How Every Writer Has Their Own Method


by Cynthia Hilston


How many of you remember the dreaded research papers you had to write in high school?  Raise your hand.  Better off, don’t raise your hand.  That’s too reminiscent of being back in school.  But anyway, I’ll tell you this: if I never have to write another research paper in my life, I won’t complain.

What I hated the most about the process was how formal and rigid it was.  When I was in school, the Internet was still pretty new, so we, the unfortunate victims, spent hours in libraries using dusty reference books that served better as paper weights and taking notes from pages with tiny print.  We had to write on 3×5 notecards in pencil.  We needed to come up with an outline, and this was to be done the proper way with the numbers, letters, Roman numerals, and I don’t even know what.  The rough draft was written in pencil, and yes, written by hand.  The final draft was then typed up.  I used my mom’s electric typewriter, as we didn’t have a computer with that now-antique Windows 95 on it.

At the end of it all, we turned the bulk of it in.  Of course, along the way, there were deadlines for each step of the process.  It was like pulling an abscessed tooth.

Not only was there a process, but the whole thing was laid out in a certain way, the quotes cited correctly, and the works cited at the end.  Who remembers when this was called a bibliography?  It was never okay to use “I” when writing a formal paper.

Much of this process has faded into the past like the Grunge look and slap bracelets, being twenty years ago for me, but I still cringe when I think about writing research papers.  When it comes to creative writing, I am of the mindset that while there should be some guidelines for how to write a book, it makes about as much sense to force people to all follow the same rules as it does for everyone to wear the same size shoes.  We have different sized feet.  We have different methods that work for us when we write.

There are many writers who sit down and plan out (outline in depth) their novels before they even take up the pen…or, more likely, tap away at the keyboard.  They write up every character in excruciating detail.  They cannot write until they know every scene in that novel.

For me, this process would be hell.  Plain and utter torture.  Talk about tooth-pulling again.

I always know my beginning and my ending.  I do draft a basic outline and character profiles, but I am not afraid to waver from the path.  It’s fun and exciting to me to see how I will get to my destination.  My characters usually seem to direct a large portion of the story for me, so forcing them into a mould that doesn’t fit them is just plain idiotic.

I often have scenes play out in my head of a dialogue exchange between two characters.  When I start writing a scene like this, I just write.  The conversation between character A and character B flows naturally, as if I were listening to real chitchat.

For me, to just sit down and start writing is how I operate.  I may not write the story in order, but it comes together in the end.  The way I figure, the first draft is going to go through many edits before it’s published, anyway.  Getting the story down is my first priority, and then I go back and clean it up a lot.  With the help of others, the finished product is ready.

I’ve had enough experience over the years to know that my ability to tell a story is good.  My writing is far from perfect, but by doing it a little every day (even if it’s just for ten minutes), I stick to my goals.  Because writing is so important to me, I use a few minutes here or there to compose a half a page or even just a couple of lines.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re new to writing, don’t be discouraged, feeling that you must follow some sort of formula, set of rules, or incant some magic words.  Many other writers and authors I’ve spoken with operate in the same zany manner that I do.  I don’t know if we’re in the majority, but we do what we do because we love it, not because we wish to suffer writing another research paper.




Alternately titled My Wonky Writing Procedure…Or Lack Thereof.

Guest post contributed by Cynthia Hilston. Cynthia is a 30-something-year-old mom of three whose writing is her fourth child. You can find her website at She has two published books available on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow and Lorna versus Laura.




34 thoughts on “How Every Writer Has Their Own Method

  1. This is a wonderful reminder. I’m still having difficulty figuring out my process but I think part of my problem involves confidence. I’ll have this great emotion to express myself and type it out and then let it rest for a day before scheduling or posting. But usually, a day rolls back around and I’ve figured out a million other ways to debunk however I felt 24-hours prior, so then I delete it entirely because now my thoughts feel invalid. Any suggestions? Besides just push the button! 😉

    PS: Man did I forget about having to get all the info onto an index card when doing research papers, that was hell.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You prepare for and write your fiction exactly as I do and it gets the job done, but retains the mystery and creativity.
    And I go back a bit before you with high school so no Internet then, but I was a journalist for many years and some of your research procedures ring some bells. But I had the added interest of interviewing a lot of interesting quirky people. And I liked and still like research and have to stop myself from overdoing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My process is to write a set number of pages a day. It can very from two to fifteen, but on average it is somewhere in the eight or nine margin.


  4. At least internet existed when you wrote your paper. Add in difficulties with spelling and writing was just plain torture. It wasn’t until college that I threw off those formulated shackles and learned to write creatively.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for this. 🙂 I’m very much more a ‘writing by the seat of my pants’ kind of author. I usually know the beginning and the end with some stopping off points on the way. On the few occasions I’ve tried detailed plotting, my writing has always gone off on its own sweet way. 😉


  6. Salute for your approach
    I usually start off with a ‘Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of imagination’ and when the dust has settled go back and sort it all out.
    Whatever gets the job done for the individual writer.


  7. When I wrote my first novel, I largely made it up as I went along and it became almost a problem-solving exercise which I really enjoyed…”how do I get the characters out of this scrape?” kind of thing. The problem I found with that approach was that there was a point when I realised I had to have more awareness of what had gone on before so that I ensured I tied up any loose ends and whatnot…so I needed to have some sort of associated document to record goings on and where in the book they occurred.

    I am now writing my second book and I started this one with a plan of how the plot would be structured but I really hated it. I felt like I’d taken away the fun from the writing and it was more like a project that had to be completed. Only when I ditched the plan and started writing more freely did I feel that I could make progress again (which was a real relief!) as it felt more free and creative.


  8. Well, actually, I liked doing research papers *ducks in case there are rotten vegetables*
    Admittedly, the love of research now gets in the way when I try to write fiction as I’m prone to go on research tangents and worldbuilding sprees instead of writing. I should try to incorporate some of your process into mine. Thank you for sharing! 🙂


  9. If you were doing an actual research paper or writing historical nonfiction, you would need the formal note taking and citing. Wikipedia and other online sources can be sketchy, but so can paper sources that don’t have a bibliography.


  10. Ah. The ole formal style of outlining. Fun times indeed. I’ve been writing for about two and a half years now, but I still consider myself new. I’d rather be considered a learner rather than an expert. I love to learn all about the process’s of writing. The best part about it is they’re guidelines not rules, so we can pick and choose which method’s to follow. Take that ruthless 1101 English instructor!

    I’ve been studying the snowflake method. IMO it’s amazing. I love how the author tells the reader it’s advice. If it doesn’t work for you learn something else. It’s working for me, so that is good news.

    My best advice is to read and write. Reading is learning. Writing is teaching. Enjoy the journey.

    Liked by 1 person

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