How I Write in 2024: Writing Process

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series How I Write

Embracing Longhand

Let 2023 be the year when, 3500 to 35,000 years behind the rest of humanity (depending how you count it), I (re)discovered the profound value of the handwritten word.

In April of last year, I posted about trying a longhand project: for the first time, attempting to draft a novel longhand over the summer. I never finished that project, but that notebook is still going. What I did discover is the myriad benefits of longhand writing during the “generative prose” phase. There’s a lot out there on the benefits of writing longhand, and I think nearly all of it is valid.

In addition to the benefits for the writing itself, I think personally its been great to disconnect from the screen (especially after a workday

Still Plantsing

The last time I sat down to really consider and explicate my writing process was my (very popular, according to site metrics) post called Plantsing With the Three Eggs. At a high level, I’d say the same general approach remains true for me today, with two differences in the details:

  • Draft Zero has been mostly replaced with a mix of worldbuilding using Obsidian and Wonderdraft, and generative prose written longhand in physical notebooks
  • The iterative nature of the plantsing approach has filtered down to the scene level, rather than being anchored on major plot points

Light Planning Up Front

After a mix of longhand freewriting and a period of world- or concept-building, I’ll fill in the first part of a high-level plot tool. Examples might be the Steps 1-4 of the Snowflake Method, laying out the First Egg up to the Inciting Incident, or summarizing in a few sentences each of the first five chapters of the 24 Chapter Outline. Whichever the tool, I usually know the following before starting to type a draft:

  • Who is the main character, and (in broad strokes) what will their main inner and outer conflicts be?
  • What are the major starting tensions of the external world? What parts of the systems and dynamics that make the world of the setting work are close to the breaking point?
  • What will be the Inciting Incident, the story event that breaks something about the status quo and binds the character’s internal character arc to the external plot?

Pantsing As I Go

As I write, I’ve noticed how the simple act of transliterating from handwritten notes and free-writing to first draft typed prose works as a pretty effective cleanup and editing step. It’s far from perfect, but goes from maybe 40% to 80% in one pass. With the plot defined only a few scenes ahead, I also feel free to change the direction and tone of individual scenes as they come out.

I allow the characters to surprise me: to have personalities I didn’t intend, to take ill-advised actions and make mistakes that get them into trouble, and to channel little sparks of raw feeling from whatever is going on in my subconscious at the time. On completion of a scene, I revise the plan based on what happened, and try to propagate differences down to the end of the Act. Then, iterate!

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