Self-Publishing: The Writing Process

My goal in this episode of the Self-Publishing series is to touch on both the physical and mental aspects of the actual writing process. Perhaps some of this is taught in creative writing workshops, but other elements are just best practices I’ve stumbled upon.

As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, I try to delay the actual no-kidding writing process as long as I can because my belief is that once I’ve started typing much of the creative decisions I need to make with the work are in the past. In the non-literary world of creative problem solving we often talk about diverging then converging. In my experience, once I’m writing on the computer, I’m in converging mode. Or if I’m not, I need to be or I’ll never finish.

So here are some of my thoughts about this process of converging onto a publishable work:

  1. Building Discipline. One of the more important aspects to actually finishing a book is the intentional discipline that you design into the process. What does this mean? Essentially, the author needs to consistently generate content for the book. My typical approach is to use “Streak” applications on my iPhone and a spreadsheet to capture word count. Both of these together help to build the habit that I need to be able to complete the book. See here and here for discussion of habit-streaks. My typical approach to build the writing habit is to create a simple daily task to “write 100 words” in the hopes that I won’t be daunted by the size of the task. Then, if I’m lucky and I’m feeling inspired, maybe I’ll write more, perhaps many more words. Just getting to the keyboard is often the main barrier. Another thing that I do to keep the barrier to writing low is keeping my laptop out and available in a pleasant part of the house that I pass through often (in my case, the kitchen). This is yet another thing that seems to keep the barrier to the act of writing as small as possible.
  2. Maintaining Enthusiasm. I have started a great many novels where I ran out of enthusiasm for the story and the characters after writing the first hundred pages or so. Since that time, I’ve found that preparedness provides a major mitigation to the risk of losing enthusiasm. This is because all the work that I do before starting to type on the computer helps organize my thought fill in critical gaps in the creative portions of the process.
  3. Unfolding Plot Lines. As stated right above, my goal is to have a good idea of how the plot of the book will unfold during the “paper” portions of this process. Having that captured just means that when I’m physically in writing mode, all I have to do is fill in the details. However, as I’ve heard from others, sometimes the plot emerges as I’m writing in ways that truly surprises me. To make sure I don’t lose this, I drag my spiral notebook around with me everywhere while I’m actively writing. Many times, I feel that ideas that come to me when I’m daydreaming or on my rowing machine greatly improve where I thought the plot was going. Capturing these surprises then gives me something to include in my one-hundred words habit the next day.
  4. Emerging Characters. Just like the emerging plot surprises, the characters in my books often grow organically while I’m writing. I try hard not to be rigid as I define and grow the characters, because sometimes they are trying to tell me something better about themselves. I usually capture these kinds of thoughts in questions, like “what does character A think about when he is lonely?” or “why does character B feel threatened by character C?” Often times I wasn’t thinking about these kinds of human descriptions of the characters when I was in the creative stage, and answering the questions helps me to uncover hidden things about the characters I never knew.


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