Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Creating a Writing Process Diary

Last time, I wrote about how you can become more productive through the use of documented processes. Many writers simply follow processes they find in books and courses–and there is nothing wrong with that. A book like Save the Cat has pushed many a writer toward success.

However you may find that you want to have a reference that
  • includes your own ideas,
  • provides the potential for grabbing and adapting insights from a variety of courses and articles, and
  • provides the impetus for regularly improving your craft.

For this, I recommend creating your own reference in the form of a writing process diary.

Many people create such diaries in electronic form. I like to use a blank notebook section off into different stages of writing (pre-work, drafting, rewriting, etc.). I make my entries in pencil and leave extra space so that it is easy to read new steps or to make corrections. I put the processes in the order that I normally use them. And, in each case, I make sure that everything is clear by writing in full sentences and including specific references. In addition, this diary is where I include comments and measurements of success. My specific entries may include:
  • The name of the process
  • A brief description
  • The date it was added
  • Its source with a complete reference
  • My current assessment of its value
  • An estimate of the “cost” to me (which may be in terms of how much time it takes for me to execute this process and how much preparation and energy might be required)
  • My level of mastery of the process
  • What I call the “fun index”
Once I have these elements documented, I find that I almost always end up breaking up the process into smaller steps. This is one of the biggest values since a major process, like using backward logic, may seem overwhelming. The smaller bits I settle on usually seem doable, even the most challenging days. Besides becoming bite-size, the smaller steps are more easily adapted and tuned for my needs.

Of course, many of the processes I find elsewhere already have step-by-step instructions, which helps me to adopt and adapt the more quickly. But I never see these as complete and final until I have both tried them out on a real manuscript and practiced them to the point where I have a level of comfort and confidence. In fact, my first step toward mastering any process is to put it in my own words. Somehow translating it helps me to integrate new process into my practices.

So there you have it—a process for documenting processes. This may seem fussy and overdone. Certainly, I don't take every process and break it down and documented to the extent defined here. The point is to make things easier and not harder. There is no right way to do this. There just is the way that provides the most benefits for you. So, adopt, or discard as you please.


  1. Great idea! I could use a process checklist or something for sure. I find that I often forget important steps when I get caught up in the excitement of a new manuscript, then regret it later when I'm stuck.

  2. I started doing this as part of my speech writing work. No one wants to turn in flawed pages. But when you miss a step on a speech, the consequences are swift and cruel.
    Having processes and checklists relieves my mind so the creativity can flow.
    Thanks for the comment, Gwen!