About halfway through my first book, I learned that simply writing as I went wasn’t going to cut it. A book is a complex, living entity, and a writing system is necessary to keep it from becoming overwhelming. The system I used to rewrite and finish “A Boy Named Zephyr” has been the basis for how I write today.

The Plot Skeleton

Before I even start the story itself, I find it helpful to write out a skeleton of what I’d like the plot to be. It should be detailed, but not overly so. Basically, I make a list of the major plot events, story arcs, character interactions, and locations, and then loosely connect them. I may repeat this step several times as the story progresses and evolves.

I keep all of my old versions. They can be handy in preventing good ideas from falling in the cracks, and they help me to keep perspective on the original goals.

Once a rough draft of this is done, I look it over and ensure everything makes sense and flows relatively well. I’ll continue to make small tweaks until I feel like it is something that can guide me forward. When I’m happy, I try and break the whole outline down into rough chapters or sections.

The New Chapter To-Do List

The next step in my writing system is to write a separate To-Do list or agenda for each chapter as I start writing them. Looking at my plot skeleton, I have a general idea about what happens in each chapter. From this, I can start to sprinkle in finer details. While I generally do dialogue on the fly (for better or worse), I do try to mark down key story elements and ideas I want to communicate.

When I sit down to write the actual chapter, I should have a pretty clear road map of what needs to be accomplished.

The Old Fashioned Way

I prefer to write my rough draft with a fountain pen on either a wire-bound notebook or copy paper. This adds more work, as once it’s written down, it has to be entered into a word processing program after. This is by intention, and part of my writing system.

For whatever reason, I find I am more creative with a pen in hand rather than with a keyboard. The smell of the ink, the sound of the nib upon paper, the weight of the pen – These tactile sensations help my ideas flow. It makes the act of writing feel more free and emotional to me.

When my chapter is complete, I take it over to my office and enter it into word or open office. Compared to writing with a pen and paper, typing feels very cold and clinical. This allows me to more objectively see what I’ve written and make edits as needed. In essence, I suppose this part of my writing system is like writing an angry letter and then sitting on it overnight. Clearer, calmer heads prevail, and if all goes well, I end up with a more accurate, yet authentic result.

Why a Writing System is Essential

I tried writing without a writing system, and the end result was chaos. Writing on the fly for me at least, just means I’ll end up with something that lacks cohesion and rambles. Worse still, I find I am vastly more susceptible to writer’s block and distraction without my system.

Thinking up an entire storyline, and checking for continuity as I go just puts too much pressure on me as a writer. At best, the end result will tend to feel rough and hacked together. With this approach, my stories still have a life of their own, but they tend to grow and evolve, rather than simply boiling over the side of the pot.

With a clear direction and path, I simply have to stay in the lanes until the finish line rather than hack myself a path through the weeds with a machete.

Do you have a writing system you use for your writing? Let me know!

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