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How Substack helped me find my writing process
And my laptop breaking down.
Am I pantser or a plotter (or none)?
The first time I sat down to write my science fiction story idea, I needed to figure out where to start. So I googled 'How to write a novel' and came across the concept of a writing process.
Some writers are pantsers, meaning they write by the seat of their pants or, in other words, they have a story idea and sit down and write with little to no planning. Planning stifles their creativity.
Other writers are plotters, meaning they plan their stories before they start writing them. Some planning tools are writing outlines, and character descriptions, developing the story arc and the main beats, or writing cards describing the scenes. The plotters know their story from the beginning to the end before they even begin to write.
So what was I?
A pantser or a plotter?
Since I had already tried to write my story without planning, I deduced that I must be a plotter. After all, I am known for making elaborate lists and plans I never follow. Of course, I don't want to ruin the plot of this particular chapter of my trying-to-find-a-writing-process story, but the attempt to be a plotter resulted in the same outcome.
I have tried it all, starting with the snowflake method of writing a novel, continuing with the detailed outlines, bibles, and character descriptions and ending with the beat-by-beat and scene-by-scene process from Save the cat.
The moment I sat down to write the story, everything changed. One thing that bothered me was that, despite the elaborate preparation work, I missed the details needed to enrich the story. As a result, I often had to stop and do some research before I could continue writing.
Nevertheless, I didn't want to give up, so I read more books on writing and tried to stick to a daily writing schedule with a fixed word count. I tried writing in the evening and writing in the morning. I tried writing on my phone. Perhaps the problem was that I wasn't writing what I knew—another piece of writing advice circulating on the internet.
But how can you write what you know as an aspiring science fiction writer?
When I decided to quit watching series and movies and went on a 100-day TV detox, I knew I wanted to dedicate some of the newly gained time to writing. But I thought I would spend most of my free time reading.
Things turned out completely different. In the past nine weeks since I started my TV detox—I'm halfway through my challenge already🥳—I wrote a lot and hardly read anything. Though last week, I decided to add a new rule to my challenge: no phone before 8 am and after 8 pm. And I read a whole book in one week between work, spending time with my husband, meeting people and taking care of house chores.
After trying everything to up my writing productivity, starting this Substack newsletter is the main reason I can finally churn out work consistently.
What I learned about my writing process
One piece of writing advice I found in all the books and articles I read about writing was that everyone's writing process is different. And the only way to find yours is to start writing.
What I've learned so far about my writing process:
I do well with deadlines (and no distractions)
Writing a weekly Substack newsletter for the past seven weeks confirmed that I work well with deadlines. Substack took away distractions from the beginning by offering a simple but effective platform for me as a writer.
Previously, whenever I opened a blog, I would find myself entangled for months in setting up hosts, searching, buying and tweaking themes, and connecting with newsletter providers. By the time I was done with the technical part of having a blog, I was too tired to write. Or, whenever I sat down to write an article, I would write some CSS code instead.
With Substack, the only thing I need to do is write one newsletter per week. I don't have to enable analytics tools, and I don't need to worry about managing a subscriber list. A deadline and no distractions are good ingredients for writers.
I need to share my work (and get feedback)
Writing is a very lonely activity, and not having a channel to share my work with others was highly demotivating. What is the use of writing if nobody reads your work?
A lack of readers was why I decided to stop writing scripts after my MA. It's tough to produce a screenplay, particularly when you write high-concept films, as my professors pointed out I did. High-concept stands for big budget, and the kind of stories I wrote required a big production budget. And usually, film studios invest in big-budget films only when there's an established audience for the story.
At the beginning of last year, I discovered Substack and writers that serialized their fiction via a newsletter, and I was blown away. I'd dreamed of writing my newsletter for about a year before I started. But I was so concerned that nobody would be interested in my writing.
When I finally decided to try it, I realized there would always be a small group interested in what I created. Thank you so much to each one of you for subscribing and supporting my work. It means the world to me. 🥰
I have to write what I know (and like what I write)
When I started the newsletter, I wasn't planning on writing about worldbuilding. Yet, this was the most engaging and beneficial writing I've done on Substack.
The worldbuilding started when my husband suggested I create mood boards for my stories with AI illustrations I make via Midjourney. But I already had done so much worldbuilding for my upcoming short story collection There Is Hope that once I started writing the introductions for the mood boards, I couldn't stop.
Another effect of writing down everything I knew about my world was that I could identify the half-backed parts. As a result, I got motivated to do more research and fill in the gaps, enriching my world with details that lead to better story ideas.
Writing what you know doesn't necessarily mean that we have to write from our own experience. Reading and researching a topic will also result in writing what we know.
For example, I've been interested in the issue of climate change due to anthropogenic activity for the past few years. I also informed myself by reading books on the topic, and I even got a job at a company that wants to create the first payment method based on renewable energy.
The time and effort I invested in worldbuilding paid off when I sat down to write my stories and didn't have to take research breaks anymore. Not to say that worldbuilding is my favorite writing activity because this is when I can let my imagination run wild. And it motivates me to read in-depth about great topics and put the knowledge I've gained to work.
My husband occasionally joins me since he also likes to dab into a bit of worldbuilding and has fantastic ideas. As I mentioned, getting feedback and input during the writing process is invaluable.
I write in long bursts (and grammatically correct)
The writing schedule is a huge topic for me, as I am most productive when I start and finish longer tasks in one go. But, of course, I cannot write a novel in one shot, which is an issue.
But I can write an article in a single session of several hours and a chapter for a novel or a short story. So since I started the Substack newsletter, I created a mini-routine that has nothing to do with waking up every day at five and writing for two hours. I hope to do this one day. But, for now, I write and edit the newsletter in one weekly session and do fiction writing in another weekly session.
Another thing that I learned about myself is that I'm not particularly eager to vomit the first draft on the page, ignoring grammar, clarity of information and sentence completeness. Grammar errors and incomprehensible sentences bug me so much during writing that I cannot think of anything else.
Fortunately, I've found a solution that works for me: I write directly in Grammarly. Like this, any issues are caught and fixed immediately. By the time I've finished writing, I don't have to fix any issues.
There is nothing more tedious than editing a vomit draft. Do you know what I do with vomit drafts? I write them and throw them away. For example, I wrote and threw away a 2,000 words vomit draft for this newsletter. I didn't even look at it a second time because I knew that it stunk.
I prefer to break my laptop (and lose all my work)
Well, I don't prefer to break my laptop and lose all my writing. Still, this is precisely what I did three weeks ago when I spilled water on my computer and lost all my work.
Previously, I read several stories of writers who lost entire books due to technical issues, and all of them wrote that it had all been for the best because they wrote better stories afterward. I honestly thought that that was a load of horse poop, and should that ever happen to me, I would give up writing altogether.
But now that it happened, I have to agree with those writers. Sometimes a fresh start is beneficial for a writer. For example, I started rewriting one of my short stories, which will come out much better than the original because of the detailed worldbuilding that helps me give more depth to the story.
I am also writing the short story in a more suitable format for serialization on Substack. I'm having so much fun crafting the cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. My addiction to Netflix series had to give me something positive as well.
Serialization is a great device for introducing suspense into the writing, as each chapter needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Likewise, in screenwriting, every scene needs a beginning, a middle and an end.
So this is how Substack helped me define my writing process.
Now it's late, and I must go to bed because tomorrow morning I need to be in the office.
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