How Do I Know If I Have the Best Writing Process?


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by Naomi in character, screenwriting

This week, a screenwriter wrote in with a question A LOT of writers wonder about, even if they never say it out loud.  And that is, essentially, whether they’re doing it “right.”

By “it” we’re talking about whatever process they’re using to write their screenplays. Are they taking the right steps? Are they doing enough? Too much? Over-complicating it? Is their process giving them the best results possible? Are they missing things? Especially things that are going to rear their ugly heads later?

So I’ll tell you what I told this curious screenwriter: Your writing process is unique to you. But… it is smart to stop and evaluate it from time to time.

Your writing process will grow and change and adapt, maybe even to the needs of each new screenplay you write. You are in control of your writing process, and we want to make sure it’s working for you, not against you. Helping, not hindering.

What about my process for creating characters?

The writer who sparked this topic wanted to know specifically about his character-development process. “How much do I have to know about them?

The simple answer is, you just have to know your characters well enough to write them. And that will mean different things to different people.

Some writers like to do questionnaires and biographies and interviews to thoroughly learn their characters before they face the page. Other writers need to know only a few specific things and a touchstone or two, to guide them as they’re writing. (This is the method I teach in the Idea to Outline workshop, by the way.)

Whatever you want to do in order to know your characters well enough to write them… it’s okay!

Sure, but how do I know?

Of course, that’s not a satisfying answer to the larger question we started with, the “Am I doing it right?” question. Because what that question is really asking is, “How do I know I’m doing it right?”

So we should make sure to state and re-state, there is no “right way.” You’re always just aiming to do what works for you. Whatever gets it on the page.

But even if you had a sneaking suspicion that’s what I would say, you’re probably still wondering if you could be doing it better, or differently with better results.

And it’s not a bad thing to evaluate what you’re doing from time to time. Like I said, we want to make sure your process is productive and helpful. Since you’ll change as a writer, that means your process will need to change with you.

Evaluating your process

So how do you gauge whether your process is the best it can be? By asking questions and – here’s the important part – answering honestly.

Writers are great at justifying. But usually there’s a feeling, even if it’s small, even if it’s buried deep down. And that feeling is the truth. You have to let the truth out into the light, even though you probably don’t want to (hence the justifying).

If you’re justifying, you’re not fixing the thing that most needs it, or doing the thing that’s going to most help you.

Sometimes it takes the help of a trusted friend or colleague. The good ones will call you on your justifications.

What kinds of questions might you ask?

  • Is what I’m doing truly helping me?
  • Do I need to do this step in order to move forward?
  • Will this step provide useful information that I need or want to have before I proceed?
  • Am I doing this step because everyone else does it, because I think I “should”, or because someone else told me to?
  • Is there any chance I’m giving myself “busy work” when really I could move forward without this step?
  • (If you’re on the fence) Could I skip this step for now and come back to it if I really need it later?

Your process is unique to you and whatever it is, it’s okay! But it’s also easy to let our process get stale, to include steps that aren’t really serving us, or to not do the things we should because they’re hard.

So from time to time it’s worth taking a real look at what you’re doing and making sure your process is working for you, not against you.

Let yourself ask the questions that are hanging around at the back of your mind — even if you’re reluctant to ask them — and then answer them honestly. The answers will lead you to your best process.


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