How Do You Write?

I have always been fascinated by the writing methods of others – “How do you write; what’s your process?â€

iBook, coffee shop. Mornings are good. After lunch is bad. Writing at home involves childcare and snacking issues. For short stuff, I use 37Signals’ Writeboard; for long stuff, until recently it was Ulysses. But I’ve just registered, well, you know.

Though I’m sadly not interview-worthy, I do like the idea of being a member of the Scrivenerati.

I’m an iBooker in coffee shops too. Lunch hour is about the only time I get to do any writing at all. If I’m not in a coffee shop, then it’s little notebooks with my favorite pen.

For me it’s harder to write since I’ve become a freelance writer.

Strange? Yes. When I was employed it was really simple: Get up at 6, write until 8, then get to work. Nowadays I get up at 6 and already find many other projects on my desk, that are not my own and that are not prose. And when I take the time for my next novel there’s still this nagging feeling that I’m not “fulfilling my duties”. But I’m more and more successful in fighting this feeling.

So now it’s: I write whenever my urgent jobs are done and sometimes take an hour or two when they’re not done.

Huh. First of all, I try to avoid it; that is until I can’t stand it any longer and whatever was on my mind has to get out before my head bursts. Having said that, I used to have my iBook around until I dropped it one more time from some table, so now its my desktop mac.

Second, preferably at night or during holidays. Sadly I get paid to write some TV-documentaries recently, it somehow spoils my writing experience as well as my preferred working period. But then my night shift writing didn’t receive praises from my wife either.

Why would I use an onion skin? Crying does not help me in writing (Maybe I’m missing some clues here…)

Drinking? Yeah, lots of. Provides me with an excuse if I’m stuck somewhere; like need a break because of bladder-pressure. Mostly tea. Sometimes a glass of wine or beer.

Best situation to write: It’s completely silent out there, so I can eradicate that silence by playing some music (depends on my mood, switching between Beethoven, Mahler, and - my favourite - Rachmaninoff on the classics side to anything else on the rock music side, with the smashing pumpkins being at the top right now). In another room somebody else (who? doesn’t matter at all) is working on something else - and it has to be a working person (not a carpenter, mind you). Oh, yeah, and smoking lots of cigarettes at the beginning of a session.

Thats it.

Ups, forgot one thing: No sex before writing.

What: G4 Powerbook, 15". Considering a move to a MacBook in the next few months, if the screen doesn’t prove to be too small, as I don’t want to use an external monitor.

When: whenever. I’m best in the mornings but usually can’t resist the siren call of email and RSS, resulting in frequent late-night tussles with rapidly approaching deadlines. Need to develop some self discipline.

Where: At home, so I can play music without poking little buds in my ear. (Most of my writing is music journalism, but I’d listen even if it weren’t.)
Usually in a recliner (a folding one I got on sale at REI) with the PowerBook on a lapdesk; I mention this in hopes that I might spare some of my fellow Scriveners some pain. Because when I typed at a desk, even with an external keyboard and PowerBook on an iCurve, I suffered some serious neck spasms from the (becoming-epidemic) laptop posture. Lost 25% of my lifting ability in my left arm (as measured by weightlifting before and after) and couldn’t t urn my head to the left. The physical therapist who cured it with ultrasound said he was seeing similar symptoms in at least half his clients.
This little recliner has a head rest and coffee cup holder and folds away when I need less clutter or need to work at my desk. It also has arms that support my wrists and forearms, and it supports my back and neck so well that I’ve had no further problems in the nine months I’ve used it.

Please everyone: protect yourselves and consult one of the many ergonomic resources out there, especially if, like me, you use a laptop exclusively.

Oh, and with a cat curled up on my chest – an occupational hazard when you work in a recliner.

iBookers Unite! I also use an iBook to write. Typically, I Scriven over morning coffee while the house is still quiet. Just a hobby (for now :wink: ) so my expectations are pretty low. If I can tap out a scene, articulate an idea, make a journal entry, explore a character, or just look over all the things I’ve stuffed into Scrivener before the house erupts I feel I’ve accomplished something.
Before Scrivener, I had an arcane system of folders and subfolders where I “organized” all my writing and research. Navigating through all this stuff wasn’t conducive to the creative process, although I never even realized that until I tried Scrivener. Now, I keep a single .scriv file called ‘Idea Factory’ that acts as my central incubator for story ideas, scraps of research, inspiration, quotes, to-dos like writing books to buy, and even submission guidelines. When an idea is fleshed out enough to hang on its own, I simply drag and drop the “pieces” into a dedicated .scriv for that particular story. This includes the text, the research that got it to a point where a first draft seems feasible and submission guidelines for markets where the story may fit.

Usually, my starting ideas are sketched up in restaurants, or on any piece of paper I can find when suddenly waking up at night. I have some preferred places where to write, like very quiet rustic restaurants on the nearby mountains, or a particularly scenografic ‘osteria’ on the promontory. I feel these places help me digging ideas, or at least seeing them in a clearer way.

Later, I love to work in a more organized way – and here is where enters Scrivener. I’m very hectic in caring for the structure of everything I write (tales, reviews, stories for the movie). I’m really not able to write down without a precise outline, a method to organize my everyday madness.

Then I return to my inspiring places to read the first draft. When back at home, I’ve some piles of manuscript paper covered with hand written text. Even the most remote corners are covered with my nearly (or totally?) unreadable calligraphy. Here is when I start rewriting everything.

In the past I drank a lot before starting to write, maybe with some heavy metal music in the headphones. I was very young, and while this led to a style that caught an important publisher’s attention and made another young writer lucky, it ended up making me a very unreliable young man, not ready for publishing. Several years later I discovered that drinking is no good (ok, not before starting an important job…), and I absolutely avoid it.

As for music, I cannot work with music in my ears. No longer. Silence, or a stream of water singing nearby, is my preferred music when writing. As a musician, I already have enough music in the day, so I don’t need it when doing something else.


I’m definitely a morning person so do my best writing then. I actually use a program called Mac Minder to lock me out of my main account before 7am. I get up about half-past five and write for half an hour to hour most mornings before getting ready for work. I also try to do a couple of sessions on weekends and the odd one in afternoons.

As for drink, I haven’t had cigarettes or alcohol in years. I also meditate for 1 to 2 hours a day. I find a clear mind is best for my writing. :wink:

So interesting to see how differently people work!

I work on an iBook for at least 4 to 6 hours a day. Most of my day is researching and/or writing a project and where depends on what stage of the project I’m at. Mostly, I work at a local coffeehouse, one of several choices, which have the right combination of quiet and activity, very open and bright. I find working at home to be distracting for the most part, since home is where other things happen, such as bill paying, sleeping, watching tv. At a coffeehouse, there is food, open space, and nothing else to do except sip green tea (so many cups I lose count) and the occasional decaf cappucino (too much caffeine all at once makes me shake!) and munch on some lovely delicacy. I also find that, after years and years of working in almost complete solitude, I need to be around people more, even if I’m completely absorbed in something and not interacting with them. Just to have some other folks around is nice.

Occasionally I listen to music on my iPod, but mostly, I do best fully absorbed in my work surrounded by the normal sounds of a small coffehouse! Not sure why, but there it is!


All the time. Actually hitting keys is only about 10% of it though when I do it’s a MacBook. Nice to be portable. Can’t write drunk, can’t write in the morning. I’m an owl. Sketch/plan/draw spidergrams with pen and paper, then Tinderbox. Too many notebooks on the go all at once. Utterly disorganised. Rely on the computer to do it for me, which is why I like Scrivener. Keep vowing to improve my ways. Never do. Somehow the stuff gets turned out anyway. Can’t understand coffee-shopping: I need private space.

I tend to write in five-minute snatches whenever possible between my wife needing me for something and trying to keep my two 3-year-olds from killing each other or trampling their 1-year-old brother… :slight_smile:

I used to need utter solitude to write. I have no idea why that has changed!

I’m best coffee-shopping … none of the distractions there are at “home”. But on the income of a “foreign expert” here at a university in China, even my two favourite coffee shops (great music and not too loud; the owner used to be a musician) where the first mug is the equivalent of US$1.50 and subsequent mugs are only 50¢ it becomes a bit expensive if I go every day.

My problem is that on my own I feel trapped and out of touch – the family are in England – so I’m much more productive in the coffee-shop with other people moving around and being able to get the next cup of coffee without having to break off … enough going on round me to break that forgotten-by-the-world angst.

Makes me think … I’d better go down there when I’ve finished this procrastination on the Lit-and-Lat forum …


Well as for me I just work in WordPerfect X3 in the middle of the night!

The reaosn why I work in the middle of the night is because there are no kids around (my mom babysits) and all my family members are sually asleep, yeah this screws up my sleeping habits but until I get a labtop this is the only way I could really write.

It sucks but it’s the only way I can do it.

I used to keep one of those legal pad portfolios and and nice fountain pen for drafts. Since I didn’t have a laptop. Fountain pens have very little drag, which was important as you reach your second hour. And there’s no going back to fuss over grammar or spelling. As my speed increased, there was the chance that my already horrible handwriting would become unreadable, and inspiration had to fill in the gaps.

Now I have a desktop mac for Scrivener, and my old iBook, just old enough to not be upgradeable to OS X. To make it even more basic, it started having trouble with OS 9 updates a couple of years ago, so I put it in the Wayback Machine; I reinstalled the original operating system and the only thing I have on it is Z-Write (a lovely program, and the first I found with the binder that lets you drag chunks of text around.)

Now this is my drafting machine, since that’s all I can do with it. No distractions and a keyboard. This lets me take it to a coffee shop or onto my little front porch.

I can draft anytime, anywhere. And now my Palm Pilot is a help for notes or little 500 word chunks that I can use when I’m standing in line or stuck in traffic.

I like to write late at night… the world is quiet, I play some music (Beethoven, Pink Floyd and Ry Cooder are favorites) and stay up waaaay too late.

Hermit like, I write in seclusion at my desk on my iMac anytime I can. Recently I’ve taken to waking up in the middle of the night and scribbling in the dark, so as not to wake up him in bed next to me, in the notebook which sits on my bedside table. Makes interesting reading next morning - if I can decipher it.


I write mainly with a PowerBook G3/400 ‘Pismo’ with 512MB of RAM, that is running Tiger 10.4.9 just fine. This model is from year 2000. Maybe your iBook can be upgraded, even if Apple doesn’t declare it can?


Thanks for thinking of me, ptram. But I think the hardware can’t handle it. It was having trouble with 3 year old OS 9 upgrades, and that’s a sign.

So I’ve decided to save the money towards a better laptop at some point.

There are some advantages to it (which is the kind of Pollyanna I am!)

It’s great for drafting because that’s all I can do with it. No distractions. I export the text into a little flash drive for easy transfer into my desktop Scrivener. It has a matte screen, and I do love the keyboard on it. Nice and tactile.

And let me say here that if you use more than one computer, a flash drive (also known as keychain drives or thumb drives) are fantastic. They will motor between a PC and a Mac with ease. They can be carried in a pocket or purse. And it’s a great way to back up on the go.

Mine is 256 megs which covers a lot of text territory.

Some years ago I bought an iPod shuffle - the one with no display. It is essentially a 1 GB flash drive, half of which I use for moving files between the various computers (and sometimes musical instruments…).

However, I’ve a small network at my home-office, so sometimes my computes are connected via an ethernet cable, or a WiFi radio connection. This latter, especially with the nice season, when I’m in the garden writing, and I need the internet.

Say, distractions.