When learning about writing, I frequently come across succinct little pieces of advice, which can be helpful, but also misleading. “If you want to be a writer, just write, there’s nothing more to it.” “Writers need to do two things; read a lot and write a lot.” But what does it actually look like? I’m a firm believer that writing requires many skills, and I also believe it’s important to continue to work at each aspect each week (at least a little), but what are the categories, and how should I divide my time among them?
These are questions that I continue to debate, and it’s my hope that others would enjoy discussing them as well. I’m going to share my current theory (and it is very much a theory), as well as a brief explanation of how I reached it. Please, let me know what you think.
1. Writing Stories (Fiction) 35% (3-5 hours)
*Generating new ideas
*Writing Rough Drafts
*Asking for Feedback
*Submitting for publication
For a long time I believed the key to becoming a strong writer was simply to write. The more stories I finished, the stronger I would become. But over time I came to the realization that most of my stories needed a lot of work.
So I’ve shifted my focus from rough drafts to revision, believing that the answer lies in finding out what it looks like, and feels like, when one of my stories does “work”. Granted, that is a very vague term, but I can say that while many have praised me for “writing well”, few have felt like the understood what my story was about, the overall meaning, and that level of consistency is a clear sign.
I still jot down ideas, and once a month I write a bit of flash fiction, but for the time being most of my creative writing time is dedicated to revision. It is my hope that once I get one or two stories to that point, I’ll have an easier time repeating the process.
2. Studying Writing Techniques & Theory 25% (2-3 hours)
*Reading articles & books on writing
*Integrating new ideas into my notes
*Discussing writing (in person and through blog posts & comments)
As part of my writing process, I maintain a set of notes. Writing helps me remember what others tell me, particularly if I write it down in my own words. Organizing by topic became a natural extension of that, and eventually I found myself referring back to my “Theory & Technique” document, looking for something I’d forgotten, or comparing what I’d written down with what I’d recently read or heard.
Converting the information into blog posts seemed like the next natural step, a way to refine my understanding, “compare notes” with other bloggers, and put my longest ongoing writing project to work (even though it wasn’t, and probably never will be finished).
Books on writing have provided some of the most valuable lessons, but blog posts often provide more relevant insights, from writers not so dissimilar from myself. And through comments we can discuss and debate, and really hone in on the heart of the matter.
3. Book Reviews 25% (2-3 hours)
*Read each scene twice
*Outline the story
*Analyze the story
*Consolidate the analysis into a brief review
Some people can casually read a story and also pick up on things like character arcs, plot patterns, and how the author tends to structure his sentences. Sadly, I am not one of those people. So when I want to really learn how the author did it, I need to outline.
First I read through each chapter, jotting down little impressions as I go, then I go back and read it again, stopping after each scene to write a quick summary. By the time I’ve done I have a several page synopsis to help me remember all the details. Of course I can’t stop there. I create another outline, this time 1-2 sentences per chapter, along with some color coding for tension, and a brief list of the major beats (active, reactive, setup, deepening).
Usually by the time I’m done with that I have a fair sense of the story. With the outline on one side of the screen, I open a fresh document and start going through one more time, sorting my impressions by topic (plot, character, etc.) and grouping similar phrases together so that I can combine them later. Gradually the review starts to emerge.
It’s a lengthy process, and I’m hopeful that over time I’ll get better at “seeing” how the author performs their “tricks”, but for now I need to map it out.
4. Upkeep and Networking 15% (1.5-3 hours)
*Reading & commenting on blog posts
*Discussing with others
*Sharing my successes, and my setbacks/struggles
*Researching places to submit
*Formatting, submitting, keeping track of my efforts, and the results
Writing is often a long, solitary process. Most write because they love it, but often that’s not enough. I blog and discuss stories to learn from others, and offer what I can in return, but I also do it so that we can connect. There’s a time for criticism, but when I first complete a rough draft, what I’m really looking for is reassurance to tide me over until the story really is “good”.
On the clerical side, I’m always adding literary outlets to my list (mostly magazines, some publishers), along with a brief description of what they’re looking for, and a URL. When I do submit a story, I make a note of the date, the version, and when I should follow up.
That’s what my writing process looks like, for the moment.
What do you think?
What does a typical writing week (or month) look like for you?
What sorts of tasks do you work on?
How do you balance the different aspects? Or do you?
What rules (if any) do you subscribe to when it comes to your own writing process?
This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.