Writing is not only a mostly a solitary task; we are often learning how to write novels on our own and without any guidance or feedback. Writing comes naturally for some lucky people, but for most of us it’s something that has to be studied and figured out. We can read guidebooks for writers and find articles about writing online, but most of us don’t have writing classes available to us. We might be able to take an online writing course, but those might not be affordable to everyone. The next best thing to taking classes, is talking with other people who are also learning to write and to experienced writers.

How do writers find other writers?

If we’re lucky, we can find and join in-person writing groups in our towns. Sometimes, that’s not possible. But there are other ways to meet fellow writers. For almost everyone, we also have the option of joining online writing groups, which you can participate in right in your living room. I’m in many writing groups on Facebook and those are great ways of meeting writers.

Meeting and talking to other writers gives us the chance to talk about the so-called ‘rules of writing’, ask questions, answer questions, and get feedback on our writing. Feedback, especially for new writers, can be extremely helpful, because without it, self-doubt can set in. I remember worrying about whether or not I could really write fiction. Then I joined a fabulous writing group online, the now defunct website called ‘Authonomy’, a creation by HarperCollins Publishing. The feedback I got from that group was helpful and gave me the confidence to keep writing and to eventually publish. I met hundreds of writers from all of the world on that website.

What is evident from talking with other all these writers is that we all approach writing differently. We all have writing processes that work for us but might not work for others. I suspect it’s a lot to do with how our brains work, how we learn, how we create, and how we organize.

Is there a most common writing process?

I know many writers who start a book and write, write, write without an outline or idea of where they are going with their story. As I understand it, they write as much as they can without worrying about editing. Once they have a completed first draft, then they work on cutting things they don’t need, rearranging scenes, etc. These writers often say that it’s much easier to cut stuff out of a book than try to add stuff later. This method, not planning a book before writing it, is often referred to ‘writing by the seat of your pants’ or ‘pantsing’.

But what about outlining?

Most of us probably learned in school that writers should outline their books or stories. Well, many do that, though most likely not by using complicated or formal outlines like we learned in school. These writers might plan and outline their whole book before they begin writing a single word, either using a simple word document with a few sentences about each chapter or using a computer writing program or even using color-coded sticky notes on a white board to keep track of every scene. Planning and outlining before writing is often referred to as ‘plotting’. These writers may or may not edit as they go.

Are ‘pansing’ and ‘plotting’ the only correct writing processes? Do you have to choose one or the other?

Definitely not. Some of us, I guess, are what you might call ‘hybrid’ writers in that we don’t always approach each book the same way. We might start out writing without an outline and then outline the second half of the book once we see where it’s headed. Opposite of that, we might outline the first chapters and then wing it the rest of the way. We may or may not edit as we go.

More often than not, I roughly plan out my books but leave them open for changes to the story. I tend to also write lean first drafts and do some minor editing as I proceed, usually editing the previous day’s work right before I start work on a new chapter or scene. By lean first draft, I mean I write the scenes and develop the characters, plot, and theme during the first draft and verify that my story ‘works’ the way I intended. I kind of think of the first draft as a fairly detailed sketch/drawing. Once the first draft is finished, I go back through the book and really fill it out, meaning I add more details and deeper development. I will go through the book up to three times to really complete the finished picture. When the book is ready, my editor reviews and edits, and then I make any necessary changes. This process works really well for me.

And that’s the point–each writer finds or develops a process that works well for them. Sometimes, it’s trial and error and sometimes it might depend on the type of story the writer is writing. I expect that writing an epic fantasy is very different from writing a police procedural mystery and, therefore, might benefit from a different process.

If you are a new writer and having trouble figuring out how to get started, or if you get stuck midway through your book, you might try a different process to see if it works better for you and your story. Also, consider joining a writers’ group either in person or online.

I wish all the new writers out there good luck!