My latest short story "The Night the Lights Came On"

Friday, September 9, 2016

My Writing Tools and Processes

This blog post originated as a comment in response to episode 2 of The Writing Crusade titled "How Do you Write?" It's a podcast by Indiana Jim. My comment answer was so long I figured I would stick it here too. So thanks Jim! My readers thank you as well. As always, thanks for stopping by!

I have developed a strange workflow for writing books over the years. When it comes to first drafts my favorite apps are the ones with very little UI. I love writing with no distraction. Just the words and I. I love writing in Notepad on a PC. Usually though I end up writing on my phone these days. Either with my thumbs or even better with my voice using speech to text. It's way faster than typing though I love the sound and feel of typing on a computer keyboard the most out of all writing methods.

So my first draft goes into an app called SimpleNote. It's free, and it is pretty much like Notepad but it auto saves to the cloud and I can access it in any web browser and of course on my phone. It has a beautifully barebones UI. I also really like writing first draft chapters on my phone in an app called Werdsmith. It also has a nice barebones UI and you can set your word count goal and as you write a tiny red bar slowly fills up at the top of your screen. When you hit your word count goal it turns green. It is really helpful to know where you're at in a quick visual way with word count as you're writing. If you see you're getting near the end of the chapter you know it's time to wrap it up.

I often start chapters not knowing how I'm going to write enough words with what I need to accomplish in the story only to end up going over my word count. So in this way, I'm a bit of a discovery writer inside each chapter, but I love having an outline showing me where to go. If I know what is going to take place before I write a chapter it comes out so much faster. I love the process of turning my paragraph into a chapter. I write with that outline paragraph or bullet points below my prose and as I flesh the story out for the first draft I delete the parts of the outline I've covered. When the chapter is done the outline text is gone. Sometimes though I find I have to put some of it in the next chapter or put some of the following chapter into the current one.

Once I finish a chapter I dump it into Google Docs and format it like an eBook. Then when I'm done I have all the chapters in the one Google Doc to give to Beta Readers.

I am a big outliner, so I start with that. Usually, I have a few paragraphs or even a sentence that explains the idea of the story. From there I plug my story into an outline of story points. Sometimes it's as simple as "what happens in each act of the story?" Usually, that's for short stories. For longer works I use the Save the Cat Beat Sheet combined with the Dan Wells 7 Point Story Structure. I fill in all my story beats - which usually takes me a week or two to figure out. From there I get a lined piece of paper. I figure out how long I think my story will be and then how long I want my chapters to be. That helps me know how many chapters I want the book to be. I try and write down a sentence or two for each chapter. I start by filling in the chapters that I already know the events of from my beat sheet. Like the move from Act I to Act II is at the 25% mark so depending on word count I know which chapter that part of the story goes into. The midpoint where my characters move from reaction to action ends up being halfway through the story so I find out which chapter that goes into and jot down a few lines for that. When I'm done I have a piece of paper with a very rough version of my entire story.

Here's an example: 
Click to 

I'm a little over halfway through writing the first draft of this book though I've been writing it for years :( It's the book I workshopped on The Roundtable Podcast and I really need to finish it!

I love being able to have a lot of the big plot points figured out before I write. It gives me a lot of confidence to know where I'm going while writing the first draft. From there I take each sentence or two that describes each chapter and I flesh it out into a paragraph or two. Once I have that I start writing. That said the first line or even scene of a story often just comes to me out of nowhere and I write it all down in one quick flurry. It doesn't always remain as the first scene but it usually is my jumping off point.

Also I always feel free to change my story and update my outline as I'm writing the first draft. I still have a lot to discover as I change a paragraph or two into a complete chapter. As I write the first draft I get new ideas and update my outline as needed. 

Wow that was a lot but anyway that's how I write!


  1. Thanks for listening, and I'm glad to provide you some inspiration for this post.

    I find that my process changes depending on the project. Each major thing that I've started has come about a different way. Some where the story hits me and I outline the major points, some where I wrote it from beginning to end with only a vague idea where I was going with it. As far as my process of drafting goes, that changes, too. I give myself to work differently on a project, and I think part of that may be because I would get bored if I did it the same way every time! LOL

    1. Ha ha! It really does seem like every writer comes around to his or her own methods. Thanks for the podcast and for the comment! They are few and far between around here :)

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Ron! And thanks for stopping by! Do you write at all? What’s your process like?