How to Build a Writing Process for Non-talented Writers—Part One
We don't need talent, we need systems.
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A number of you want us to address the challenges writers face. But instead of writing about them individually (there’s a ton of articles that about them already), I’ve decided to write about the ultimate method anyone can use to combat these challenges and write like a Pro consistently.
Since July, I’ve written about 25,000 words in total across all my platforms and I wonder how much more I can write if I have a particular process that I repeat without fail.
For the most prolific authors that we know, a writing system is what makes it possible for them to churn out great work consistently.
Let’s build ours.
Talented writers who can write 5000-word essays whenever they feel like, please skip this lesson :)
Writing Lesson of the week: Writer’s block, Procrastination, Lack of ideas, Lack of confidence, Perfectionism. Any of these sound familiar to you? The list of challenges writers face, whether as beginners or at an intermediate level is endless.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all method of combating these constraints, as everyone deals with them on varying levels. But the most important step we can take is to build a process that leaves little room for those demons to dissuade you from writing or publishing frequently.
For instance, Jodi Picoult (7 time New York bestseller) doesn’t believe in writer’s block due to her strict deadline routine:
“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due?
Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.
Or Barbara Kingsolver whose entire career as a novelist as been as a mother yet wakes up at 4 am every morning to write:
It’s a funny thing. People often ask how I discipline myself to write. I can’t begin to understand the question. I write a lot of material that I know I’ll throw away. It’s just part of the process. I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.
You invest your best into what matters to you. By building a writing process, we move the craft upwards into our value system.
What we prioritize becomes what we fulfil. We embody what we practice.
The Writing Process can be divided into these four steps. To keep this newsletter short, we’ll be breaking down one of the steps every week.
Pre-writing: Writing is fun and enjoyable when you know exactly what you want to write about. To slay the enemy disguised as a blank page, you must come armed with effective ballistic weapons. If you bring a nuclear bomb to a gunfight, you’re guaranteed to win.
Great writing doesn’t begin in front of your PC or note. It is a summation of life episodes, ideas, epiphanies, that you bring along with you that makes the act seamless.
Once in a while, you may get inspired out of the blue. But creativity or inspiration in itself is a compound affair. What you’re inspired by, is an insight into what you’ve already encountered.
Everybody can write but the best writers compound experiences.
The four most important steps in prewriting are
Paying Attention: We’ve discussed this in our first newsletter and you can re-read the lesson here. In summary, the best way to never run out of content is to learn how to be still and pay attention, whether it’s paying attention to the way people talk, behave or treat each other.
Richard Powers is a great example. The idea for his first novel on the way to winning a Nobel Laurette prize was inspired by a painting he noticed at an art gallery.
Writing is a climax from living.
Useful tool/Resource for paying attention: A little patience with a sprinkle of mindfulness. Stop rushing through life. The most interesting moments are found in unexpected and mundane events.
Reading: What you create is an outpour of what you consume. The best novel you’re going to write is the book you’ve always wanted to read. And you won’t notice this, till you consume a ton of books.
I don’t read books a lot and this is badly impacting my work. I try to make up for it by consuming a ton of articles but it’s not the same. So to improve my own writing process, I must make time to read daily. I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by bird (Three months now).
Reading—the good and the bad—inspires you. It develops your palate for all the tricks that writers have invented over the years. You can learn from textbooks about the writing craft, but there’s no substitute for discovering for yourself how a writer pulls off a trick. Then that becomes part of your experience. – Roz Morris
Useful tool/Resource for Reading: A) Join a book club for accountability. B) Use a pen to highlight important notes on the margin of the book.
C) Write a book summary, this is the best way to organise your thoughts and never forget what you read. Read my summary of the book ‘Atomic Habits’ for Reference.
D) Use apps like ‘Pocket’ to bookmark interesting articles on the internet you want to re-read or save for later.
Note-taking: I must have written about this a thousand times. But people keep saying on Twitter that they’re running out of ideas. The truth is, you will always run out of ideas because you overestimate your own creativity.
We set ourselves up for frustration when we try to write on a blank page, without an idea to kick-start the process. If you pay attention and read a lot, you’ll start having a ton of ideas and you need to constantly be recording them.
I use ‘Google-keep’ as my second brain. When I have an idea or find an interesting thought on the internet, I quickly record it under a specific label in Keep. This helps in easy location when I need to access it.
When it’s time to write, I’ll go through my notes to find the most exciting one at the time. I’ll then write about two to three sentences to build upon the idea. The next step is to check the internet for more interesting thoughts related to the idea. I’ll record about two or three that I find.
Now when it’s time to draft, I have a potential topic, a thesis to build on and three to four sentences to kickstart my article. Make writing easier for yourself with notes. In Tiago Forte’s article on note-taking to build your second brain, Ahren recommends the eight principles of smart note-taking:
Make fleeting notes
Make literature notes
Make permanent notes
Now add your new permanent notes to the slip-box (a database system)
Develop your topics, questions and research projects bottom-up from within the slip-box
Decide on a topic to write about from within the slip-box
Turn your notes into a rough draft
Edit and proofread your manuscript
Don’t attempt to start writing from scratch. Here’s a snapshot of my system in ‘Keep’
Useful tool/Resource for Note-taking: Note-taking apps are in abundance. This article can help you decide which is best for you. I use ‘Google Keep’ for its simplicity. ‘Evernote’ is a fantastic option as well and ‘Notion’ is a tool for super-organized people.
Routine: Ah, the most important of the Pre-writing aspect. We will never write as consistently as we wish we could or become as prolific as we have the ability to unless we create a writing routine.
The most important thing is to firstly understand your environment and what works best for you. What period of the day are you most creative? Can you work while being distracted or focused? Music or silence?
For me, I procrastinate a lot, get distracted easily and prefer a silent environment. I’m most creative in the morning or during the day as well. So my best routine should give me an environment that is quiet, free from distraction and leaves no room for procrastination. This is a good one for me:
Wake up by 6 am
Devotion till 7:30 am
Arrange my workspace (Turn on PC, remove my phone from the bedroom, open one singular tab)
Write from 8 -10 am
By delaying breakfast till after I eat, I place writing on a higher pedestal to an act I love, eating. The time frame gives me access to a quiet period before the day’s chaos begins and it also finds me in my most creative mood.
When it’s time for breakfast, I’ve already churned out 500 -1000 words before I have the opportunity to procrastinate.
If you take anything out of this newsletter, this should be it. Create a routine that you must repeat and make it as easy as possible for you to do it.
Every action we take is a vote for the kind of person we want to become - James Clear
People make a fuss about how writing alone, is the main method of improving your output. We write every day, from emails to texts, to Instagram captions, yet how many of us see serious gains from doing so.
Instead of focusing solely on bleeding yourself to frustration on your keypads, focus more on building a writing system and tweaking it continuously to inspire growth.
The goal is not to write one good article, the goal is to become a fountain of great words.
Weekly Challenge: Identify the challenges you have with writing consistently. Write down them in a note. Also, write down what triggers them. Now, create a routine that eliminates those triggers and is as easy as possible to repeat.
For example: If you struggle with a lack of confidence, a potential trigger may be publishing time. A counter routine will be to set deadlines for publishing. This way no matter how you feel, you know you must hit the ‘publish’ button on the day you set.
Two Writing Prompts for inspiration:
What can you talk about for an hour without prior preparation?
What is the biggest struggle you’ve faced in your career? Write about it and include potential solutions
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