How to develop a writing system that works for you and your lifestyle
Writers often want to know a lot of things; they seek out lots of advice. And the answers they find are not always the most helpful. What’s the best time to write? Depends on your work and life schedule. What’s the best writing software? Depends on what your weaknesses are. Should I write every day? Depends on your writing style. Though those answers are correct, they don’t really help a writer get to their own answer. And those highly personal answers lie in developing a writing system of your own.
Developing a writing system is a crucial part of taking your writing to the next level, whether you write as a hobby, work full-time as a writer, or want to publish. So how do you create one, and what are they for? Using my own writing system as an example, let’s take a closer look.
What is a writing system?
A writing system is a collection of habits and goals. It describes the process that best supports your writing and lifestyle. For example, I write better when my desk is clean, while others thrive on chaos. So before I start writing each day, during my first cup of coffee, I clear any clutter off my desk. I found out during NaNo that I have to finish a chapter to get the best results. That means I won’t start one half an hour before I should go to bed. Whenever I notice I’m staring at my phone too much, I put it in another room. It’s become a habit and through that habit I improve the quality of my work.
A writing system also focuses on what works best for the writing itself. Do you write on a computer? Or by hand? Do you go through your draft on paper or on screen? If you aren’t sure what works best for you yet, try out a couple different processes. You may find drafting by hand very helpful, or that you can only type on a computer.
On the topic of drafting, are you an outliner or do you go in without a plan, letting the magic flow into the blank document? When you have a draft complete, do you focus on developmental edits first? How many rounds of edits will you go through before you send your work off to beta readers? Do you want to become part of a writing group? Let’s break down the most important questions when it comes to finding the best writing system that works for you. This will allow you to develop your writing more directly and improve your craft faster.
Developing a writing system
So, how does anyone figure out their perfect writing system in the first place? Short answer: trial and error. Long answer: trial and error. The best way for people to write often changes as they learn, improve, and try out new things. The thing about developing a writing system is that there’s so many small things involved that describing it is difficult. And, if you aren’t that familiar with your writing system yet, it can change every other week.
For example, I used to hate the idea of writing by hand. But with my brand-new fountain pen, I am loving it. So now I write by hand whenever I can. What I’m still experimenting on is when I want to transcribe my writing. So far I prefer to transfer it every morning before I start on the next chapter. That works best for me, while others choose to write a full draft by hand and then type or dictate their words to screen. But I didn’t find out I liked writing by hand until I got out of my comfort zone and tried a new method. So how do you find your perfect writing system?
The first step is to determine what your current writing habits are. Try and think back to what days you felt good about how much writing or editing you achieved. What did you do those days that you didn’t do on others? Is there a time of day that works great for you? Or do you write better on a laptop than behind a pc? With or without music? Can you replicate those circumstances to draw out that same writing vibe?
Secondly, you want to sort your habits. Which ones are helpful? Which ones aren’t? Can a bad habit turn into a good one? For example, I am very productive when I’m facing a deadline. I tend to procrastinate when I have all the time in the world. So part of my writing system is that I have weekly to-do lists that tell me how much progress I have to make each week. That way I’m always facing a nearby deadline, and I turn my habit into a strength. (Keeping to those deadlines is a matter of discipline, though!) On the other hand, one habit I’ve had to kick was turning to my cell phone all the time. It kept distracting me, so part of my writing system became that I have it out of reach whenever I write.
Third and final, you want to implement those habits into your writing routine, in a way that they benefit you. Would a weekly to-do list work for you as well? Or do you prefer monthly goals? Or a daily half-hour to either work on your writing or think about the plot and characters? How can you keep the distractions to a minimum? What works for you, and are those habits sustainable?
If you need more ideas on how to approach your habits and how to improve or change them, this video may change your life. CPG Grey is a big proponent of thematic improvements over resolutions.To put that in writer terms, setting a 500-words-a-day-goal can work great while you’re drafting, but what if you’re in the editing stage? Will you consider the day a failure if you only hit 450? Knowing how other writers implement their own writing systems and how they plan big projects can help you find your own way.
I have a system: what now?
Keep asking questions. Keep on trying new things. Finding something that works for you is amazing. Keep on trying new things, experiment with new ideas. Because as I learned the hard way, the moment you sit still, the world will overtake you. Everything can always be better, and that includes your writing system. Whenever you come across a weird new idea that doesn’t – at all – agree with your current method, give it a try anyway. A whole new world awaits, and knowing what you don’t or can’t handle is just as valuable as what you can handle.
What if I can’t stick to my system?
If you can’t stick to your writing system, that probably means it’s not a right fit for you. Perhaps you need a more flexible system, for example if you have a child to take care of. Other writers may benefit from a tight schedule to battle their habits of procrastination. You can decide to set a goal of 500 words a day for yourself, or change that to half an hour of writing each day, or there may be the type who writes only in certain months a year. Different people lead different lives, and require different writing systems.
But in other cases, you may have to work on yourself. If you have trouble with discipline, a flexible system is not the best choice for you. There are few things all successful writers have in common, but being disciplined is definitely on that list.
What’s important is that you find a writing system that works for you. Copying someone else’s system can give you an idea of what works for you and what doesn’t, or at the least can give you an idea of what you can pay attention to. But remember to always be on the look-out for improvements and don’t be afraid to shake things up a little!
There is no one golden writing system. It’s up to you to find out what you need from a writing system, and to get there, you can answer the following questions;
- What do I need before I write?
- What distracts me as I write?
- How can I improve my productivity?
- When am I satisfied?
That’s all for this week! You can follow us through our newsletter and on Twitter for Pine and Saskia. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment or reach out to Saskia for professional editing and proofreading servives.