My new writing process
Dictation software will play an important role as I get more comfortable with it. Some editing goes smoother without it right now but I suspect that will change soon. I will begin every new piece of writing with dictation software and use it until it starts slowing my progress.
I am in the beginning stages of implementing of my new writing process. Though I grow more hopeful each day, at this point I cannot be certain it will result in a completed novel. So I proceed with cautious optimism but considerable faith that this new knowledge and these new tools will provide the results I seek. I will make adjustments, if needed, but here is the current version of my process for taking an idea from nothing to finished work.
The “nothing” starting point deserves mention here but I don’t yet have an explicit method for coming up with new ideas. I’m not sure I can force that using some regimented process. I currently have more ideas than I have writing time. Ideas are not my problem. They come from many places, sometimes straight out of the blue (it seems), sometimes when I’m watching a video on YouTube, sometimes when I am reading a response to something I’ve posted online, and sometimes when I am working on some other project. Right now I have 20 or so chapters to write for my When I Was Donnie stories, two or three novel ideas, a few short fiction ideas, and several ideas about articles based on my writing process. I also have several ideas on political topics. Those are harder for me to write but I will certainly tackle a few as time goes by. I need to capture all those ideas in one central location but beyond that I’m not sure how to get more organized with idea creation. That sounds like a good topic for more research.
Once I have selected a project to work on I will open Word or Scrivener (depending upon project length), set up a new project file and write a general description of what I want to accomplish in the project, i.e. a mission statement. This will be a free writing exercise, will likely be incomplete and may contain elements not in the final draft. The purpose is to capture what I can about my subject in general terms, and any specifics I might think of, without regard for the final work’s construction, cohesion, completeness, or clarity. I may revisit and edit my mission statement several times throughout the course of writing the piece as my thinking on the subject becomes more mature.
Upon review of my free-writing text, I will build a simple outline and then review the order and completeness of the outline, move things around, and add things as needed. The outline will just be sentences or short paragraphs, nothing like the traditional outline we learned in school. I will separate the outline into chapters or sections and develop potential headings. Once I have accomplished all that, I am ready to begin the rough draft. The outline might get a few edits along the way, much like the mission statement.
I have tried a number of writing session lengths to see how long it takes for the words to slow down and how long I can write without giving my back a break. Today, that’s 30 minutes. Less time makes me want to keep writing; more time makes me mentally and physically weary. I want to be fresh and focused for each session. I’ll get stronger and the sessions may get longer.
I think a few moments about my subject, read the pertinent part of my outline if it exists, then I meditate for ten minutes or so. After meditating, I set the timer for 30 minutes and begin writing. I try to not stop during the full thirty minutes. I avoid editing even if I notice dictation errors. The software records my words as I say them. I can play a sentence back later if I can't remember what I meant when dictation errors occur.
When the 30 minute alarm sounds I finish my thought; that might take a few minutes but I dare not lose words that are already fighting their way toward my computer screen. I take a break and think about or do something else for a few minutes. I will try to let the whole process for one session take about an hour, making a total of three hours, sometimes a bit more, for each writing day.
After the first session, I review my outline, sit and think a moment on what I’ll be writing next and then I meditate for ten more minutes to give my subconscious mind a chance to do its part. I write for 30 more minutes and then take another break. I repeat that process one more time: three writing sessions of thirty minutes each. The 30 minute sessions so far have resulted in 500 to 750 words manually typed. (I expect my dictated words to be from 750 to 1000 per session.) I check my total word count for the day: if I have not written at least 2000 words I do one more session to reach that goal. I may keep going the full extra thirty minutes but my daily goal is 2000 words, two or three times a week. Once I know how dictation software affects my output I may change my goal to 2500 or more words per day.
At the end of the sessions I quickly read the text, looking for dictation and punctuation errors. In-depth editing comes later.
On editing days I will use a similar process of reviewing my outline, meditating and then tackling the work. Taking a break while editing may be a bit more difficult for me, especially if things are going well in the editing process. But I must discipline myself to take the break and refresh my mind and rest my back so that the quality of my work does not diminish throughout the sessions.
As time progresses, I need to look back and see continuity of effort, evidence of staying on course or any lapses. Each day I note in a spreadsheet the name of the project worked on that day, the number of rough drafts words I've written and the time spent on those words or the time spent editing. That process is several months old and is the reason I can say with confidence how many rough draft words I wrote last year in preparation for this year.
I haven’t worked out a weekly rough draft/editing schedule yet. Three days of one and two of the other sounds workable. I will get on that schedule by February; so far, this year I’ve been doing mostly editing of last year’s work. I've been developing and using my new writing technique since July of 2014, doing mostly rough drafts. Those six months netted me over 100,000 rough draft words, more writing productivity than in any past year. The count will certainly shrink during editing. But this technique seems to blast past any notion of writer’s block.