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How Do You Write?

by Christopher Gronlund on July 16, 2014

Golden Gate Bridge (Courtesy of from one side of a novel to the other…

There comes a point in my writing process that I take over the living room for the day. Whether it’s bits and pieces of a story written on note cards, or printed sections of a manuscript color coded and spread out on the floor so I can see it all — physically — before me, that is part of my writing process.

I’ve had some early plotting luck with SuperNotecard, recommended to me by Lisa Eckstein, but eventually…those electronic notes become hand-scrawled cyphers, things only making sense to me.

Writing Processes

I recently wrote about making writing visual. I’ve also been thinking about documenting the process I use when writing. I’ve roughed out some video ideas (on note cards, of course!), but nothing’s totally come together yet. (Sometimes the act of making videos about writing is a lot like writing: waiting for it to all click and come together.)

Last weekend, I saw a bit of my old process when I made this video about my love of notebooks:

The video reminded me that I used to write longhand manuscripts much more; in part, because that’s what the situation demanded. Laptops were not common at the time, and I had an evening job as a janitor in a church. After cleaning, I had to wait for all evening activities to clear out so I could do one final walk through of building and lock up. That meant time to sit at the greeting/information desk…and write.

Changing Processes

My process has changed since my janitor days. My writing has gotten much better. There was a time when I was younger that writing was like running a movie in my head. Now when I sit down to write, I’m in more control and can just feel what I need to do. It’s no longer like a movie — it’s theme and feeling and word choice and so much more that comes from years of sitting down and just doing it.

I’ve wondered, lately:

Has my writing changed because my process has changed, or has my process changed because I’m a better writer?

It’s not something I lose too much time thinking about (I believe my process has changed; writing is what’s in charge), but one day I wondered where some of the biggest changes in my process have happened.

I really don’t think about my process too much anymore, except when I think about how I’d share what I do with others. Sharing is part of my process, and has been for a couple decades. (By documenting my processes along the way, I can not only look at old manuscripts and see how my writing has improved — I can look at old ways of doing things and see what worked and what didn’t.)

Documenting One’s Process

I pay the bills with technical writing, and I’m fascinated by how people look at the same problem and come to the same end in different ways. That fascination carries over to writing fiction. There is an image in my recap of this year’s writing retreat of a friend’s process, which consists of little squares for chapters and ideas in them for what happens. Then comes writing.

Deacon McClendon's Writing Process

Others plot much more than that…

Some don’t plot at all…

I’ve never had the entire outline done before writing. I think about it all the time and tell myself, “I’m doing that with my next novel!” but I never do.

The Best Writing Process

In this video, which is one of the best things I’ve ever seen about writing, Dustin Lance Black shares his process. (And I have closet and kitchen island envy!)

For Black, it’s an awesome kitchen table where it’s all spread out so he can see it. For me, it’s a living room. For others, it’s SuperNotecard or Scrivener.

The point is, we all have different ways of getting there.

And I’d love to hear how you get to the end of a big writing project in the comments below…


A Matter of Strength

by Christopher Gronlund on July 4, 2014

I didn’t get along very well with school. It seemed there was little encouragement for the things I did well and a pile of chiding and force put into the things I didn’t do so well. My schooling seemed fixated on pushing me to put 10 times the effort toward my weaknesses, while rarely encouraging me to embrace my strengths.

It’s a common thing, with noble intentions — a belief that improving one’s weaknesses will lead to all-around better strength.

Only that’s not so true…

Strength vs. Weakness

In studies where participants focus on their strengths over weaknesses, people see the most improvement in skill when they focus on strengths. Studies do indicate that focusing on weaknesses also shows improvement, but at a much lower rate of success, with much more energy expended.

Knowing this, so many people still believe that focusing on our weaknesses is the best use of time and energy. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather see a strong skill double in ability than weaknesses moving just a little bit with more frustration and energy spent.

How this Applies to Writing

I see a lot of writers online talking more about working on their weaknesses, instead of devoting time to their strengths. I understand this; I would never say, “Ignore your weaknesses — only devote time to your strengths!”

I know the things I can improve as a writer, and I work on them along the way. I won’t, however, put too much time toward improving my weaknesses when my time is better spent focusing on what I do well and improving that. (Added bonus: I find that when I work on my strengths, my weaknesses tend to step in line behind what I’ve just improved and, with little effort, become less of an issue over time.)

Discouraged Writers

It is not uncommon to see writers full of doubt. Even some of the writers I look up to have doubts. It’s not uncommon for those pursuing something creative to be hard on themselves and feeling like they are no good. As creative individuals, it’s almost expected of us. (Sadly.)

Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I don’t get discouraged with my writing very often. When I do, I know that it’s a momentary thing that I can fix later — no reason to obsess before moving on, because that’s how you don’t get writing done.

I know many writers feel like failures. I’ve written about failure before, and if you don’t feel like reading that, here’s the important message: if you’ve succeeded once, you can succeed again — and, if you have done something for years, at some point, you shouldn’t fail at it because you shouldn’t make the same mistakes over and over.

I’ve written some of the ugliest paragraphs that may have ever been written. They were either dropped from a final draft, or cleaned up to become some of my favorite paragraphs I’ve ever written. One of my strengths is trusting that I’ll get there, and because I focus on that, I get where I want to be as a writer.

Do Yourself a Favor

Do yourself a favor: for the rest of this month, look at nothing but your strengths as a writer. Don’t dwell on “weaknesses” that you need to improve…the things that make you feel like a failed writer; instead, focus on what you do well.

If you put in the effort to get better, focus on your strengths, and revel in what you do well, you might even realize what you think are weaknesses worthy of attention (to the point of even getting in your way), really aren’t.


Making Writing Visual

June 25, 2014
A sneak peek at A Magic Life

I have always admired artists. They can hold up their work and, in an instant, an audience can tell if they like it or not. I’ve talked about it before: when it comes to a properly formatted manuscript — physically — they all look the same. (Man, that’s a shoddy video! But…it’s how one learns!) [...]

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Looking Through an Old Lens

June 18, 2014
Old cameras

I follow quite a few photographers from my Google Plus account and from my Flickr account. Every so often, I see someone post images taken with an old camera that impress others. I’ve seen people modify digital cameras with old lenses. Again, people are impressed by the results. For all that can be done with [...]

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Inspiration from Unlikely Places

June 8, 2014
A lazy afternoon in a park

Three of my favorite books about writing are Stephen King’s On Writing, Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and Ann Patchett’s The Getaway Car. In King’s book, it’s not the actual part about writing that I love best — it’s the part about his life and becoming a writer. I [...]

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Year 45

May 28, 2014
Winding Road through the Woods

I make a living with words, but words do not come easy to me. In my head, I can see it all laid out in the most perfect state. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or technical writing — up top, I know the potential of what I can do. Getting there is another thing… [...]

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Caddo Lake State Park Writing Retreat

April 29, 2014
A cabin at Caddo Lake State Park

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned a second annual writing retreat was happening. With last year’s retreat a success, there was no way a friend and I weren’t going to make it an annual thing. There are plenty of lakes with weekend cabins not too far away, and thanks to the mightiness that is the [...]

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How to Find Time to Write

April 21, 2014
Big Ben

I preface this with the usual sentiment of everything I write where advice is offered: these are only suggestions. As adults, if we want to spend all our free time watching TV or playing video games, who am I to say you shouldn’t do that? One of the best things about being an adult: once [...]

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A Second Retreat

April 15, 2014
Caddo Lake State Park Cabins.

In ten days, I’ll be in East Texas — holed up in a cabin and writing all weekend. Last year’s writing retreat — the first — was enough of a success that this year merited an even better place (Caddo Lake State Park)…a bit earlier in the season, in the hope of cooler weather than [...]

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How to End a Novel

April 7, 2014
iPhone5 and Zoom H2n on tripods

It’s been a while since I made a writing video… It’s been a while since I’ve made any kind of video… Work, life, and some other busy things have meant — in recent months — that I’ve only been able to work on writing…not writing and blogging and making the occasional video on the side. [...]

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