How to Create a Writing Process that Works: Revision

How to create a writing process that works: revisionWelcome to part three of the How to Create a Writing Process That Works series! (ICYMI: In order to help you discover your own process, I created a writing process series with tips for developing a process that works best for you!) Today we’re going to talk about revision. You can find the post on brainstorming here and the post on drafting here!

Revision can be both very fun and very frustrating. During brainstorming and drafting, the main goal is to get an idea written, but nothing about it has to be good. When we get to revision, it’s time to start caring about how good your work is. Few things are more rewarding than seeing your book start to come together, but it’s also intimidating when you can’t figure out how to fix your issues. That’s a large reason why this process tends to go a little slower than drafting.

Revision can be one of the more challenging aspects of the writing process to nail down. There are several different approaches to pick from, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on the three that I think are the most accessible. You may find it best to use just one of these approaches, or some combination of all three.

First, no matter what, read!

Maybe you took notes while you were writing. Maybe you think you have a good idea what isn’t working in your draft. And maybe you’re right! But you won’t really know what you have to work with until you read your book. You might be surprised to find that something you thought was a terrible idea, isn’t so terrible after all. Or you might realize that a character you thought would be really important isn’t all that necessary.

I find it helpful to take some time away from my projects before I read. How much time is up to you, but I would suggest at least a week. A large part of revision is learning to be objective about what your book really needs. Time away will help with this. If you need a guide for what you should be looking for, consider this post on how to identify what’s wrong with your novel. Once you read and know what your book’s problems are, there are a few different ways you can approach fixing them.

Revise by chapter

I’ve found that this method works well if you’re a very sequential thinker or if your book needs a lot of work. It can also be helpful if you really have no idea where to start. Breaking your book down by chapter gives you a very clear work structure. You can go into each chapter and assess the issues, then make a plan to fix them. It’s also easy to set goals. If you have a chapter that’s a hot mess, your goal for the day might be to fix one or two scenes. If you have a chapter that’s in better shape, you might want to knock out the whole chapter (or two!) in a day. It’s also the most quantitative approach, and it’s the easiest way to track your progress. So if you’re someone who feels most successful when you can say you’ve revised half your book, then this approach may be for you!

Revise by problem

If you get more satisfaction out of crossing tasks off your list, then you might want to consider revising by problem. For this approach, you’ll move through your entire novel correcting one problem at a time. So if you have a character you need to cut, you’ll go through the entire book and remove him. If there’s not enough tension, you’ll go through the entire book and figure out how to add more tension. Then you’ll move to the next problem and do the same. I find this approach (and the next) can be helpful if you draft sequentially. Revising by problem helps you to see your book differently and will also give you a new experience when you go to read back through it. This method can work hand in hand with the next one.

Revise by storyline

Similarly to revising by problem, revising by storyline focuses on one aspect of your book at a time. In this case, we’re looking at your plotlines. For this technique, it’s helpful if you make a list of your major plotlines before you do your read through. Then as you read, check in with each storyline as you go and assess each storyline’s strengths and weaknesses. When you’re finished reading, move through your book and revise sequentially by storyline. In other words, start with your biggest plotline, and go through the first chapter with a focus on fixing just that storyline. Then do the same thing for chapter two and so forth until you reach the end. Once you finish your first storyline, take your second storyline and do the same thing. Not every chapter will have every storyline, but check in just to be sure. You’ll do this for each storyline until you don’t have any left.

Should you tackle your smallest or biggest issues first?

This is, of course, going to be entirely up to you, but unless you’re moving sequentially, I would highly recommend tackling your bigger issues first. It might be tempting to fix the smaller problems up front; they often feel more manageable and being about to cross them off your list is so much fun. However, keep in mind that the bigger a plot/problem is, the more space it’s taking up in your novel. Which means it’s entirely possible that you’ll address a smaller problem only find that you have to rewrite or delete your smaller solution in order to correct your larger problem. Tackling the big problems first can be intimidating, especially if your list is long, but it will often save you time in the long run.

How I learned what works for me

For me, figuring out how I revise best happened organically once I started getting feedback. In my early writing days, it was instinctual for me to move sequentially. That’s how I drafted, so it felt like that’s how I should revise. But when I started getting feedback from other writers, they often broke my book down by problem and storyline. It felt natural for me to go through and address their issues in the same way. I found that when I did this, it took me out of the story and made me more objective. When I revised sequentially, it was easy to get caught up in the book and I was more likely to make decisions with my heart. When I revise by problem and storyline, the problems are my focus–not the story. This has made it easier for me to make decisions a little more clinically. That doesn’t mean some cuts and changes aren’t hard, but I feel better about making them because they solve the problem. Now I only revise sequentially if I know there’s a lot that I’m going to have to rewrite.

Tips to help you find what works for you

Of course, your best bet is to try everything. That’s pretty much the theme of this series. You won’t know what works best for you until you try it. So give it a shot–even if you only try it once! You never know what surprising trick might unlock something in your process.

If you’re torn about which one to try first, I would suggest approaching revision the opposite of how you approach drafting; so if you draft sequentially revise either by problem or storyline, and if you draft out of order, try revising sequentially. I’ve found this helps me to see my story in a new light.

Also, don’t be afraid to get feedback. As you can see, that played a big role in how I revise. For tips on how to find readers, ask for feedback, give feedback, and evaluate feedback, check out my feedback series starting with: How to find the right early readers for your writing.

I hope this gives a good idea of how to build your own revision process!

This concludes our Writing Process Series!

Now it’s your turn: Do you prefer to revise sequentially or out of order? How did you learn what revision approach works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

How to Create a Writing Process that Works: Drafting

How to create a writing process that works: draftingWelcome to part two of the Create Your Writing Process series! (ICYMI: In order to help you discover your own process, I created a writing process series with tips for developing a process that works best for you!) Today we’re going to talk about drafting. You can find the post on brainstorming here! Keep an eye on in the coming weeks for a post on revision and editing.

Drafting is obviously one of the first biggest challenges in finishing a book. You will never get published or reach any kind of writing goal if you can’t finish your project. Drafting can also be really hard. It’s the worst your book will ever be and it can be challenging to keep writing when you feel like you can do better. But you need to keep writing, and I’ve learned it’s a lot easier to do that when you figure out a drafting process that works best for you. In fact, once you do, drafting can get a lot more manageable and even be fun!

Here are some tips to help you figure out how you draft best!

Brainstorm or not to brainstorm

First, decide if you should brainstorm before you draft. I’ve found that brainstorming is really helpful for people who have a hard time thinking about their story and writing their story at the same time. For more on this, check out the brainstorming post from this series!

Speed options

I think there are typically two main schools of thought when it comes to how quickly a draft gets done: fast and reckless or slow and methodical. (But of course, you may fall somewhere in between.) Drafting quickly tends to mean writing carelessly. There will be gaping plot holes, characters that randomly appear or disappear halfway through, and details that you just can’t seem to keep straight. Quick drafts are the very definition of a shitty first draft. You’ll likely have a TON of work to do in revision before the book is in any kind of condition to be read. But you also won’t really know your story’s strengths and weaknesses until it’s complete. Drafting quickly means you’ll have a finished book to work with ASAP. The sooner you get a draft down, the sooner you can get to work on assessing your books problems and creating solutions.

Drafting slower and more methodically means you think a lot more about your book ask your write it. You may do half or even a quarter of the daily work the quick drafter does, but hopefully being more purposeful will mean you need less revision.

Goal options

Should you set a daily word count goal? Or should you set aside a set amount of writing time and track how much work you get done within that time? Ultimately, it depends on what motivates you and what frustrates/discourages you. If setting a daily quantifiable goal will keep you going and give you a sense of accomplishment, then daily word count may best for yours. Daily word count goals keep your book moving forward at a consistent pace. There’s also a great sense of accomplishment in knowing you’re getting closer to a book-length product, regardless of the quality of the writing.

On the other hand, if you find that word counts are meaningless if you hate what you’ve written, then you might be better off ignoring your word count and instead focusing on setting time aside to move your book forward in a positive way every day. But be careful with this approach. If you get too caught up in writing well while you’re drafting, it might be easy to quit if you’re not liking what you’re writing. Focus on moving your story forward, but do everything you can not to edit what you while you draft.

With both of these options, the key is commitment. Commit to writing the number of words you say you will, or commit to working the amount of time you say you’re going to work.

Sequentially or Out of order?

This one is pretty straightforward. If you’re someone who drafts sequentially, you write your book in order; so, chapter one, then chapter two, then chapter three. If you write out of order, you might hop around and write scenes or chapters from any part of the book as you see them in your head. Writing sequentially allows you to build momentum within your story as you write. Writing out of order allows you to write your book as it comes to you, so you don’t get hung up on “what comes next.” This really comes down to how your mind works best. The more logical you are, the more sequentially will probably work for you and the more abstract you are, the more it may help to write out of order. When it doubt, give both a try and see what works better!

How I learned what works for me

For a long time, I thought I was a methodical drafter. I would set hours aside and work with no thought toward word count or speed. And while I did tend to write quickly when I knew where my book was headed, it wasn’t my goal. My only concern was moving my story forward and enjoying what I was writing. It took me years to complete books, but I was typically pretty happy with the drafts I completed. Then I started my MFA program. My first class was, essentially, an extended NaNoWriMo. The number one goal of the class was to leave at the end of the semester with a completed draft of a book. I had to learn to write quickly and I had to be aware of my word count. Ultimately, I found it to be one of the most freeing experiences of my writing life.

I learned that the quicker I write, the less time I have to focus on what isn’t working and the more I have to pay attention to what is. And because of that, I’ve found that it’s easier to enjoy drafting. And since I spent two books drafting fairly slowly prior to this, I learned that my quicker drafts weren’t all that much worse than my slower drafts, but drafting quicker means I get to revision as soon as possible.

Some tips to help you find what works for you

Like I’ve said in the past, try everything at least once. Consider committing to NaNoWriMo, or at least the idea of writing a book in a month–even if you don’t wait until November to make it official. Then if that really doesn’t work for you, abandon this approach and try working slower. Then try setting a word count goal and don’t call it a day until you meet it. If that’s really frustrating or stresses you out, switch it up and try to focus on setting time aside for your writing projects.

You should definitely experiment with different combinations, but if you’re looking for a place to start, here’s something I’ve noticed. People who outline tend to do better drafting quickly with daily word count goals, and people who don’t outline tend to be slower, methodical drafters who do better setting time aside to get the work done. Neither of these approaches may be true for you, but if you try them both out, you can play around with until you find the right combination.

I hope this helps you create a drafting process that works for you!

You can find Part Three: Revision here!

Now it’s your turn: Do you draft better slowly or quickly? Do you set word count goals or make time commitments? How did you learn what works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

How to Create a Writing Process That Works: Brainstorming

How to Create a writing process that works: brainstorming

I’m kicking off a writing process series with tips for developing a writing process that works best for you! Today we’re going to talk about Brainstorming. If you want to skip ahead, here is Part Two: Drafting, and Part Three: Revision and Editing.

At this point, I have a pretty finely honed writing process. Does it work 100% of the time? No. Nothing in writing works 100% of the time. But I’m able to be consistently productive, which is obviously essential in completing a project. I created this process largely through trial and error. Odds are, you’ll probably have to do the same, but there’s a lot to think about at each stage of the writing process.

Keep in mind, the goal here shouldn’t be to do what other people say “works” or to do do what other people say is “right.” The goal is to find a process that makes you productive. You need to figure out what is the best approach for your personality and your life. Don’t be afraid to try something new and ditch it if it doesn’t help. And don’t be afraid to take these ideas and modify them to better serve your needs.

Now, on to the post! Here are some tips to help you figure out how to brainstorm (and if you even should).

Plotter or Pantser?

There tend to be two schools of thought for brainstorming: pantsing and plotting. If you’re a pantser, then you probably don’t do too much brainstorming, plotting, or outlining–you fly by the seat of your pants. If you’re a plotter, you do brainstorm, outline, and/or plot. Panters like to experience and uncover the story as they write while plotters like to know where their story is going before they dive in. So, how do you figure out where you land?

How I learned about myself

I can’t speak for everyone, but here’s how I learned. I used to be a panter. The idea of brainstorming was overwhelming to me and when I had an idea, I wanted to get it out as fast as possible. Pausing to brainstorm seemed like a waste of time.

I was working on a writing project early in high school when I started to see how brainstorming could help me. I hadn’t done any brainstorming on this project, and I had made it twenty-five chapters pretty easily. However, what I came to realize was that in those twenty-five chapters, only about five days had passed. And most of the time, my characters had been wandering around trying to figure out what they should do next. And on top of that, I had absolutely no idea what direction I should send my characters in for chapter 26. So I started brainstorming–not to too much though. Just pausing for fifteen minutes to think of a few plot points I could cover in the next chapter. When I did this, it made writing so much easier for me.

What I came to realize is that I don’t multitask well when it comes to writing. I can’t think about what I want to say and how I want to say it at the same time. Now my outlines are pretty detailed because I learned that the more I think about my story before I write, the easier it is to write. I increased my brainstorming slowly. Once I got used to working with just plot points, I started planning key scenes. When I saw the benefits of that, I started to add more and more detail to my outlines, so now I practically have every scene planned before I write. This may not be right for you, but it works really well for me.

Some tips to help you find what works for you

Check out how other writers brainstorm. Everyone has a different approach and something another writer shares might resonate with you. I always say you should, at some point, try nearly every technique you come across because you never know what might be helpful. I also suggest you go with what’s working until you’re having a problem. Then work to alter your process and add something new based on the problem you’re trying to solve.

In the case of brainstorming, it’s probably easier to start with pantsing (at least, if you can get into your story from the start). If pantsing becomes a struggle, you consistently find yourself frustrated because you don’t know what happens next, or you really HATE the direction your story is going in, then take a stop writing and map it out. Start with only thinking a chapter ahead. If that’s helpful, then pause your draft and plan out the rest of the book. I would suggest you start with only a couple of plot points and add detail as you find it helpful.

As much as plotting and pantsing are the two main schools of thought, they’re also, essentially, anchors on a scale. It’s okay if you fall somewhere in between. If diving in with absolutely no direction has left you struggling to write but a full-blown scene-by-scene outline feels too limiting, try simply coming up with a few guiding plot points to hit at different points throughout the book. And again, don’t be afraid to alter any techniques you come across to meet your own personality and needs.

Somethings to consider

If you follow me on Instagram, you know my process is pretty detailed, but that doesn’t mean your brainstorming has to be. If you’re new to brainstorming, start small. Consider these five basic brainstorming tips and these three basic questions when developing your characters. Know that if you chose to brainstorm, you don’t have to do a lot of it. It might be enough for you to jot down five key moments for your book, fill out a plot structure like this one, or come up with one key scene/idea per chapter. Or you might want to simply take a day and do a free write of your book before you start drafting. All of that counts as brainstorming.

And if you discover pantsing works best for you, try not to completely rule brainstorming out altogether. I have some friends who are solid panters for their first draft but turn to brainstorming and outlining for their second draft. This way, they’ve discovered their story enough by drafting that they can step back and plan how to make it better. If you truly are a hardcore panters, that fine! But don’t feel like you can’t be a brainstormer just because you don’t brainstorm before you write. Brainstorming is supposed to serve your story in any way you need it, even if it’s not until after you’ve written a draft.

I hope this helps you find how you approach brainstorming best!

You can find part two: drafting here!

Now it’s your turn: Are you a plotter or a panster? Have you tried both approaches? How did you learn what works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!