The process


When I write a story, I have a way of working, a process if you will. I’ve heard and seen others work in a completely different way. Which begs the question: are all ways of doing things right?

My way

When I have an idea for a story it’s usually a specific scene that pops into my mind. From there nuggets of character ideas start to form. I start off writing down ideas, sometimes focusing on the world, sometimes on the characters. Over time I end up with an overview of the story and the characters in it.

Then I begin writing. I start with the first scene, then write the story from beginning to end. I like to plot them out in advance. Well, mostly anyway, more on that later. As I go, I try to avoid small problems and fix them in my first editing run. However, larger problems I tackle immediately. I often end up retooling earlier parts of the story as it progresses.

Then, when I’ve written ‘the end’, I go back and fix all the problems. That can still mean some serious rewriting. After that’s done, I do a complete pass from beginning to end.

Then, I hand it out to my most important reader: my wife. She’s not just an English teacher, but also has a master in creative writing.

After some feedback and me having a break and some distance from the story, I go over the story from beginning to end again. I always do some extra typo checking (for example, checking all the instance of ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’), and then it goes out. After which, I collect rejections until a new idea pops up and I put my last work aside because I’ve grown and can do better this time around.

Other ways

My way isn’t the only way to write. I’ve read a lot about writing and listened to the earlier seasons of Writing Excuses and other podcasts. Different writers have different ways of doing things.

Brandon Sanderson has a multi-page outline that he follows to a ‘T’. Robin Hobb uses only some signposts then lets the story flow naturally.

Some writers write out-of-order. Some use outlines, while others don’t, and some go so far to take an initial story, put is aside, then start from scratch on their first editing pass. Looking at all those writers, there’s a million ways to write.

The same goes, of course, for other creative processes. Painting can be done in different ways, as can sculpting, and writing music.

Bad habits

So, is there a way you shouldn’t do it? My process has allowed me to write multiple books, so I guess I’m doing something right. On the other hand, I haven’t published Jack, so… yeah. There’s really no easy answer, but there is — I think — a clear difference between a process and a bad habit.

If your process is to wait until the muse strikes you, and that means you only write a thousand words every month, then you’re probably not into a process but just a bad habit. On the other hand, if you want to only release one magnum opus ever, then you might succeed. Although you should realize: writing takes a lot of practice, and it might turn out that your first novel — after a decade or so of writing — is crap.

If you never get past chapter one because you keep rewriting, then you’re likely to suffer the same fate as the person above or worse. You might never finish anything, and despite all the rewrites, the overall quality might still be subpar: You have to finish a story to see the bigger picture, and continuously rewriting one part is like practicing the first mile of a marathon over and over – good for running a mile, but you ain’t gonna finish a marathon.

Then there’s worldbuilder’s disease, which I’ve written about before. If you spend years working on your world, and never get around to actually writing a story in it, you’ll never finish a book either.

For all of these, the following applies: it’s not a process, it’s a trap! Basically: if the process doesn’t result in an actual story in a reasonable amount of time, it’s just no good.


Simply put: there’s more than one way to skin a cat, but they do all include actual skinning.

Now go write.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands