If you’re a new writer, you need a powerful workflow—one that works for any situation. Of course, established writers need good workflows too, otherwise you’ll miss deadlines, or you’ll waste hours each week in procrastination.
When I mentor new freelance writers, I remind them that everything takes longer when you’re starting out. You’re learning. Within a month or two, you’ll complete a task which previously took you an hour in ten minutes.
When you’re a new writer, you’re learning as you’re earning
I wish I were a new writer today—I envy you, because you can earn while you learn. Hop onto one of the freelance marketplaces, and start bidding. Alternatively, get your own freelance gigs by sending pitches.
Once you’ve got a gig or two, it’s time to complete them, so you can move on to the next gig.
Start with this workflow: customize it to make it your own.
1. Clarity: rewrite the brief, or create a project description/ blurb
It’s woefully easy to misunderstand a project brief (description). The brief might be misleading, or unclear. Perhaps you didn’t read it closely and misunderstood.
Over the years I’ve made many errors because I misread a project brief; those errors cost me time and money.
Please read any brief carefully, then rewrite it:
When you write for someone else, you receive a brief… Write your own brief. Describe the project. Write yourself an email message describing it.
When you send your quote, add your rewritten brief.
Be sure to read your contracts especially carefully. Once I almost signed a traditional book publishing contract before I realized that the sneaky publisher had included a clause which assigned the copyright in the book to the publisher. Had I signed it, I would have lost all rights. I slashed red lines through that underhanded clause, and added: (c) (year) Angela Booth, with glee.
No brief? When you create your own project, create your own brief for it before you start writing.
Self-publishing? The brief is your blurb.
I write a blurb on an index card. When it’s time to work on the project, I find the card, and reread it. Your blurb not only prevents mistakes, it keeps you on track. Your writing is less likely to go off on tangents.
Please don’t start writing until you’ve rewritten, or created, your project brief.
2. Start writing: nothing comes from nothing
Have you heard of Anne Lamott’s shitty first drafts? Here’s a PDF excerpt:
So I’d start writing without reining myself in. It was almost just typing, just making my fingers move. And the writing would be terrible…
Use her strategy. When it’s time to write, start typing. Nothing comes from nothing, so start. If you like, you can create headings to act as an outline. If you use Scrivener, use the corkboard, and create cards.
When you’re writing first drafts, keep writing, no matter what. I like to use a timer, set for ten minutes, or 20 minutes. If I need to look something up, I just put “XXX” into the text, and keep writing. I do my brainstorming right within the draft itself, because it’s useful later.
Think of your first draft as being similar to an artist’s sketch. It’s nowhere near complete, it just gets you started.
3. Reread, and rewrite: create a PDF if you’re writing a book
Try to leave your first drafts for at least a day. Then read the draft without changing anything. I like to create a PDF for the reread in long projects. I can’t tinker, when I’m reading a PDF.
Your aim at this stage is to see the project as a whole. Your creative mind thinks in wholes, not parts. If you resist the urge to make notes too soon, you’ll get better ideas.
Next, delete and add text. Delete all the junk in the draft and add fresh material.
4. Edit for flow: consider your transitions
Once your revision is done and you’ve read through the project again (this is your second read), consider transitions. Does one paragraph lead smoothly to the next?
With fiction, are the characters’ motivations clear? It’s a good idea to create a timeline for your fiction at this stage. You don’t want a character to have an 15-month pregnancy.
5. Finally, read aloud (please do this, it’s truly helpful)
Finally, read your edited project aloud. (Yes, you can whisper if you’re in an office or coffee shop.)
Reading your text aloud helps you to catch awkward phrasing, typos, and other boo boos.
Enjoy being a new writer: have fun
If you’re a new writer, enjoy it. Before you know it, you’ll be a professional, and will lose beginners’ mind—you won’t see things as freshly as you did when you were a beginner.
Beginners’ mind is at the heart of creativity, so enjoy your “new” status: it’s valuable. 🙂
Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.