The Write Way to…

2 Dec

I used to have a Way I Write, and I was more or less proud of it. I was not a plotter, I wouldn’t touch an outline with a ten foot pole, and I never separated my story into chapters until the entire thing was finished. I also wrote my stories out of order, writing the scenes I could picture perfectly at the moment and then going back later to connect them and flesh things out.

Well, the last bit is still true, anyway. The others have slowly but surely changed over the last few months.

I’ve seen posts encouraging people to find their own way of writing and to not ever let someone else telling them they’re doing it wrong. In many ways, I agree. If it works for you, go ahead and do it. I love hearing about different people’s ways of planning and executing a story simply because they are often so very different.

But I think we need to remember, too, that just because you have a Way to Write now doesn’t mean it can’t change. I know I got so caught up in defining the ways that I write that I didn’t let myself explore other people’s methods as much as I could have. Who knows? You might find a new way of writing, one that works even better than the last.

Here are some methods I’ve encountered. I don’t use all of them, but I’ve tried most of them!


  • Outlining using flash cards, one scene per card
  • Outlining using colored sticky notes, one scene per note. One color for plot events, one color for character development milestones, etc.
  • Outlining chapter by chapter in summary form
  • Outlining like an ADHD goldfish with a love for shiny things (scribble down a three page outline. Realize three pages into story that you are going to be diverging from your outline. A lot. A lot a lot.) …in other words, how I do it 😀

Character development:

  • Fill out character forms (Adventures in Children’s Publishing has some great, very detailed ones) <— I love the idea of this, but have NO patience for it…
  • Write up tons and tons of backstory that fills up entire binders and is longer than the book itself
  • Interview your characters (I would do this, but my MC for HYBRID would clam up and my MC for the wip would look at me like I was crazy and then just…leave)
  • Write 1st POV snippets from all your character’s POVs, even the minor ones (I do this for characters who don’t have the POV but need to have their voices fleshed out)
  • Write present tense biographies for all your characters and read them in your head with all the solemnity of those History Channel guys with the deep voices (guilty)


  • Stare at a blank page and write down, stream of consciousness, whatever comes to mind that’s even vaguely related to the story (it works, too!)
  • Read other books in your genre until you’re inspired (done and done)
  • Bug your CPs on gchat until they agree to brainstorm with you. You’d be surprised how the ideas start flowing more easily once you’re talking to someone else about it (*raises hand*)
  • Write where in the story you are at the top of a blank page, write where you need to get at the bottom of the page, and try to build a bridge of events from one point to the other (works even better if you get fancy and start doodling actual bridges)
  • Watch TV and vegetate (heck, I’ve done just about every kind of brainstorming there is to do!)

Well, I think that’s enough for now. Hope some of these ideas catch your eye and help next time you need a new way to tackle a problem. Any other issues you’d like me to write up a list of methods for? 🙂

Any methods for tackling the above that work for you?


Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.



28 Responses to “The Write Way to…”

  1. Ashley December 2, 2010 at 12:22 AM #

    This is good information, Kat, thanks a lot!

    My style of writing is breaking everything up in chapters, editing while I go, and of course procrastination:).
    I feel character development is fun. I love writing back-story, especially the stuff that would only bog down the book.

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 2:51 PM #

      I love character development, too! Thanks for reading, Ashley 😀

  2. Julie Eshbaugh December 2, 2010 at 12:40 AM #

    Great post, Kat! I love looking at different strategies. 🙂 I think I may have caught a reference to a strategy of my own in there… but my favorite line was about you: “Outlining like an ADHD goldfish with a love for shiny things…” LOL, too funny, though I have a difficult time imagining that you have trouble staying focused!

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 2:53 PM #

      Hehe, yeah, I might have slipped a trick from you in there 😀

      And oh yes, I have the world’s shortest attention span. I literally have to do like 5 things at once or else I get bored. It’s terrible when I need to study because it means I can’t really do one thing very efficiently…only 5 things with terrible efficiency, lol

  3. priscillashay December 2, 2010 at 12:52 AM #

    oh Kat, I heart you 😀 I write out of order too. lol. I’ve tried to break the habit, but that leads me to not writing at all. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s just how things work for me

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 2:54 PM #

      ❤ haha

      And yeah, when I started my current WIP, I told myself I'd write it only in order (because writing things out of order does create some unique troubles…), but yeah…did NOT happen!

      • priscillashay December 2, 2010 at 8:23 PM #

        *sigh* it never does. *high five from one goldfish to another* 🙂

  4. Meagan Spooner December 2, 2010 at 1:36 AM #

    This is a great post! I used to be the same way, absolutely positive that I knew the best way to do my own writing. Other people were welcome to theirs, but I knew hands down what worked for me.

    *eyeroll* Yeah, I’m glad I got over that. I love trying new things. To be fair, usually they don’t work for me and the way I was doing things was better–but every so often I stumble across something that becomes a total game-changer for me. And they’re the inevitably the last things I’d expect to work for me.

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 2:54 PM #

      Thanks, Meagan! Glad you liked it 🙂

  5. Chele December 2, 2010 at 2:20 AM #

    HAHAHA ADHD goldfish… I suppose I am that too, though I always start out planning to just do chapter by chapter summaries it always ends up being ten times longer than it was supposed to be ;P

    And 1st POV snippets are sooo fun! Think I might try out the character forms too, when I’m looking for more excuses to procrastinate from actual writing. OR I could just stick to my favourite – watch TV and vegetate. Pahaha.

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 2:55 PM #

      Hehe, I do find that watching TV and vegetating is much more effective than people expect ;P

  6. Rowenna December 2, 2010 at 10:05 AM #

    I, too, am kind of like an ADHD goldfish. LOL! Outlines seem to be more to get my ideas down so I can later disregard them 🙂 And I definitely don’t write in order–I don’t accept the “only write when the muse strikes” attitude, but I do accept the “write what the muse is bugging you to get on paper” attitude–which means totally out of order most of the time!

    I think any and all of the strategies you mention would be great ways to get thinking, get ideas on paper, or get the story out of a rut–it’s not just at the beginning that you sometimes need brainstorming and a creative jumpstart!

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 2:55 PM #

      I’m glad to see I’m far from the only one who writes out of order!

  7. Cari December 2, 2010 at 10:24 AM #

    Lots of great ideas here! When I need to flesh out characters that aren’t my MC, I like to write from their perspective. They enjoy the time in the spotlight and give me something to work with later. I also like crazy brainstorming, but only with a pen and paper, because I like to draw pictures and charts and maps.

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 2:56 PM #

      Thanks, Cari! I like to doodle while I brainstorm, too 😀

  8. Brooke December 2, 2010 at 12:26 PM #

    I’m trying something new for my current wip. For brainstorming, when I got the idea, I hand wrote a single scene to get a feel for the character, what was important to her, and so on. Then I let it stew. I didn’t touch it for a few days. The trick to knowing if a story will work for me is whether or not I can stop thinking about it or not. So I let it stew, and every minute of the day I was thinking of a new scene, a new plot point… but I didn’t write a single thing down. I do most of my writing in my head. Once I have most of the story figured out, then I sit down and start writing. I didn’t even use the handwritten scene in the actual story!

    This go-round I’m trying a sort of outline that I think will work for me. I’ve tried outlining before but it always seems to drag me down and kill my excitement for my story. So this time, I made an outline of 8 plot points in the story, though I was very vague. the points consist of a place name, “christmas”, “trouble”, a character name, and some specific events. I have a good feeling about it. I believe it will keep me on track without constricting my creative flow.

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 2:58 PM #

      That sounds like a really interesting way to outline! I tend to be very sparse with my outlines, too, since in the past, outlining has killed my enthusiasm for stories as well. I need a little “omg, what’s going to happen next” to keep writing!

  9. TymCon December 2, 2010 at 1:11 PM #

    I tried the write backstory on characters (worked very well, but took ages), tried all the points about characters (did not work at all!) and I can’t really plot.

    The way i’m doign it is awesome at the moment. I’m wariting character bullet points (e.g: Bounty hunter. .Thinks dependant but has rich family to fall back on. etc) and I put in main points (ritual to summon Chuck Norris. Kat Zhang tries to stop it, but Chuck Norris is summoned. Epic fight between Kat and Chuck).

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 2:59 PM #

      Hahaha. We all know I would totally win! 😀

  10. Olga December 2, 2010 at 1:18 PM #

    I’m a by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of writer. Which probably is evident in my NaNoWriMo word count. *hangs head in shame*

    Other than that, though, I actually have written diary entries from my characters’ perspectives. It’s…kinda fun. Sometimes I have them do mini autobiographies. Or tell me exactly what they think of me, my plot, and my hair. Weird? Maybe. But so are we. 😀

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 5:09 PM #

      Haha, no need to be ashamed 😛 Life gets in the way sometimes. I didn’t even bother trying to do Nano this year because I knew it wasn’t going to happen.

      I used to be a 100% pantser, but over the last few months, I’ve started to plan more and more. It means less stress and block for me while I’m writing. But pantsing is lots of fun, too!

      Your character development methods sound awesome 😀

  11. Amy Rose Davis December 2, 2010 at 1:29 PM #

    Great post, and so funny! Aren’t ALL goldfish ADHD?? 🙂

    I confess that I am an unrepentant “pantser.” I’m trying to start my second novel in a series and I have some of the opening scenes written, but I decided that I would try doing more of an outline this time. Book one was written during NaNo last year and I had to revise and revise and revise to get it to something I really love. I decided that, partly because it’s epic/high fantasy, I would outline more for book 2 to make sure all the pieces fell together neatly.

    Um. It’s not working.

    I’ve nicely outlined the stuff I’ve already written, which is what I always used to do in school when I had to write papers, but I am having a deuce of a time trying to outline everything after that.

    I guess I just need to go with what works for me… Discovering as I write. 🙂


    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 5:12 PM #

      Thanks 😀 And yes, I guess so. Someone once told me that goldfish have three second memories, lol, so if that’s true…

      I’ve become less and less of a pantser over the last few months, but I still write at least a chapter or two before starting to outline any story. Before that, thing are so nebulous in my head that there’s really no use trying to nail it down! And I accept that things are very likely to change massively afterwards 😛

      • Amy Rose Davis December 2, 2010 at 5:28 PM #

        I think that 3 second thing was on a cheese stick wrapper once… 🙂 Thanks for responding!

  12. Ellen December 2, 2010 at 3:14 PM #

    I actually just did the 1st person POV snippets for each of my characters–major and minor–for the book I’m currently editing. It was incredibly helpful with getting voice down and figuring out a few motivations that had been unclear.

    So glad you included it on this list!

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 5:12 PM #

      It works great for me, too! 🙂

  13. Praya December 2, 2010 at 8:17 PM #

    I always enjoy your posts Kat. This was excellent, and there are definitely some brainstorming ideas on here I’m in desperate need of. Thank you 😀

    • Kat Zhang December 2, 2010 at 8:19 PM #

      Aww, thank you so much, Praya! That makes me really happy 😀

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