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The Writer’s Creative Process

A Writer's Creative ProcessI always feel a bit of a lightweight—a little “woowoo”–here at TSM as I rarely write about the craft. I’m passionate about process, you see. For me, that’s the essence of the writing life. The means by which the brain produces a creative thought and the way we get it onto paper holds endless fascination for me. How do we do this thing that we do? How can we do it better?

The process—the writing habit—is what makes us writers, and it is as unique to the individual as a fingerprint. It is something we can nurture and fine-tune. At the same time, it falls under the “don’t think about it, just do it” category.

A fellow Creative Monsters Challenge participant shared a paragraph from his journal that perfectly sums up my feelings on process. He kindly gave me permission to quote him:

“The first text you need to compose is your writing process. All your other texts will follow from that one, so craft it carefully. Your writing can’t succeed until you teach yourself how to show up. Your process is a memory device; it tells you how you go about composing, and gives you a map for how to create. Your map shows the path you’ve used before and gives you the confidence that you can do it again. Without the map, you’re relying on luck or hope that you can find your way; with it you have landmarks showing where your intentions and words have gathered in the past, and where you can return to meet them again. Remember the ways you got stuck and where you go to find yourself again. Remember what feels easy and strong. Remember what gives you direction and power when you feel your confidence failing you. Remember where you go to remind yourself why this matters to you.”  ~Michael Robinson

Writing doesn’t have to be done daily. It doesn’t have to be done in the morning. Some writers’ processes don’t work like that. But it does need to be consistent. Outliner, pantser, daily writer, weekend writer, slow or fast, morning or night—these are just different ways we describe process.

There are no right or wrong writing/creative processes. You can improve upon your natural inclinations if you so choose, and chances are you’ll stumble across other writers who have similar methods, but you can’t do it wrong, as long as you’re doing it.

Writers are quick to identify common ground. “What? You do that, too? I thought I was the only one!” Resistance, fear, sloggy middles, we recognize these things. We don’t write for fear that we’ll write crap, and yet we need to write crap to learn, grow, and improve. Yes, there are common elements, but they aren’t the whole of our process. Celebrating our individual differences is a great way to support each other.

I care very much about supporting other writers (and their processes).

There is so much to what we do. There’s craft, mechanics, structure, rhythm, character, plot, arc, revision, edits, and more. They are all important. But we start with process. Process is the first “rubber meets road” event in the journey of writing.

I’ll keep writing about process, not only because it fascinates me, but because I want it to fascinate you, too.

Whether you write for yourself or a wider audience, your process matters.


Name one element of your writing process that you would like to improve upon. How will you go about doing so?

16 thoughts on “The Writer’s Creative Process

  1. I often struggle with an idea. I know that if I just put something down on paper, that I will pick it up and build form that crappy start but it’s so hard to just write something. I want to wait until I have the right thing in my head. That’s the part of my process I’d like to fix. The “just do it” part 🙂

    • I don’t know if it helps, but I tell myself I’m just going to sit down and “play.” I might get a good idea or I might just write dreck Often, the play time will give an insight or something weeks or months down the road.

  2. I agree with Dan, it’s the just do it part that I struggle with the most. Being a perfectionist of sorts, I feel as though I need to have a finely crafted and well-rounded plot before putting any words on a page. I would love to be able to shift that part of my writing process into high gear – taking just the faintest notion of an idea and run with it.

    The creative process is one of those sacred elements of a writer’s daily life that we want to acknowledge, but not fixate upon. As with everything, it’s a balance for me between sticking with process and letting things roam where they may. Great thoughts, Robyn, thanks for sharing 😉

    • The only thing that keeps me from obsessing over plot beforehand is the hard-won knowledge that I won’t write the story once I’ve told it to myself and know the ending. That’s my process weirdness lol.

      Balance is a great thing and something I always have to work on.

  3. I’m sorry, I was laughing so hard at “woowoo” that I had trouble reading the rest. Kidding, kidding. Someone on TSM has to write about process, and I can guarantee that no one wants it to be me. (Unless you want to talk about a bunch of flower doodles and blank pages.) But you’ve been lecturing me about the writing habit for two years now, and I dare say it may actually sort of be working. I love working on the grit and grime of structuring language in a novel, but this whole process thing? I feel “woowoo” even thinking about it (perhaps that explains the terrible flower drawings). But it’s what makes you you.

    • I’ve learned more about process by examining our differences that I have any other way, Michelle. It’s been really good for me (frustrating at times, but good, lol). However you do it, you lay down some damn good language with your process. 🙂

      • Flower doodles and the backspace button. That’s how I do it. Whatever else comes out of it . . . well that’s up for debate. 🙂 I’m glad I’m a decent experim — er — example for you.

    • I’m not sure I even know what “woo woo” is, but I keep seeing all the over the place lately. 🙂 For me, process and it’s realtionship to craft are very straighforward: concentric circles. Craft is the stuff I do to the text to get it to work the way I want it to: language, syntax, content stuff, structure. That’s the smaller circle. Process is the stuff I do so I have the right tools and the right frame of mind to work on the craft. For me, that includes such nuts-and-bolts decisions as when and where I’m going to write, what goals I want to set, how I want to get feedback, and what project I’m working on. It also includes other (woo woo?) considerations as whether I write on computer, typewriter, or pen and paper; whether I write to music or silence; any rituals (candles, invoking the muse, a lucky pen) I use. That’s the larger circle.

      • I’m not sure I know what it is either. But it sounds funny. I can definitely see it in circles too, or maybe a line. One must first do the process stuff and then the craft will follow, which is logical to me. That’s a pretty good explanation though of one way to approach the idea. Mainly all I know about my own process is by comparing it to what other people do. I have habits, certainly, but I can’t say that I’ve developed the “writing habit.”

        • As used by Joanna Penn, it loosely means something mystical or new agey or similar. She’d probably laugh, too, Michelle. 🙂

  4. Process discussions interest me so much. In 20 years of teaching college freshmen, I saw more of their writing undone by the lack of a clear, thought out writing process than by any other single factor. Mediocre talents with a strong process just flat outworked students who wrote when the mood struck.The individual processes themselves varied widely, but the students with processes didn’t just write; they *prepared* themselves mentally and emotionally to write and revise, so they had a way to turn weak drafts into strong finished products. I can afford to be a total pantser when I draft because my process makes room for lots of revision. Some people have an opposite process–lots of pre-planning which reduces their need to revise. These days,I ‘m working most on creating habits, structure, even rituals to get me seated at the computer ready to start putting words on the page. Because of my personality, I can’t ever sit down to write without knowing what scene or description or dialogue I’m going to work on. I don’t need to know how it’s going to turn out, but I need to know what it’s about. But without an explicit understanding of my process, I’d be cooked as a writer. Great topic!

    • Glad to meet someone else who is as interested in process as I am! Your observations are so fantastic. Process matters, as your students demonstrate. I need to put a lot of work into the part of the process needed for revisions. That’s my goal for 2015.

  5. Part of my process is to write something every single day. I will admit, half the time i free write, and 99% of the time, my freewriting starts with the words “This is stupid.”

    It feels all kinds of wrong to me to prepare my writing space and my mind, and start to write without the slightest inkling of what exactly it is i am going to write about.

    I can’t argue with the results, however. Many a story has resulted from writing about things that pop into my head. After i get the “This is stupid.” bit out of the way, that is. Sometimes i will be lucky and have the beginnings of a story to play with, and i feel more productive during those times, but no matter what, i sit down and write every single day.

    I even have a reminder on my phone that bleeps at 8pm every day demanding that i ‘Write Something’ in case i haven’t already done so.

  6. I have a daily practice as well, Naomi. Life sucked after the accident when I couldn’t write every day. Miserable!

    I know some writers prefer to stack up words on the weekends or write for a whole day a couple times a month. If it works for them, great. I’ll keep my daily practice, though. It works for me. 🙂

    Do you do Morning Pages or is it starting each writing session with a free write? I like “this is stupid.” Mine is “I have nothing to say.”

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