Okay, so ultimately my writing process boils down to two things: discipline and eliminating distractions in my environment. I mean, there’s more to it, but those are the most essential parts. See, I’m pretty profoundly A.D.D. and not on any meds for it (unless you count caffeine and alcohol), so that’s the primary obstacle to my productivity. So first let’s talk about discipline.
One of the most useful tools for a writer, at least one who wants to do it professionally, is having definable goals and objective metrics to measure your progress. Otherwise…life just seems to have a tendency to get in the way, even if you really love the time you spend writing. So the first thing is just setting aside a block of time that is dedicated to writing. No matter how brilliant a writer you are, your manuscript cannot get finished without the time spent with your butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. Period. If you ever expect to be a professional writer, you have to learn to prioritize your time and actually WRITE.
Now, goals and metrics. I cannot stress enough how important it is for me to set both daily and weekly minimum word count goals. This is one of those boring things you just have to do. It allows you to measure your progress and hold yourself accountable. My personal goals are 2,000 words a day and 10,000 overall words for the week (I only typically write about five days a week). This may seem like a lot to new writers (or hell, even to established writers. George R. R. Martin reportedly writes about 500 words a day), but this is just what I do. It’s important to set your own goals even if it’s 500 words a day, or just a hundred words a day. Set a goal and stick to it.
Eliminating distractions. For me, this is absolutely essential. If there’s any external stimulus it will grab my attention and pull me out of my “writer’s trance”. So before I start writing I remove as many distractions as possible from my environment. I let my wife know I’m going to be writing, take the dogs out to potty, pour a cup of coffee or tea (or whiskey), and sit down with the mindset of writing. I put in headphones and crank up the music to further shut out the world and finally (and probably most importantly), I turn off the internet to my computer (unless I’m doing research or something). The internet is the black hole that eats productivity, and it will suck me in if I give it the slightest chance. So that’s it. It’s not particularly sexy or interesting, but it gets the job done.
Also, while we’re on the subject of productivity, try not to edit until the first draft is complete. Because if you’re a perfectionist like me, that pretty much means you’re never going to finish the darn thing. Wait to pick it apart until you have a finished copy in your hands.
Now, I know some of you are reading this and thinking, “That’s so boring and mechanical. What about the Muse?” To quote one of my favorite authors Jim Butcher, “I don’t have a Muse, I have a mortgage.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful when the wind is in your sails and everything you write is effortless and inspired…but what about when it’s hard? When you’re uninspired, or blocked, or hate what you’re writing? YOU KEEP WRITING!!! Even if everything you put on the page is crap. That’s the only way to get to the end. You can always go back and fix something that you’ve written, but not something you haven’t written. To steal another famous quote, “Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten.” And always remember what Hemmingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
One other question I get asked quite a bit: am I a planner or a pantser (as in, write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants). Honestly, I’m a bit of a hybrid. I plan out the overall plot, as well as a few of the major structure points (there’s a fights scene here, an important conversation there, ect.) but beyond that, I just sort of like to let the story flow organically. Sometimes that means I have to change some things from my original plan. That’s perfectly alright. It usually leads to a better story, but it’s nice to have a basic framework to start with.
I want to stress one last thing. This process is what works for ME. If another writer has a completely different process that works for THEM, then they should use it. There’s no absolute right or wrong. What’s important is the end result.