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My Fractured Writing Process

Yesterday I mentioned using Scrivener to write, and I mentioned that I have sort of a graduated process for writing that isn’t very efficient. I wanted to actually write down how I write, just to sort of collect what I do; maybe the documentation process will help me see it for what it is (“a mess”) and fix it some.

Here’s the thing: it’s very haphazard and very much cross-platform. All of it. I write on mobile devices (my tablet, mostly, but my phone as well), I write on Linux, I write on paper, I write on Windows (rarely, but still!), and usually on one of two Macs. One’s a desktop machine (upon which I’m typing right now) and one’s a MacBook.

The tools I have available at any time factor very heavily into how I write and what I write and where, often with negative effects.

Draft Simply

I rely really heavily on simple mechanisms: pen and paper, cloud storage, simple keyboards. I’ll start with a text editor more often than not – either WordPress (as I’m doing right now) or Day One, because they’re shared – if I’m on a walk and I dictate something into Day One, I know I can open up Day One on my Mac and see whatever it is I happened to say. Likewise, on WordPress, I can write it in one place and see it somewhere else.

Cloud storage has done more to free me than anything else.

I also tend to write in plain text; Day One has simple markdown-style formatting, as does WordPress; I don’t get wrapped up in style very often, although in WordPress I can – I keep wanting footnotes in WordPress just like I do in Word (which is why I rarely draft in Word).

So: the first step in my writing process is to draft simply.

Going Further

The next step in my writing process is to decide if there’s… more steps to follow.

Honestly, a lot of the stuff I write is just me capturing my thoughts so that my kids can see inside my head should they ever want to; I’m really writing to them.

So a lot of editing would actually work counter to what I’m trying to accomplish; I don’t want my kids to see a sanitized version of me, I want them to see how I think and why I think what I think, to hear my voice and my motivations.

When I write directly, with little editing, you’re getting what I actually would “sound like” as long as you cut out all the stuttering and pauses and moments where I … you know, lose what it is I’m trying to say as I’m trying to work it out.

That – the loss of what I say as I’m trying to say it – happens a lot. I get distracted. A lot of my writing gets discarded because of that; I’ll look at it, and see where I hopped off the tracks, and think to myself, “This is not worth knowing or reading; it communicates my confusion, not my soul,” and … into the bin it goes.

Day One is fantastic for this; I have a lot of rather confusing journal entries. They’re embarrassing, really, but for the right reasons; they’re not embarrassing because I’m betraying some deep, dark secrets, but because they’re rather silly even in their own context.

Anyway – did you see how I got off track, right there? – after I’ve drafted something in a simple medium, the question is: what next?

A lot of times, it’s pretty simple: hit publish! I said it, go to … well, not “print,” because a lot of it’s online, but go “live.” That’s fine, that’s the whole purpose of a lot of things I write, like this piece itself.

I’m writing “raw,” and publishing “raw” is the whole point.

Going Formal

If the answer to the “next step” isn’t “expose it to everyone, flaws and all,” then it’s time to get serious. Here, I’ll crank up a real tool – it’ll be either Scrivener or a mind mapper of some kind.

A mind mapper – Freeplane, XMind, or MindNode, for example – is where I’ll take the draft’s points if I think they’re solid but disorganized. A draft is going to be completely burned down to the ground if I take it to a mind mapper; this is usually a completely destructive, but entirely useful, process.

It’s where I look at the structure of what I have written, and extract the useful bits. I’ll use them to rebuild a structure from the ground up.

In my opinion, my best works – not my most artistic works, but my best – come out of this process.

The next destination – mind-mapped or not – is likely to be Scrivener, where I’ll either transcribe the mind map into text to be moved about, or I’ll just copy the draft and then edit it there, with notes. This is a fairly formal drafting process – this, or the mind map, are the first times I usually actually try to apply process to writing.

Scrivener allows me to make notes about what I’m writing (much as mind mapping allows me to make connections between concepts). Scrivener also allows me to focus on the drafting process without getting tied down by the editing process, which is a big deal (and, again, why I avoid Word for writing, usually).

Final Production

The next step is to compile the work from Scrivener into a Word document.

I’ll then read… and read… and reread… and read again until I’m sick of it, applying edits and notes back in Scrivener and republishing.

Once I’m happy with it – or once I’m so sick of it I can’t read it any more – I’ll do a final compilation with Scrivener and send off to a publisher… or copy it from there back to WordPress or wherever its final destination will be. This part’s usually pretty light.

There’s More Than One Way

Of course, if it’s not clear already, there’s more than one way to do it.

That Day One -> Scrivener -> Final Destination process is probably what I do most often, but it’s not the only way.

I also draft with Asciidoctor, and do the same render/edit cycle there that I do with Scrivener (including the mind mapping stage).

I wrote a book this way, for example, and there were a lot of really good aspects to this… and some really unfortunate aspects to it. The problem AsciiDoctor has is exporting to Word format, which is the lingua franca of publishing; the Word conversion is… problematic.

(There’s more to it than that, too, but this is not the right forum for that.)

Anyway, how about you? What do you do?

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • marcbouvier1986Marc January 21, 2021, 2:20 pm

    Nowadays, I mostly write on Joplin, and I synchronize my devices (Linux, Windows, Android) on a private self-hosted nextcloud instance (on a raspberry pi).

    I still struggle to order my notes.

    I plan to automate a bit more this process with the CLI and API capabilities of Joplin. Or maybe contribute to develop an export plugin (like export as joplin site)

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