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The Do’s and Do Not’s of the Writing Process [Self-Publishing Basics]

Note: For an updated version of the information below, download Self-Publishing Basic Training for FREE (you’ll also get some nifty extras)!

photo by sander123f

I’ve been calling myself a writer since third grade when the greatest teacher I’ve ever had put a pen in my hand and told me to set free my imagination.

Later that year, I “self-published” my first book, “Neighbors from Outter Space” (which I suppose is the opposite of inner space) complete with magic marker illustrations and a glitter-coated cover. It was well received by my target audience at the time (a.k.a. my third grade classmates, my parents and my siblings).

It took me seven years to complete my second book (a pop-up called “The Adventures of a Red Bouncy Ball” for my freshman art class) and then another eight years to actually compile my first full length novel. I say that to say this:

Calling yourself a writer is easy, the actual writing process is hard.

photo by kelli sherratt

Yesterday, in the first of our two-week long series on Self-Publishing Basic Training, we talked about the planning process you should partake in prior to starting your writing project. While extensive planning can definitely help you get a jump on the competition and prevent those paralyzing attacks of writer’s block, it’s still only a minor player in the entire writing process.

Many writers have a strict writing protocol they stick to, often writing at the same time every day no matter what their mood or motivation. I wrote my first novel in just about six weeks, often starting around ten o’clock at night and writing straight through ’til dawn (those are the kind of hours you can keep while unemployed and living at home with Mom and Dad). I’m a night owl by nature and so it is that I tend to do most of my writing after sundown.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite authors, Joshilyn Jackson, who passed through Books-A-Million in Jacksonville Beach, Fla. on Sunday while promoting her new title, Backseat Saints. In a recent interview for her book on the blog  All Things Girl, Joshilyn discussed her actual lack of a writing process:

Oh Lord, I wish I had a process. It would be so much more efficient. I write on three different computers and mail the updated files to my g-mail account to download the latest every time I switch. I write at home in bed on my ancient craptoposaurus, at home in my office on my desktop, and I drag my little netbook everywhere to write in coffee shops and carpool lines and while waiting on a folding chair for my youngest to finish her ballet lesson. I do not have set working hours, either. I write in seizures, disappearing to borrowed vacation homes, off season, to draft twenty thousand words in four days, and then I don’t open a single file again for two weeks, then I’ll be up at three am for nine days in a row, revising. It’s a ridiculous, stupid way to work, and I cannot recommend it. It’s also the only way that works for me.

Would Joshilyn’s writing process work for you? What about mine? Do you find that you have to sit down at the same time everyday whether the writing juices are flowing or not?

Do’s and Do Not’s of the Writing Process

Whatever your process might be, I have some general Do’s and Do Not’s that have helped me get through the process in the past:

  • DO resist the urge to read back over your work immediately. Let it marinate for at least twenty-four hours before you make assessments and edits. I find if I don’t, I get too critical and wind up deleting my progress out of fatigue instead of necessity.
  • photo by waterloopubliclibrary

    DO write whatever chapter you want to write, when you want to write it. Don’t feel like you have to write everything in order. John Irving always writes the last line of his book first.

  • DO keep a writing utensil on hand at all times. Whether it’s a notepad next to your bed or a netbook tucked in your bag, never let yourself get far away from the tools of your craft. You never know when a great idea will strike and there is NOTHING more frustrating than not being able to remember a great concept.
  • DO NOT feel like everything is set in stone. Even with a detailed outline, fiction often takes on a mind of its own when it’s pouring out of your fingertips. If there’s a twist even you didn’t expect, you can always go back and adjust the rest of the story accordingly.
  • DO NOT share your work with someone else too soon. Feedback is great, but sometimes other people’s opinions can derail your concept early on and make you lose motivation.
  • DO NOT forget to save and save often. Although computers are handy tools for writing, they can be your worst enemy the day your hard drive crashes and you lose 300 pages of work. Save your writing often and back it up on a flash drive or external hard drive just in case. You can never be too safe.

Also, here are a few great (and interesting) resources that can also help you identify a successful writing process:

What Does YOUR Process Look Like?

I’m always interested to hear how other writers go about writing their books, so please feel free to jump in the comments below and give us all some insight into you process!

We will continue Self-Publishing Basic Training tomorrow with the sometimes helpful (and sometimes terrifying) world of editing.

Later days,


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  • Judith K

    Writing has always been an escape for me. My friend, who also writes, once told me she was lonely when her children went off to college. I told her that she should never feel alone when she had her writing.
    I find it hard to just sit down to a blank page online. I envy those who can!I find it much easier if I write everything down first in a notebook and revise online later. And revise, and revise………
    All of us have interruptions in our daily lives which makes it tough sometimes to stick to a writing schedule. Some handle interruptions better than others. I’m NOT one of those! I don’t mean errands, doorbell or phone call interruptions, but real life (simultaneous) interruptions like an autistic child and a mom in hospice which, as in my case, sometimes makes you lose interest and tempts you to put your WIP away (which I’ve done in the past) until you can think straight!

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  • Mine’s almost exactly like yours – sloppy at the best of times, downright woeful the rest. It’s a miracle any writing happens at all – I only really write when I feel like it, which is never, but sometimes I’m inspired to get through a book in a month only thanks to NaNoWriMo. I wish I was better motivated, organised, etc. But it’s the only way I know.

  • I’ve never had routines (apart from eating and cleaning ones) in any other part of my life, neither do I in writing. What happens is I get ‘the urge’ and then I do it. As a compulsive completer, once I have a project going it keeps going to the end! I’ve just put my fourth novel on Kindle. (Two previous ones published in print form by SpinifexPress, one self=published.)

    I guess what I am saying is that when I am driven, from somewhere inside myself, to write something, then I write it. (After the usual range of displacement activities sometimes.)