Should you have the same writing process for every story that you write?
Margaret Atwood — famous author of The Handmaid’s Tale and its best-selling sequel The Testaments — spoke with Entertainment Weekly about her writing process where she revealed a surprising stance on the subject.
“Here’s a deep, dark secret that I’m going to share with you: Everybody who goes on about their writing process is probably just making it up because you can’t actually remember that much about how you wrote things — unless you’re a much better-organized person than I am. [My process] is skiing down a hill. When you’re skiing down a hill, you’re trying not to fall over — and you’re making a lot of unconscious decisions automatically. You’re not thinking about them because if you do, you will fall over.”
Inspired by these wise, eye-opening words, here we elaborate and share three reasons why you should change your writing process every time you start a new story.
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1. To Avoid Complacency
When you’re comfortable, you’re complacent. And when you’re overly complacent, you’re not challenging those creative muscles.
A bodybuilder doesn’t perform the same few exercises each and every day. Why? Muscles conform to movements. They adapt to activities that are repeated over and over. Muscle hypertrophy occurs when the fibers within your muscles are injured or damaged. Your body repairs those damaged fibers by fusing them together. That is what increases the mass and size of your muscles.
When your body gets used to the same exercises being performed over and over, the fibers aren’t being challenged — and they certainly aren’t going to grow. The same can be said for your creative muscles. If you are always writing in the same location, with the same stimuli, while using the same writing process, you’re not challenging those creative muscles. And the same can be said for the choices that you’re making. If you are complacent about the genres you write within, you’re not challenging your imagination and storytelling capabilities. And when you’re not challenging yourself, you’re unable to grow as a writer.
Write in a new location for every story — or have multiple locations to choose from throughout your writing process. The stimuli around you will subconsciously steer you towards different creative decisions. The music you listen to when you write should be different every time as well. Complacency can kill your potential as a writer. Change your writing process with every story to build up those creative muscles.
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2. To Avoid Boredom
Old habits die hard. The thought of changing your writing process may be intimidating, but it’s necessary. What’s worse than complacency for a writer? Being bored. To conceive, develop, and write a compelling and engaging story, you need energy and excitement. The energy and enthusiasm translate through the material to the reader or audience.
Any script reader or publisher can feel when a writer is — or is not — passionate about what they’re writing. And if there’s no passion present, no risk taken, and no energy evident in between the lines, your story isn’t going to generate much interest. It’s going to feel like a paint-by-numbers effort.
Changing your writing process will keep you excited about writing. It will challenge you in many different ways. If you’re used to a lot of outlining, imagine the thrill of going into a story with little-to-no preparation. If you’re used to a lot of research, consider taking on a bare-bones approach — or think about focusing on a more personal story that doesn’t require the outside information that research provides. If you’re used to going in with all of the hard questions about your stories and characters answered, picture what it would feel like to discover those answers organically while writing. And yes, if you never outline, research, or figure out your stories before you begin your writing process, maybe it’s time to consider putting in that extra work to help focus your stories and characters more.
Boredom will kill your creativity. You never want to think of writing as a job where you arrive at the same assembly line, clock in, perform the same tasks you do day in and day out, and then clock out afterward, only to repeat the same pattern every writing day you have. That’s not what writing is about. Change your writing process with every story, and you’ll see the difference in how you feel and how the work translates to the reader or audience.
3. To Create a Diverse Understanding of the Craft
There are many ways to write wonderful and amazing stories. There is no single creative writing process that will bring you clarity or success. Different stories call for different tools and practices. If you’re a novelist, deadlines will vary, and the demands of your writing process will change once publishers take notice and prepare you for that industry. If you’re a screenwriter, writing assignments are the bread and butter of your career. You will need to be able to adjust to many different producing and directing personalities. Some will need quick rewrites on the fly. Others will want to meticulously break down every word that you write — and how you write it.
When you change your writing process with every story you tackle, you are building a diverse tool-set that you can bring to any situation. If a publisher or producer sees that you can adapt to any given deadline, constraint, or collaboration, your stock as a dependable writer will only go up.
Changing your writing process with every story you write will help you to avoid complacency, avoid boredom, and create a diverse understanding of the craft that you need to be successful as a professional writer.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures. He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies