Why I’m changing my writing process—and have I gone too far?

Working on my book isn’t a lot of fun right now. I know writing isn’t ever going to be easy, but right now it’s particularly difficult for me. And a lot of that is self-imposed.

You see, I’m trying to rework my entire writing process, top to bottom. I’m ripping out my old, ineffective habits by the roots and trying to establish new ones. So on top of the usual resistance I feel when I’m writing, I have layers of pain from trying to adapt to a new way of working.

Why am I doing this to myself? Why not just keep plodding forward with the same old process that I’ve used for my entire life?

Because I want to write fast, and my old habits have held me back. My goal for my future career is to support my family by self publishing books, and for that to work, it’s crucial that I learn to produce books quickly.

I’ve spent the past several weeks studying highly productive writers—people who write thousands of words a day and publish multiple books per year. I’ve listened to podcasts and read blog posts and several books.

And while everyone pays lip service to the idea that every writer should “do what works for them,” in actuality, most productive writers seem to adopt a similar set of habits.

These writers typically:

  • Write every day.
  • Devote significant time and effort to thoroughly outline their book before they start writing.
  • Blow through a crappy first draft at a breakneck pace without stopping to research or edit.
  • Rewrite and edit their way straight through book several times.

These habits seem to consistently allow their adherents to write quickly and write well.

And they’re pretty much the exact opposite of how I’m accustomed to working. I typically:

  • Write sporadically.
  • Make a half-hearted effort at outlining (at best) by throwing a few loosely connected bullet points down before I start writing.
  • Pick my way carefully through a polished first draft.
  • Scan my first draft and fix major problems and typos.

After looking at high-producing writers, it was pretty obvious why I’m not very productive. My old process was comfortable but ineffectual. It was perfectly tuned to slow production, so it wasn’t at all surprising that I worked slowly.

I was “doing what worked for me,” only it wasn’t really working, not the way I wanted it too.

Hence my decision to upend my process. And I think I’m in the worst of it right now.

The two areas I struggle with the most are outlining and writing a crappy first draft.

I started several weeks ago to focus on outlining, and it’s definitely paying off. Before I sit down to write anything, I’m mapping out where I want it to go. With my book, that means creating an outline of the entire thing, section by section. And I’m also revising the outline as I work, which maintains its usefulness and keeps me focused on it as a roadmap.

But this crappy first draft thing is kicking my butt. The thought of writing badly—on purpose—seems like it would be liberating. No worries! Make a mess! Instead it’s terrifying. I sit there and stare at my outline and fight for the words. And my brain starts in on me: What if you’re doing it wrong? I’ll bet your crappy first draft is too crappy, and you’ll end up having to throw it away and start over later! Ha!

It’s really painful right now.

I’m still firmly convinced that I’m doing the right thing by making these changes. “Do what works for you” wasn’t working for me.

But I’m starting to think that some of the struggle might be unnecessary. I’m violating one of the rules that I usually follow when building new habits, which is to change one thing at a time, starting gradually and only adding more complications when a habit has had time to fully take root.

In this case, I’m trying to build several habits at once: daily writing, disciplined outlining, writing a fast first draft.

The pain I’m encountering is telling me that I’m going too fast. So I’m considering taking a half step back and focusing on taking small steps in on or two of those areas.

I’m experiencing the most friction in the area of writing a fast first draft, so I’m going to dial back on that a bit. Instead of forcing myself to work without editing as I go, I’m going to allow myself to revise and tweak, as long as I’m working from my outline.

In a few weeks, when I’m more comfortable with the outlining part of my process, I’ll come back and take another run at this drafting issue.

One thing at a time.