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how i write (my actual creative writing process)

how i write (my actual creative writing process)

(5 min read.) This is the truth about how I write, plus something at the end that might help you write, too. “What’s your creative process like? What’s your creative writing process?” The creative writing process is not the same for everyone, but we can still learn from each other.

Here are a few ways I write:

MELEE. My brain and cursor dart all over the page. I have ideas about every part of the piece at kinda the same time and do my best to capture ‘em all. I leave sentences half-finished so I can run off to another section of the page, then I come back and add the rest of the dangling phrase. In the middle of the process, I realize it’s all completely out of order; time to engage extreme cut-and-paste mosh pit protocols. As I’m throwing whole big sections around in new arrangements, I continue to pinball around on a smaller scale too, adding new words all over the place. There’s no first draft or revision. There is constant scattered progress. There’s only ever one full draft, but it comes out in, like, multiverse order. Every word everywhere all at once. Eventually, it feels done.

 This is fine.

NOBODY WHO READS IT KNOWS IT WAS A MELEE.

MIRACLE. I write every word perfectly the first time in exactly the correct order. I simply stack them up in an orderly fashion until they’re done. When I look at it later, all I have to do is fix a few spelling mistakes, wrangle some rebellious commas, and publish. I witness the miracle: a perfect first draft.

This is fine.

NOBODY WHO READS IT KNOWS IT WAS A MIRACLE.

OUTLINE. I often start with an outline, which is a fancy technical professional writing term for “any kind of plan.” I frequently create a detailed outline, planned down to the minute/word count, of every single thing that will happen. I edit the outline until it feels robust, efficient, and dynamic. Sometimes I get feedback on it and make it even stronger. I’m so excited about this outline. The bones are ideal. This creative writing process is going to be so smooth, right? I sit down to write.

About 30% of the time: it all goes pretty much to plan. It is smooth! It is organized! It works! The finished project is animated and alive with exactly the predicted structure. About 70% of the time: in the middle of executing the plan, I discover a hundred ideas that are a lot better and write them instead. The finished project is animated and alive and looks nothing like the predicted structure.

Either way is fine.

NOBDY WHO READS IT KNOW IF IT MATCHED THE OUTLINE.

GOOD IDEA. Sometimes I know I’ll write because I have a good idea.

When I get a good idea, often I set a timer for 50 minutes to try and get it down on paper. In that time I capture some of it; enough to help me remember it. I work that idea into something bigger and it turns out well.

But sometimes I get a good idea, so I set a timer for 50 minutes to try to get it down on paper. What comes out is an absolute mess that nobody but me would ever find legible. The original idea didn’t survive the transfer from mind to page. It died on the gurney during transport. I don’t regret giving it 50 minutes, because at least I tried, but it’s a pile of chaotic dreck with no potential. I look at it months later and it’s actually worse than I thought. I write a frustrated rant about how bad I am at this, and then a few hours later I come up with another idea that actually works and I capture that one and it turns out well.

Either way is fine.

NOBODY WHO READS IT KNOWS OR CARES IF IT WAS EASY OR HARD TO START.

NO IDEA. Sometimes, I have no ideas. I have no ideas and set a timer for 15 minutes and start writing and it turns out I have an idea after all. The freewrite ends up turning into something I’m really happy with, even though I thought I was running on an empty tank.

This is fine.

NOBODY WHO READS IT KNOWS OR CARES.

Here comes the part where I tell you something that I hope will help you.

***

I used to yearn for a specific, repeatable, identifiable process. I thought that would make a real writer. “If I had a PROCESS, I could teach it. If I had a process, I could sell it as a METHOD. If I had a process, I would know that I’d always be able to make the next thing the same way I made the last thing, so I’d always be able to start/continue/finish and I’d never be scared again.” I wondered if maybe every writer in the world had a REAL WAY TO MAKE THINGS and I was out here splashing around with a wildly inefficient doggy paddle, because I’m a dumbass.

Some people do have a refined and defined method.

So do I!!!!

My method is: THIS PROCESS IS FINE.

Every writing project is as different and unique and individual as a person. Everyone I love, I love in different ways. My creative writing process works the same way. Everything I make, I make in different ways.

I used to think this meant I could never coach. But people really wanted to know how I do what I do. People asked me for years if I would be their writing coach. It took about four years of “I don’t do that” before I started saying “Yes, I’d love to.”

The wild thing is that because my processess have been so varied, when people come to me as a writing coach I can really help them. Whatever they’re going through in their creative writing process, I’ve likely walked through something pretty similar. Instead of forcing them to follow my method, I can help them find theirs.

The thing I used to think meant I couldn’t coach is why I can.

If you think you can’t write because of something like that, it’s probably why you can. If your thinking is scattered, that’s why you can write something fast-paced and full of twists that excites people. If your thinking is slow, that’s why you can write something calm and stabilizing that holds people. If your thinking is a bit of an unruly chameleon like mine, that’s why you can write for the rest of your life as an endlessly experimental voice like me who gets called a “ruthless innovator” in the newspaper while changing colors and shapes through hundreds of different projects, forms, stories, and styles; you might baffle a few people, but you’ll never get bored.

However you write today…

Let your process be YOUR process.

Writing is one of the only things in life that you get to do your own way.

Enjoy that.

Write in little bits and string them together. Make an incredibly detailed plan and follow it exactly. Abandon something half-finished and let another richer idea grow from its compost. Let your creative writing process be an adventure. Anything is fine, as long you don’t give up.

xo, megan

Thanks for giving this a few minutes. I hope it felt supportive.


Writing coach Megan Cohen is a white cis woman with soft femme hair. She wears black but stands in front of a wall covered in brightly colored brainstorming post-it notes. She smiles with closed lips and warm eyes. Her skin is amazing even though she's middle-aged.

I’m a f*ckin’ friendly writing coach.

Let’s see what an hour with me can do for you. Get treated with honesty and respect. Bring your work-in-progress, your goals, or your frustrated blank page. Sliding scale; no ongoing commitment; just an hour to work on your writing. See me in a private zoom to put my 20 years of experience on your side.

curious/confused?: what does a writing coach do (and not do)


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