How the Heck do Others Write?
Writing Process of some of the internet's top writers.
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Over the last four weeks, we discussed the writing process from start to finish. Apart from the newsletter on ‘Editing’, most of it was a from a personal perspective. So for this week, I asked some of the internet’s best writers at ‘Compound Writing’ for their writing process, to give you an extra frame of reference.
Here’s how five of them move from ‘idea to published’:
“This will terrify most of the more organized people reading this, but I keep a single Google Doc called “Stew’s Letter Backlog” where I paste in any interesting ideas, Tweets, or TikTok videos I stumble across during the week.
On the weekend, I typically carve out a few hours to review what I’ve captured, highlight 3-4 ideas or pieces of content that still resonate, and add some commentary and polish before sending it out to my list.
For context, my newsletter is about half interesting content I’ve come across that week and half original commentary and writing.”
“I do breathwork and/or meditation. I go through my ideas in my head while I am deeper into my subconscious. Like Stew, I jot down my thoughts/ideas afterwards in a Google Doc.
If I am lying down and super relaxed, I'll sometimes write the ideas down on paper or in a telegram feed that I have on my iPhone. Throughout the day, I'll have other ideas come to me, and throw them into the Google Doc.
When it's time to write a large article, I'll scour the Google Docs for bits and pieces to get my brain going. And then I'll start writing.”
My writing process starts in awkward idea-giving places like the bathroom, the kitchen, on a plane, on the bus, on the road... but hardly ever at my work desk. From wherever it starts, it moves to my phone's notepad or a sticky note (if I have one with me, or if I run out of the bathroom fast enough).
After writing down the idea, I let it simmer for days (or hours), think about multiple POVs (point of views) the idea can be written from. And when I finally agree that I have an angle to develop it, I write the first draft on my notepad.
When it is done, I move it to Docs and abandon it for a few hours (or days). Go back to it. Try to be as brutal as I can with the first edit. Then I do the second to the third writing. Depending on how serious the work is, I usually agree it’s ready for others to see it after the fourth edit.
The final phase of my writing process is the first read after I have published it. I've published works in the past, did the first post-publication reading and deleted them afterwards. Despite reading the work a hundred times, if it doesn't excite me immediately, it is going back to draft or getting deleted.
“I start cooking up things when I’m walking. And from there it comes out in this long voice memo where I just let it all out… Then I’ll sketch the structure of it out on paper/document and Talley mark the cadences I hear from my voice memo.. (matching the cadence is huge for me)
Normally I jump on it right away but sometimes I sit on it for a few days. But it’s truly all just judging by the power of ‘when’ for me.. and that plays a huge role in my process.”
“I have four deadlines each week:
Saturday: rough outline (or at the very least, an idea) for a new blog post
Sunday: rough draft of blog post
Tuesday: a final draft of blog post
After I post my blog and send out my newsletter on Tuesday, I feel euphoric - for about two hours. Then I realize I had better get to work because I have my next deadline on Saturday. The Saturday deadline is very important because it’s not just about me as I have an accountability group.
On Saturday, about 8-15 of us meet through Zoom to talk about our ideas and write for an hour. On Sunday, I meet with that same group again, this time to read each other’s drafts and give detailed feedback.
So from Tuesday until Friday, I am brainstorming and outlining a new idea. These typically feel like my worst days but they’re a necessary part of my process.
Taking notes essentially provides hundreds of quotes and examples and stories of things that have resonated with me. Whenever I sit down to write something, I can search through my Evernote to find supporting statements. It makes writing so much easier. It makes it joyful.
The key is to find joy in the process.”
This was paraphrased from her article “Your own Personal Writing System”
‘Compound Writing’ is a community-powered workflow that helps writers take an idea and develop it through research, outlining, drafting, and editing —powered by the internet’s top authors, editors and experts. You can apply to join the workflow here.
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