It took a while, but I’ve found the best writing process. I do it every day as part of my morning routine. It goes something like this:
6:00am - Wake up.
6:10am - Coffee.
6:20am - Head out for a run along the lake. (I think about my current writing project while I’m running.)
7:00am - Shower, eat breakfast, and get ready for the day.
7:30am - Sit down at my desk. (The top is clean, except for my typewriter. All other devices are turned off. The door is closed and the only light in the room comes from the south-facing windows.) I start writing and don’t stop until I hit roughly 1,500-2,000 words.
10:00am - After reaching my word count I start the rest of my day: e-mails, video editing, etc.
That’s how I write every single day, no matter what. After years of trial and error I genuinely believe that this is the single best writing process. It’s the only real way to get better and keep finishing writing projects in a timely manner.
If you’re looking to be a good writer or have always wanted to write a book, this how to do it. Or, maybe you’re like me and you just really enjoy writing for the sake of it. This is the best way to do it.
Okay…not really. I’m full of crap. I don’t believe any of that at all. What kind of pretentious, self-aggrandizing person would say “My process is the best and you need to be doing it, too!”
My writing process is more like this:
I wake up early (or late) and get right to work (or don’t). I write as many words as possible (hopefully 0-100 if I’m lucky) without any devices on (or sometimes while watching Netflix or listening to music).
I usually write on my typewriter (unless I’m using my computer) unless I’m on the road and have to resort to writing by hand in a notebook - always a moleskine (or whatever else I can find like a yellow legal pad, composition notebook, hotel stationary, or back of a napkin).
I always write in the morning (except when it’s more convenient to write at a different time) at the same place (not a chance) in the same way (yeah, right).
It’s a simple process. (Not true.)
I’ve read a ton of books on writing. (If you’re interested, start with this one. Also, check out this one or this one. For creative inspiration, you can’t beat this one. And then you can get into niche territory with books like this, that, this one, or maybe even this one.) They all talk about writing processes, word counts, your general writing environment, and more. They give you bench marks for word counts or total number of pages or a timeframe in which to finish your book. I’ve experimented with many of these approaches.
I tried Morning Pages and stuck with it for maybe two months.
I tried 10 pages a day and made it two or three days.
I’ve tried writing in the morning, writing late at night, phone reminders, timers, typewriters, computers, iPad apps, storyboards, notebooks - you name it - but I was never able to stick with any single approach for very long.
Over time, I started to get discouraged that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer. Since I didn’t have a process like the writers I admired I was worried that my ideas would never amount to anything.
See, I’m not necessarily trying to write a novel or a feature-length film or a memoir. For me writing is almost like therapy. It’s a way to confront my ideas and transmit them to you. It’s a way to get thoughts out of my head so I can understand them and make room for more. When I write it’s to work on my show or brainstorm new ideas or finish one of these essays. Sometimes I work on a screenplay, other times I write poetry. It’s just one more way to express myself, even if most of it will never be published.
But I still want to be better. That’s why I read those books and study my favorite authors. That’s why I watch TED Talks and take classes. That’s why I keep trying to find a writing process that I can stick with. I just haven’t found something that works for me.
I told my wife once, “I should work harder. I don’t really write or rehearse. Am I being lazy? Or, is it just not something I’m good at?” I expected her to agree with me and encourage me to make changes to my daily routine. But that’s not what happened at all.
She surprised me with, as usual, a thoughtful observation, “That’s not true at all. I think you work really hard. You’re always writing. Every time I wake up or come home or get back from the studio, you’re working on a project. And I always hear you working on your show - on the phone, in the shower, in the car. You’re always working on something new.”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized she was absolutely right. I am constantly working on something new. It could be a script or a show or a blog post or a book, but I’m always hard at work trying to create something. I just don’t have a set way of doing it.
My writing process is never the same. And that’s okay.
Sometimes I write out loud in the shower, sometimes I write in my head on a run. Sometimes I talk out loud in the car and other times I need it to be perfectly quiet so I can get it just right. Sometimes I’ll sit at my desk all day and other times (like writing this post) I’ll move around constantly and sit on every chair/stool/couch in my apartment. It always changes.
Thinking you can study someone’s process and copy it exactly is ridiculous. What works for someone else will never work perfectly for you. You’ll try it on and it’ll fit as well as a hand-me-down outfit you found at the GoodWill. So you take the elements that suit you and discard the rest. Then you repeat, ad nauseam, until you find the right combination for your style and your life.
My writing process is a little sporadic. Sometimes I write these essays on a Friday afternoon and schedule them for the following Thursday. Other times, I write them Thursday morning and post them soon after. It doesn’t matter, I just try to fit them in when I can.
I really don’t rehearse my show in the traditional sense, but I think about it constantly. I outline it in my notebook, storyboard it, write a few parts out in full, but mainly I just say it out loud. Then I go onstage and pay close attention to what works and what doesn’t. I learn from my mistakes, get better, and keep improving show to show. That’s the best process - for me.
When I got back from spending six weeks in Pittsburgh this summer I flipped through my notebook from the start of the year. I had diagrammed out a show and never really gone back to it. But everything was there: the intention, the message, the character development, the goals, the peaks and valleys, the dramatic structure. I had accomplished everything I had set out to months ago, without even realizing it.
Here’s the best tips I’ve found, no matter what you want to do:
• Consistency - If you want to get better at something you need to do it a lot. I may not write at the same time every day but I do think about it all the time. And I try to write as much as possible. Whatever you want to do, do it as much as you possibly can.
• Self-Imposed Deadlines - Posting every Thursday helps me stay on track. I’m always thinking about ideas and trying to turn them into blog posts. Give yourself a timeframe so you have to keep making progress.
• Prioritize - Remove other distractions from your life so you can focus on what matters. Making time for your dreams will help you find a way to turn them into a reality.
You may not want to be a writer or a mind reader or anything that even remotely resembles that. But, whatever you want to do, today’s world is full of people constantly telling you that they have it all figured out and if you would only do it exactly how they do it, then you could have a perfectly happy existence just like they do!
I’m here to tell you the opposite. What works for those people, won’t work for you. No one can tell you how to be the next great so-and-so. No one’s process will be 100% perfect for you. So, why waste your time trying to do something the way someone else does?
Go out and experiment. Make mistakes and learn from them. Try all the ways to do something until you find your favorite. There are a million ways to do something but the best process is the one that works for you.
Summer is nearly over - can you believe it? That means it’s time for college shows around the country. Check out this cool 360 pic from my first college of the semester - California State University, East Bay: