and I got those cushioned pens that were supposed to help but since I hold them wrong, they didn’t really.) How long did it take you to adjust to a new grip, as the ergonomic pen would seem to require? I try fixing my grip sometimes, and I can tell that it’s way more comfortable for my hand, but my handwriting in that grip looks like a kid’s! I get so frustrated that I give up and say it’s too late to change. 😛 (I have always been a prolific writer, including a ton of journaling and note-taking from like 4th grade through college, so I have SO MANY HOURS of practice doing it wrong.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The pen I use is basically just a cradle for your forefinger, so it mimics “normal” pen posture about 90%. The difference is that you’re using the weight of your hand to hold and control the pen rather than squeezing it.

      • Abigail Welborn says

        Gotcha. Thanks! At least if I have to learn a new (i.e., the correct) grip I can do it ergonomically. 😉

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          It’s really pretty easy to adjust to. I will say my handwriting is a little sloppier with it though.

  27. Brenda Williams says

    I’m simply amazed at your ability to teach me, and I’m getting it. Thanks again

  28. So true. I like the tips thank you. 😀 I find what works for me is that golden time when my son goes to sleep for the night, I’ll have four hours or so of uninterrupted quiet. In those hours I can really crack away at the chapters, let my imagination run wild. It’s almost like my characters are there talking to me, saying “Do this, let’s try that! I don’t want to do that.” Lol. xD

    Early mornings are also nice, If I go to bed early and get up at five am it works too.

    Doesn’t matter if it’s late night or early morning, what does matter is how my notes are organized so I know what has to be done next, or what needs to be fixed. I wish I’d have been this organized when first starting.

    With your help I’ve taken this mess and applyed an outline of the web, it’s not following exactly the outline as some stuff had to be tweaked to fit how I do things, it’s worlds better than what was done before jumping in blind and trying to remember everything in my head. (Oy.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m really trying to find my golden hours too. I have a feeling I’d enjoy evening writing too, but that’s always been my reading time, and I’m reluctant to give that up.

  29. Mary George says

    Funny, but I always think of Hemingway: “The most essential gift any writer can have is a built-in, shock-proof sh*t-detector.”
    What I love about that is that Hemingway, one can infer, wrote sh*t. Not unlike Anne Lamott’s “sh*tty first draft” chapter in “Bird by Bird.”
    No one wants to talk about how bad those first drafts can be, and how demoralizing it is to keep revising.
    Only a first novel can nail the point with that.

    (But tweaking that quote above just a bit, I’d like to take out “built-in” and add “editor.”)

    PS. For me, Post-It’s are the best for all those fleeting creative moments, and for getting a new story down. Those, (yellow and pink only, please – green and blue are too dark) and a brand new notebook to slap them into, from beginning, middle to end. They’re so easy to rearrange!)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Great point about the Post-Its! On a similar note, I finally got a smart phone last year and am finding it great for recording notes.

  30. Greetings from Panamá! I am a huge fan of your podcast. Thanks for putting it out there. It has helped me a ton with my first published novel and I am currently working towards new stuffs. Short stories mostly or maybe a short novel too.

    Regardless, at the moment I am stuck in the process. I recently moved out to a new place and one of the spaces I had to sacrifice for now was my office. Without it I can’t find the calm and solitude I need to concentrate and it’s making me crazy. My inspiration is flowing like a shoal through a broken net. Any advice would be welcomed!

    Anyways, hope you are doing alright in this weather. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I find I’m struggling with that a little bit myself at the moment–more than I realized when I wrote this post. I moved in the last couple months myself, and it’s been… interesting, trying to establish a new writing routine within this new time and place. I’m still working on it, but am giving myself the space to instinctively find the right answers in their own time.

  31. When I was a kid, I used to pants and never look back. Afterwards, I learned about story theory and became obsessed with trying to create something perfect the first time around (which never works out), which led me to attempting heavy outlining via the Snowflake method…basically the opposite of my past approach. While the journey was fascinating and I learned a lot along the way, ultimately copious outlining didn’t work for me because by the time I’d finished an outline, I’d already told the story, so the fun of writing it was gone. However, any stories I tried to pants during this time period also fizzled out because I would lose motivation after the first couple chapters when I realized I didn’t know where the story was going.

    Another huge weakness of mine is worldbuilding. I absolutely hate sitting down and sketching out extensive details about a world without knowing how or why it fits into the plot. This stretches from making maps to building spaceships to even giving the characters names. I think part of it comes down to my constant struggles with understanding space (for someone who got lost in a McDonald’s Play Place once, mapping out the geography of a setting and keeping it consistent is dang hard). But, when I would try to write stories without adequate worldbuilding, I would get frustrated and stop because I was unable to “fake it” hard enough to reach the end of the story.

    I really want to finish the first draft of a novel this year, so I’ve been thinking back on my failures (and my childhood successes) to see how I can keep myself going this time. I’m planning to try a hybrid approach. Using what I’ve learned of story theory, I know the inciting incident and midpoint of the story for sure, and I’m more or less certain about the climax and ending. (The midpoint was actually the first part of this story that I conceived, which is unusual for me.) I’ll expand this outline just far enough so that I have direction while I’m writing, but not so much that I feel I’ve already told the whole story. Same with worldbuilding — while I outline, I’ll see where I have huge gaps and fill them in, but I’ll try not to go crazy, driven by the fear that if I don’t know EVERYTHING, I’ll fall apart.

    I actually enjoy revisions…I like looking at a dumpster fire and trying to make something beautiful from it. But, can’t do that without a dumpster fire to begin with. Knowing that, I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to try to attack novel-writing from a panster-heavy angle again. My other strengths include characters — their motivations, dialogue, quirks, all that fun stuff — and going with the flow. I just like to jump off the rails and have fun sometimes, although I have to be careful because I’ve often written myself into a rut that way.

    Even though looking back on it I maybe should have realized sooner that I’m not a hardcore plotter and probably never will be, I don’t think I would feel nearly as confident about this upcoming novel if I hadn’t tried (and failed) using all sorts of methods in the past. I think that’s a super important thing for writers who don’t know what their process is to realize. Try everything. For each thing you try, part of it probably won’t work, but part of it probably will.

    Anyway, this was long. Even though it seems that our writing processes are very different, I’ve learned so much from your blog posts. (And I LOVE story theory now.) Thanks so much and keep doing what you’re doing!

  32. Another great article! Thank you, Katherine. And “Vive la revision” for a French like me sounds pretty sexy. 🙂

  33. I like silence when I’m writing, because I have to hear what my characters are saying, see where they’re going, feel, smell, hear the things around them, and share all that in my story, so the reader can be there, too. Too much outside sound drowns all that out and ruins a great story.


  1. […] writers. Andrea Merrell reminds us that writing is a process, not an event; K.M. Weiland tells us how to create the perfect writing process for you, and Gabriela Periera shares 4 reasons to include writing prompts in your writing […]

  2. […] How to Create the Perfect Writing Process for You […]

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