Productivity: Optimizing an Author’s Writing Process

Indie Publishing Austin event, February 22, 2015.


What are the phases of a book’s production process? How can you optimize that to be a more productive writer? How can you up your word count? How do you separate out the important work from the busy work?

This discussion is about writing, specifically Pre-Production and Production (see below). However, it’s good to start with the whole picture, so here’s my outline of the writing/production process on a grand scale.


  • Ideation
  • Research
  • Plotting


  • Writing
  • Beta Reading
  • Developmental/Structural Editing
  • Copyediting/Proofreading


  • Submission
    • Agent/editor/publisher queries
  • Self Publication
    • Cover Design
    • Ebook production
    • Print Production
    • Audiobook Production
    • Distribution
  • Marketing/Promotion

Again, we’ll try to steer away from the Post-Production process in this meetup. What’s important is that you’re writing! The rest can come later.

Some other common topics to cover regarding all of the above that don’t necessarily fit into a specific “phase” of work are:

  • How to write faster
  • How to schedule your writing effectively
  • How to overcome Resistance / “writer’s block”
  • How to hire contractors / outsource your work



(Vidya, Charles, Cathy, Lola)



  1. Origin? Dreams
  2. Can stem from a character, a specific scene, a specific plot point
  3. Write snippets of scenes, collection of notes
  4. **No system for idea creation amongst this group. All pantsers, and we found that Ideation/research/plotting can all get shoved together.


  1. On the fly, look up as one goes
  2. Non-fiction writer: researching before, during, and after writing process.
  3. Post writing, to correct and improve
  4. Sources: experts interviewed, Google (on the fly),, (brainstorming community), specific lists (


  1. Once an idea has germinated into a few concrete details:
    • let it stew in one’s mind, or
    • draft a short synopsis
  2. If outlining occurs, it’s brief and happening after the beginning of the writing.
  3. Beginning known, end known. Then work out the middle parts of how you reach the end.
  4. During the writing the process….Writing to climax (keeping the climactic moment always in mind)


  • Notes as ideas occur (both ideation & plotting), kept on scraps of paper and put in a file.
  • One note/Evernote for random ideas not connected to a current project.


  1. writing (1st/early draft)
    • start at the beginning and push through to end hitting the major waypoints that have been plotted up to that point.
    • Write by scene, begin at the beginning and skipping around as scenes germinate. As the pre-written scenes come up proceeding from beginning to end, edit to fit within the story as it’s developed away from any outline/plan.
    • May write waypoint scenes in advance. If so, then writing to the points.
    • Time:
      • Picking a specific time of day, every day
      • Joining in w/ a meet up group
      • Setting aside chunks of time, versus writing whenever time presents (in smaller increments)
      • Writing to a schedule, pushing through days when you don’t want to write by writing something (words on the page)
  2. Beta Readers
    • Alternative Options:
    • Before or after? Depends on goals. Streamline, then simultaneous. If presenting “best” work to editor, then after beta reads.
    • Simultaneous to content edit, to streamline rewrites


(Diana, Jay, Clay)

Preproduction & Production

  • Creative vs planning Vs non creative
  • Importance of scheduled Commitment — strict scheduling — take judgement out of it
  • Separate outcome from work
  • Build slowly towards where you want to come
  • Can switch view to focus on outcome, eg 500 words daily
  • Choose low enough mark to accomplish long term goal
  • Break it down in a daily basis Start a habit go small builds– strong
  • No Erosion of habit — building of habit
  • Pick something small and anchor it to something you know
  • Give yourself a pat on the back for small victory
  • Go back between planning and creating
    • Winnowing
    • Composing
    • Ideation
    • Outlining
    • Refocusing
    • Gather images to post (Pinterest)
  • Keep a production log
  • Writing partners that know each other stories so can talk about story issues, questions, meet a few times a week
  • Planning your time between creativity vs business ends (marketing, legal)
  • The best advertising is your books
  • Grow your platform by writing more books
  • Serial monogamy
  • Park one novel at editor while creating next novel
  • Schedule what you are working on so you can keep moving forward.


  • Scrivener — using tools to full ability
  • One Note (look for iPad apps)
  • Evernote
  • Mind mapping tools
    • Ginkgo
    • Prezzi (non interactive story tellers with a variety of media)
  • Podcasts on iTunes
  • Can band together your podcasts , e.g. curated script notes (podcast)
  • Using tools “fully”


(Matt, Jeff, Paula, Doris)



  • Think about writing what you want to read
  • Play the “What if…?” game
  • Using ideas you couldn’t fit into another story in the next book.
  • Writing more than one thing at a time,
  • Apply your skills at multi-tasking from your job to your writing life — write, plan, and revise at the same time! It gives you different phases to work at at once.
  • Getting ideas from real-world materials like declassified intelligence documents (you can find a bunch online)


  • Researching problems as you come across them vs. researching a lot ahead of time.


  • Character sketches first, then outline beats/index cards, organize them into chapters, before you start writing
  • Studying story structure



  • Page count goal: 7 pages a day
  • Word count goal: 1000 words a day
  • Using Scrivener target setting to keep track of your progress
  • Block out a chunk of time: 10-15 days, and focus 100% on your writing, with a large (50-60k word) target
  • Use a knowledge of story structure (read Story Engineering), to know what you’re writing ahead of time, and therefore write faster
  • Learn to write faster and smarter: read 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron
  • Learn how to overcome Resistance with Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art
  • Use noise canceling headphones to block the world out while you write

Beta Reading

  • Do the beta read first, to fix some of the glaring issues that readers with good instincts will like
  • What to ask beta readers: Is this character developed well? What do you like? What don’t you like? Do you get lost anywhere? Does the plot flow?
  • Some of the best beta readers are other writers

Developmental/Structural Editing

  • We are all blind in some regard to what we ourselves write
  • Do the cutting and the rearranging before you start revising
  • Organize and put your edits into a spreadsheet, and order them so that the heavy lifting floats to the top.
  • Let your dev edits sit for at least a few days so your subconscious can chew on it for a while.


  • Use a search for common words you overuse (was, that, had)
  • Tag cloud searches to identify overused words
  • ProWriter — a software that examines content
  • Deliver your work to copyeditors early in the A.M. — so it’s first in their mind.
  • Accept/reject copyedits and proofs immediately. Don’t let it sit!
  • Know what you’re willing to change and what you’re not willing to change.
  • Find an editor who is a good fit for you.


  • Novel research – part of the process is weighing the validity of information and learning how to critically assess your sources
  • How do you avoid falling down rabbit holes – storyboarding, an outline. Corkboard with different colors for different POVs. Beat boards. Following a three act structure.
  • 2K a day takes anywhere from a couple hours to 4-6 hours.
  • Importance of getting into the flow, train yourself to produce. Some of us have ‘writing rituals’ that tell the brain it’s time to write.
  • Try to write every day. Train body, build a habit.
  • Set goals – holds you accountable. This is harder for indie publishers who don’t have as many people to hold them accountable (agents, editors, etc)
  • World-building ideas. Start with map, use STAR method, broad outline, can start with world or with story.
  • Importance of keeping cuttings/cut bits in a folder for possible recycling later

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