A few months ago, I went to a writer’s conference and heard a repeat of a conversation I’ve heard many times when writers are congregating. First one writer begins by telling about his or her writing habits. Then others follow by going over theirs. In this instance, it was an author who’s published over 300 articles and 30 books. He uses writing habits he learned forty years ago from another writer. How does he do it?
He has nine boxes on his desk. For some reason, he writes on no more or fewer projects at once. As he gathers notes on any project, he puts them into the respective folders. After he has collected a critical mass of notes, I’m not sure if he decides that by weight or volume, he writes his notes in one file in longhand.
After that, he takes out his scissors and cuts the sentences into strips. Then he arranges the strips into a story and pastes the strips onto other sheets of paper. From there, he writes his story in ink, longhand again. That’s what he takes to his publishers.
He is so well known that he is often called by publishers who are in need of articles or books. He delivers what he promises and he is always on time. He put four children through college using his time tested practices.
His description of his writing habits brought on a chorus of comments from others about their ‘time tested’ writing habits. Many writer’s habits were the exact opposite of other’s habits.
His process works for him, but it is not likely too many people would want to use it today. He doesn’t touch a computer throughout his steps. And, there are many types of software that accomplish the steps he does by hand.
I once had a ‘new’ writer ask me about my habits. I begin by writing a broad outline on a whiteboard in my office. I divide the board into six rectangles and write a brief topical outline in the spaces. Usually the first rectangle is the beginning of the story, the next three or four are the middle, and the last one or two, the conclusion.
After that, I make a broader topical outline and begin to develop my characters. As I’m doing that, I look for pictures on the Internet that resemble what I have in mind for the characters, locations, and scenes.
A few weeks later he was talking to me and very apologetically admitted he had begun a story, but he had seven rectangles instead of six. He had taken my habit and made it into a literal rule which he had violated.
I told him I would have more rectangles if I had a bigger whiteboard.
So, what’s the moral of this story? For me, it’s okay to steal what you can from what others tell you about their writing habits, but only if they work for you. Otherwise, your habits are as good as anyone else’s habits.