Shifting from the full-time corporate world to one of freelance affords me the opportunity to refocus on my passion, writing. Having more time to write, as well as an incentive to continue developing my writing skills forced me to look at my own writing process and really discover I can produce my best work. After having gotten so much advice over the years about writing, the most important bit I can pass along is to practice. Ignore whatever else people tell you to do to be a good writer. Writing, like any other skill, requires practice, and a lot of it, in order to stay sharp. Words may flow at times while other moments may present a bit of a struggle, but the more you write, the better writer you’ll become.
As I tell you to ignore people’s suggestions when it comes to writing, I have to admit there’s something to be said about seeing how others are able to fit in the practice itself. There’s a difference between being told what to do and collecting an abundance of information on how other people write to inspire you as you develop your own process. I offer up my own process for that reason alone.
A guiltless writer
Figuring out my own writing process forced me to overcome my biggest writing hurdle - that you must write every day. This seemed like good advice 15 years ago when I wasn’t married, didn’t have children, and had an open schedule to fill once the work day was done. The unexpected back then consisted of a last-minute party invitation or the decision to pop out on a whim to try a new restaurant; all things that still afforded time each day to write. Now, the unexpected could lead to an entire afternoon being eaten up in a doctor’s waiting room with a sick child. Writing every day for practice is simply no longer a reality for me. Coming to terms with this, and not feeling guilty when I’d go days without writing, was hard.
I battled the guilt by focusing on my own benchmarks. Setting attainable writing goals for myself and meeting them is how I find success in writing and help hone my craft. Whether it’s scheduling a specific hour for a project or writing a single page in one sitting, setting aside time when it’s realistic (basically using free time to write when I happen to have free time) to write has reinvigorated my own writing process without discouragement. Moving on from this hurdle has given me time to really develop the process for writing that works best for me Surprisingly, my processes are different when writing professionally vs for personal content.
Writing in my own voice
When I’m writing for me, whether it’s a blog post or working on a longer fiction project, I like to write my first draft by hand. This includes not only writing out the piece itself, but leaving little notes too myself in the margin. These notes include ideas on how the piece should develop should I have to walk away before I’m done or messages to myself to beef up or strengthen a section when I take my second pass. It lets me get the entire piece done without worrying about spelling or grammar so that I have a complete idea to work with when I begin my second draft, which I type on the computer. From there, I can easily add more details, edit down, fix spelling and grammar issues, or reorganize content, you name it. It helps that I have version one laid out beside my computer in a notebook as I type version two. Flipping around in a notebook is so much easier than scrolling through pages on a computer repeatedly. I don’t write every day, but I do make sure that when I sit down to write, I use the time to get all the ideas floating around in my head on paper either as a complete thought or as a note to myself to work on later.
Professional content creation
Professionally, I like to use the computer to write all drafts. I often cut and paste reference materials into the document I’m working on so all the information I need to craft my original piece of content is in one place. It helps ensure I don’t miss any key points in my copy and that I use proper terminology and keywords in my work.
Additional bits to my writing process
Editing and revising are also two big components in my overall writing process. Rereading is essential, but I do things a little differently. I often like to reread my copy backward at least once. It helps prevent my mind from auto-correcting anything before I can catch it and correct it. This is especially helpful in finding spelling errors and for checking the cohesion of the piece.
The only other bit of my writing process, regardless of my audience, is the pre-thinking I do before even sitting down to write. More often than not, I need to sit down with a plan in my head of what’s going onto the paper. Whether it’s crafting a few sentences in my mind while I’m getting ready in the morning or making a rough outline as I brush my teeth before bed, thinking about what I want to say before I sit down to say it adds a level of comfort to my writing that I find very important. Loving to write isn’t enough for me, I like it to feel like an old friend I’ve come to visit each time I sit down. Even for this piece, I began thinking about what I wanted to say as I brainstormed topics I could write about on my blog. Then, as I wrote the first draft of the opening paragraph, I mapped out the rest of the post. Dinner was ready halfway through my first draft, so I made notes to myself on what I wanted to write when I was able to return to my desk. It’s comforting to have a plan.
Some people will include where they write in their overall process, but I don’t. Where I write changes. I like my desk the best, but the kitchen table, couch, patio chair, coffee shop booth, or hotel bed are all good options as well. For me it’s not the where that inspires, but the urge to write itself.