The writing process is uniquely personal and specific to each author. We all have different creative processes when it comes to writing books, and part of the learning curve that comes with writing your first book is creating your writing routine. Some crave complete silence, while others thrive on white noise hum. Some consider the glow of a Mac their best light, while others draft in pencil on yellow-ruled pads. You get the drift.Once you create a daily writing ritual that works, you can better maximize your time, energy, and creativity.
10 Steps to Finding Your Best Writing Process
There’s no “right” way to write a book; the only way is the writing process that works for you. Creating your daily writing routine might take a little experimentation on your part. To get some ideas, read our tips and find your own personal writing groove.
1. Become an Avid Reader
Reading is one of the best things you can do to pave the way for your creative process. The beauty of a book is that you can travel across the world, live in other cultures, and walk in another’s shoes, all without leaving your couch. Unfamiliar worlds, new faces, and original concepts spark creativity, so each time you sit down to write you have a wealth of ideas to pull from.
Reading also primes you to recognize top-notch writing, and what kind of writing you find subpar. The more styles and tones you’re exposed to, the easier it will be to find your own. You’ll get a sense of what appeals to you as a reader and aspire to capture that in your own work.
2. Diagnose Problems Quickly
Sometimes when you’re writing, you hit a brick wall and stop. You’re not sure why. You think you’ll pick up the manuscript in a few days, but before you know it, days have turned into months. What went wrong? You probably have no idea, because you didn’t take the time to think about what stopped you.
If you took a moment to figure it out, you would have been able to discern what was holding you up. Maybe your outline is confusing you. Or perhaps part of the storyline isn’t resonating. Or maybe you’re not quite sure how to write a difficult character. But the problem is, if you put off tackling that outline, reworking the wonky chapter, or procrastinate the rewrite of an annoying character, then you risk ditching your whole book. Forever.
You’ve got two choices in this situation: Fix the problem NOW, or skip it, start working on a different part of the book, and come back to it later. But your first instinct—to put the manuscript down and walk away—is usually wrong, because that’s how books get left to die.
Whatever you’re struggling with, make a decision. You’re going to clear it off your plate one way or another, whether it’s by correcting the problem, or working around it. But whatever you do, don’t stop working.
3. Block Distractions
Allow me to create a mental picture: You’re perfectly immersed in Zen-like concentration in your immaculate office while the words flow out of you and onto the page in a stream of such beauty and force that you’re moved to tears.
Ha! Just kidding—you’re listening to your email ping as you log into Facebook. Meanwhile, you glance at your phone and realize you have exactly nine minutes until school pick-up, while simultaneously getting a text notifying you about the “super lice” going around your daughter’s preschool. Welcome to real life.
We get it. We all face demands on our time and attention, but it’s your job to manage them as best you can so you can write. Choose a window of time to block out all other distractions while you write. Put your phone on silence, block social media, and commit to ignoring email. Put the dog in his crate—but not your kid; that will get you in trouble! Then, WRITE with a combination of abandon and focus.
4. Schedule Time Daily
You’ll write when your kids are at Grandmas, or over Spring Break while you’re on vacation, or in February, when that blizzard snows you in for a week. But, the kids come home from Grandmas three days early with chicken pox. Your Spring Break is overrun with screaming school kids, and that blizzard knocked out your power and guess who forgot to charge the laptop before the storm?
Waiting for the ideal block of time to write is dangerous. Sure, take advantage of these open swaths of time when you can—don’t let me discourage you! But don’t count on them. The unexpected will always come up to sap your time and energy. So, when’s the best time to write? Right now! Yep, today is the day.
Here’s what you do: set a daily writing schedule and commit. Calendar this time. Block this time out on your phone, your email, and your planner. This dedicated block of time is every bit as vital as work hours or your kids’ school days. Make this a non-negotiable priority for you, and for others who depend on you.
What time of day should you block off? Some swear that early morning is the prime time for creativity. You’re less likely to be interrupted. Your mind is fresh. And the demands of the day have yet to take over your attention. The longer you wait to write, the more likely it is that excuses, interruptions, and means of procrastinating will rob you of your chance to get your book done.
While there’s merit to the concept of writing first thing, some of us are simply not morning people. That’s okay—you need to find your own best time. You might choose to write on your lunch hour, or before bed after the kids are asleep.
You might have to experiment. Maybe you’re too tried at the end of the day, in which case, you revisit the idea of waking up early. If all you’re good for at night is watching TV or surfing the internet, then you’re not a night owl; you’re just procrastinating about going to bed. So turn off the TV, put down your Kindle, and get some shut eye so you can wake up earlier!
Whenever your best window for creativity and motivation to write is, embrace that time and commit to it. Sit down and write. Then do it every day. The more you write, the more natural it will become.
5. Gather Your Tools
One of the toughest parts of completing a project is collecting the materials you need to finish. For example, you’ve been meaning to repaint your kitchen for the past several years, but first you need to pick a new color, and buy brushes and tarps. Then you’ve got to dig the ladder out of the garage and wipe off the cobwebs. It’s no wonder your kitchen has remained the color of Avocado Dream accented with Tangerine Sunrise since 1972.
Look, I know. It’s just easier to maintain the status quo. But imagine one day waking up near the end of your life and you do a face palm, thinking it’s too late to bother writing a book now. (And GAH! Why did you spend your entire life with a hideously-painted kitchen!?) Because it’s easier to procrastinate. It’s way easier to keep putting it off than it is to put a book project in motion, because the idea of gathering the tools you need is too much of a headache.
But wait, what tools are we talking about? Don’t you just need a computer? Well, yes and no. Some people need coffee before they can write. Some people like to write with pencil on a yellow legal pad before they type out their sentences. Some people like to print out their research so they aren’t tempted to go online and get lost down the rabbit hole of internet surfing in the middle of a writing session. And most of us require our trusty outlines so that we don’t get lost somewhere in the manuscript.
Decide what your tools are. Gather them before you type or write a single word, each day. Sharpen your pencils, print out your research articles, and brew that coffee before anything else. That way, once you’re on a roll, there’s no excuse to stop what you’re doing to search for a printer cartridge or trudge to the store for more Keurig cups.
If you have all the tools you need before you get started writing each day, you can expend all your energy being creative. There are no excuses, no interruptions, and no reason to pump the breaks to search for a pen.
6. A Place of One’s Own
Each writer has an image of their ideal writing space. Setting up your own private space for your scheduled writing time can help switch your brain over to the task at hand. But first, a word of caution:
A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.
—E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web
It’s a romantic notion that to produce worthy writing, your creative space should show off some kind of dreamy aesthetic. That’s simply not realistic: If you wait for the “perfect” setting and the “perfect” time to write, you’ll go to the grave without ever sharing your story.
All you really need to write is a way to get words on the page and a place to sit, so you don’t need to overthink this. The tame backdrop of a home office may be your happy place. Maybe sitting at a picnic table in the park helps your words flow onto the page.
Wherever you chose, your writing place should make you feel relaxed and inspired. You probably already know where that may be, but it’s worthwhile to experiment with what actually works best.
7. Set the Scene with Props
A sampling of your favorite creature comforts can help you associate writing with things you enjoy. A scented candle, a special tea, and your own unique playlist can make writing feel like a pleasure, rather than a chore. The more you condition yourself to appreciate and embrace the writing process, the more creative you’ll feel.
Part of setting the scene is establishing a familiar routine. Your routine primes your body and brain for what to expect next. Cue up your playlist and fill your water bottle with lemon water and then start hand-writing. Put on your fluffy socks and light the fireplace. Whatever cues your brain that now is the time to write will prompt you to drop into the role of writer, each and every time.
8. Make Yourself Comfy (but not too Comfy)
You’ve spent time creating the perfect writing environment and cultivating your perfect routine, so now you should exclusively write in that same way, in that one spot. Until one day when you can’t. You’ve hit a mental wall, or—eek! You’re infected with an awful case of writer’s block! What do you do?
The easiest way to jump start your creativity is to shake something up. Rather than your usual coffee house, sit in a bar or a restaurant to write. If you type pages on your laptop, trying handwriting for a few days. Attack your draft from the last page instead of working sequentially. Get out of the house and move—sometimes a brisk walk can recharge your brain. Turn on loud music, stand up and dance, or sing.
Whatever you do, change something to inspire a burst of creative energy. If all else fails, call it a day and start fresh the next. Sometimes we all need a break to reset. But don’t let one day become two days. It’s a slippery slope to abandoning a manuscript.
9. Don’t Research
Wait, WHAT? How do you write a book without researching? We aren’t saying don’t research ever, just that the writing process should be keep separate from the research process.
One of the common mistakes new writers make is getting lost in their research while they’re trying to write chapters. You’re humming along, banging out pages, and all of sudden you realize you forgot the name of that café in Paris. So you consult Mr. Google and 45 minutes later, you’ve lost your train of thought and your writing time is over for the day. Farewell, progress.
What should you do if you’re mid-sentence and need a placeholder for research you’ll fill in later? Publishers recommend using the letters “TK” to note that you need to come back to a place in your draft. Then when it’s time to fill in the gaps with research, you can use the “Control F” command to find where you placed TK.
10. Avoid the ‘Eat, Sleep, and Write’ Myth
We’ve all heard this old wives’ tale, the myth of how author’s work best: type furiously for eighteen hours a day, subsisting only on black coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, and self-aggrandizing thoughts until your book is done. Bathe as little as possible, slam the door on your family, and only leave the house once your first draft is completed. The problem with this approach is that you’ll end up stressed, burnt-out, in need of an intervention, and possibly divorced.
Don’t make your manuscript an all-consuming process which removes you from everyday life. Your creative process can (and should!) involve having a life outside of writing books. In fact, creativity thrives when you allow yourself time away from your material to recharge and gain fresh inspiration. Healthy food, sleep, exercise, and conversations with people who aren’t book characters are necessary for your mental health and your ongoing creativity.
Once you’ve found a writing process that works for you, keep it up! When you stick to a daily writing routine, your creativity will thrive. You’ll feel empowered to keep your writing sessions going so you can feel the rush of seeing your name on the cover of your very own book.