The Creative Writing Process

When we first learn about creative writing, we are taught one path to follow as the creative process:

  • Brainstorm/Research
  • Outline
  • Write
  • Edit
  • Revise

The exact wording of this list varies depending on where you were taught, but the bones of the list is inherently taught. For young writers, this is a good list as a place to start. The list gives them the structure and direction on how to get from point A (what do you want to write about?) to point Z (a finished story).

However, as we grow our creative writing skill, we eventually find that we don’t fit the mold we were taught as children. We have become, ourselves, a unique writer. One who blazes their own path forward in delivering stories. It’s a personalized approach that evolves as we become more seasoned.

You could be a plotter. You could be a pantser. You could be one who writes inspiration from a dream and only during the editing phase, figure out what the story is about. You could be someone who writes the ending first then goes back to figure out how to get to that end. You could be a mid-prose editor, who writes a chapter then edits versus editing when you have your story fully written. You could be someone whose process is what they were first taught.

There is nothing wrong with any of these processes. You are developing YOUR story through YOUR own creative writing process. There is no “one size fits all” process because we are individuals and our brains are wired differently.

How do you find the best writing process for you?

The only sage advice I can give is to experiment and find what feels right. Up until a few years ago, I was a pantser for all forms of creative writing. “Sit down and go” was my motto. Today, I am a psudo-plotter. What I mean by that is I write the ending first then write an outline starting from the beginning. Having my ending defined helps me build the plot and characters that will get the reader to that end. I am sure in another few years as my writing skill evolves, my process will morph into something new.

Thus, dear reader, I cannot give you any secrets to unlocking what your writing process because there is no grand secret. You have go out there and write! Your process will develop on its own to what feels most natural for you. Expect it to evolve over time as you grow as a seasoned writer and don’t worry if you notice that you have a different process for different story types. Your writing process for novels may look very different from your writing process for short stories.

What is your writing process? Have you seen your writing process change over the years? Do you have different writing processes for short stories, novels, poetry, et cetera?

Zwift – my new writing tool

Yep, you read that right. Zwift, oddly enough, helped me to conceptualize my second novel.

For those of you who are not familiar with Zwift, it is an app that takes you into a virtual world where you can train on your bike with an indoor training or run on a treadmill. Once you connect in, you can work away at customized trainings or join in a race against others across the world. It has become my “go to” cycling or running training tool for these cold winter days when it is too dark to go outside (or when I am wimping out from the cold).

I knew the advantages that I was going to get in my training from Zwift. What I didn’t know is how it was going to help me write.

Time is incredibly precious. I constantly find myself struggling to balance the time between training (Pittsburgh Marathon in May) and working on my novels, short stories, blog, etc. There are only a few hours in a day that I can fit these in as I also have a career where I work 8+ hour days, 5 days a week. On top of that, I need to make sure I am spending quality time with the special people and fur babies in my home.

All of that usually allots me 1-2 hours of either training or writing. That’s not a lot of time each day to spend on honing either craft.

Enter Zwift.

A few weeks ago, I was just spinning away on a customized work out, staring at the TV and watching my avatar speed along the course. Suddenly my mind began to drift and I subconsciously starting to untangle a little snag that I hit in my current work. It was like a shock to my system when I realized what was going on! I grabbed my cell phone, paused Lizzo from belting her beautiful voice over my speakers, and opened a voice recorder app all the while still pedaling away. Breathlessly, I started to just blurt out what was going on in my head (note: I truly mean “breathlessly” as I was talking while spinning high RPMs, depriving my brain of oxygen).

Several minutes later, I untangled a web that I had written myself into a few days earlier. Case solved.

This was not a one-time instance. Each time I am spinning with Zwift, I get entranced and end up figuring out how to progress whatever I am working on now. It is like the physical activity helps to make the brain power at a higher wattage too.

I am all about efficiency here and doing these two tasks at once is working out brilliantly. As well as safely. While cycling or running, I do tend to find my mind wandering to my stories, but I tend to quell any thoughts because I stop paying attention to what is going on around me in the real world once my head descends to the clouds. With Zwift, I can work out to my hearts content and not have to worry about being sideswiped by a car or tripping in a pothole. I can let my mind wander. And when it is time for my workout to change, Zwift audibly tells me and I can break my writing trance and switch gears to what I need to do next in the workout.

A win-win over all and I usually accomplish both in an hour, then spend another hour post-workout to write down whatever it was that I figure out.

I have yet to try this while running on the treadmill, mainly because I am gasping for breath or I’d probably fall off the machine from trying to talk, think, and run at the same time. I also have not attempted to ride and hand write at the same time… I don’t think my Sonic Endurance coach would be too happy with me trying that. That’s a whole other level of coordination I don’t have, even if my bike is on a stationary trainer.

For you athlete writers out there who are struggling to find the balance between work, family, writing, and training, I highly suggest giving Zwift a go and try to work on your plot points or character development or whatever else you need to sift through in your written work.

And if you figure out a secret to writing and spinning at the same time, do let me know.

The Climb
(c) Gary Crawford

The Universe always knows how to throw one’s life into chaos. The result is a tumultuous fall into a deep, dark prison.  The landing is jarring, and one is left broken, not knowing what to do next. Does the fallen stay in the prison staring up at a pinprick of light that is the way out, dreaming of freedom? Or does the fallen take action to climb hand-over-hand up a vertical, crumbling wall that threatens to fall apart, but never quite does, and they eventually make an escape?

We are all held prisoner at one time or another in our lives. After the fall, we are presented with two routes where only one can be selected to follow during our imprisonment. The first route will be rough and takes a lot of work, patience, and energy to traverse. You will slip along the way, skinning your knees or banging your head. Yet, with perseverance, you’ll be able to escape to a place where things are better, and you reach a higher point in your life. The second route will be simple. You’ll climb easily along through a haze in an endless direction that leads nowhere and is without  escape. There will be no growth for you, and you’ll stay in the darkness forever.

The second route must never be chosen. No matter how hard the first route is to ascend, choose it. Show the Universe that you made it out of that prison alive and overcame whatever chaos the Universe hurled your way.

This has been a year that where I reached a new summit of growth after years of stumbling along a precarious path to escape my darkest prison. A little over four years ago, I fell from a high place where things seemed to be going incredibly right with my life and I was becoming known in the writing community as an author. When the fall happened, I landed in a deep pit of darkness. I laid at the bottom, shattered for a long time, trying to figure out what to do. I had felt like I lost everything – including my writing. For almost a year I wallowed in just staying steady – not falling any deeper into the darkness, but not getting any further out. There was a moment where I did find a tiny spark of light while I was in my prison, but a few months after finding it, the light went out and I was back to where I had initially fallen. It took many, many tries to climb. Each attempt got me closer to escape, but then there was always inevitably a fall. Yet, with each fall, I didn’t fall back as far down. I was making progress towards my escape, surely but slowly. It was not until the beginning of this year that I grasped the edge of the pit and pulled myself out into the light, into freedom. Now I’m at a point where I am sitting on the edge, my feet are dangling in the pit, but I am looking towards the sky.

This year has brought me insight to a newfound strength that I never knew I had. Three major events happened for me in 2019 and I sit in awe of these accomplishments: I survived the stress of building a brand new home and life with another person, I’ve become a triathlete with a goal of completing an IronMan in the next few years, and the major accomplishment, I have finally finished my first novel, My Brother’s Keeper. This is the novel I started in 2014 right before my fall, the one I spoke about on Martin Lastrape’s podcast. Now the novel is in the wonderful process of editing, which excites me as this process will only make the story stronger.

I can now see that the future is bright and there are so many more accomplishments that are stretching far front of me and there are higher summits to ascend. The road forward will be in no way perfect or easy, but my steps are off with the right start and I now know how to better maneuver when the Universe hurls its chaos. I’ll take the blows, get knocked down and stumble, but this time I’ll keep my eyes firmly locked on the bright sky.


‘Not all who wander are lost’ — Tolkien or anonymous

One foot in front of the other. Step-by-step-by-step. Progressing forward towards a destination that may be known, may not be known. The lay of the land stretches far out before and bends below the horizon. Footprints trail behind from where you had once been. What lies on the other side of the horizon is unknown, but there is a pull of curiosity. A natural thought for one who is a wanderer. A soul who is never content to be in one place for very long. Nomads, gypsies, transients all have the will of wandering in their blood. It’s their drive to rise the next morning, to sate the curiosity of what lies beyond the reaches of sight.

Those who wander are never lost. Wanderers may not always know where they are going, but the travel is not so much in the destination, but the journey itself to reach the destination.

The journey may be easy, it may be tumultuous, it may be exciting, and it may be horrific.  The venture may not always be a positive experience, yet it is the act of travel that entices the wanderer to continue on to ‘the other side of the mountain’. A journey is like a high. Adrenaline pumping adventure. A constant experience of learning and exploring. With each step the wanderer grows. They become a different person shaped by their travels. An enlightenment. Those who wander are less lost than those who stay sentient for life.

Wanderlust. Merriam-Webster’s definition is a (n) strong longing or impulse toward wandering. Breaking the word down further, ‘wander’ (intransient verb) to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal; to follow a winding course; to go astray (as in from course or morally) / (transient verb) to roam over. The word is derived from the Middle English wandren and Old English wandrain. ‘Lust’, while there are a couple of definitions, we are just going to stick with (n) an intense longing. Derived from Middle English and Old English, possibility this word derives from the Latin word lascivus.

Quite a complex word is ‘wanderlust’. Saying it aloud does stir within one the urge to move, to just aimlessly move towards an undecided destination. In its purest form, wanderlust is what is in the heart of every nomad, gypsy, and transient. People who are never settled in on place. They see that the world is so large and they are so small, thus they are constantly being pulled to see what is on the other side of the forest, the mountain, the sea.

‘Wanderlust’, quite poetic, is it not? Great authors over the centuries have brilliantly captured the passion that is exuded from the word. Jules Verne and his adventures to the bottom of the sea, to the core of the Earth, and around the world (in only 80 days). Tolkien and his myriad of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and other magical folk are always afoot, meandering the great realm of Middle-Earth. While all of his characters may not know where they are going, they know that they are on the correct path. ‘Not all who wander are lost’, it is said that Tolkien had coined that phrase, but I don’t think it is quite definitive. Whomever first said it first is quite brilliant. Those who wander are truly never lost. The destination is unknown, but wandering is never fully about the destination. It’s about the journey to the destination. It’s about the adventure and experience that one has along the way that defines the reason for the wandering. Those who wander should always cherish the journey and see the destination as a break until the next journey begins.

The word ‘wanderlust’ has always captivated me. It’s a word I do hold dear to my heart; yet, the word has never fully satisfied me. While I do always feel a longing to wander, the phrase ‘longing’ just doesn’t have that punch. ‘Lust’ for wandering is not a strong enough definition. There are times that when I am too sentient and become physically sick. Think of it like the exact opposite of homesickness (which is something I have yet to experience). My mood becomes irritable and I’m prone to daydreaming when the point is reached where there is a severe lax in travel. The term wanderlust is too soft for how I feel when I am at my crux of non-adventure.

As most know, words define the world for me. Thoughts, emotions, actions. I needed to name how I feel in regards to ‘wandering’, but could not settle upon the correct term, until I haphazardly stumbled across a new word.

In first seeing the word, it caused a flutter in my heart — without knowing the definition. The way that it was written instantly drew in my attention. It evoked the sense of a lush wooded trail winding through a dense forest full of tall trees. The ground covered in ferns and moss and rotting tree debris. Saying the word out loud and suddenly I was breathing in the scent of the deep woods. Musky, dark, earthy, balanced. A world beckoning to be explored. The word just felt just right.

Then I read the definition and my soul was at such ease. The epidemiology of the word is German. The translation literally means (n) farsickness / (v) longing for far-off places. The antonym is heimweh: (n) homesickness / (v) longing for home.

Farsickness. Feeling ill when not traveling, when not journeying. Oh how I know that feeling as it often rocks my core. My sights are always on the horizion, constantly wondering what lies beyond. The pull of that curiosity is so strong that I feel sick to my stomach when I know in reality, I cannot take the steps forward to see. Real life sometimes stands in the way — but not always…

While wanderlust will always invoke the passion of traveling, it is ‘fernweh’ that truly defines what I am feeling when I long to journey.

Fernweh – the longing for far off places.

Life was never meant to stay in one place.  Go out there and see the world. All the wonders out there are waiting. Discover them.

NI 3
On the path to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge on the Antrim Coast (c) Amanda Headlee, 2015

In which I wake up

At 3 am this morning, I woke up and stared at the blank canvas of my bedroom ceiling. An allegorical reflection of my life. In a week and a half, I turn 34. Life has passed in the blink of an eye. There is a feeling that all this time I have just been staring out the windows, watching the world pass by. To date, I have one short story published that is in need of a 2nd edition, 17 short stories that are in an array of discord, one novel poorly half written, and the second novel is a silent film that continually plays in my head and has yet to be scripted. All the adventures that I long to take remain as scribbled words on a bucket list. I’ve only crossed off 6 out of 297.

In the wee hours of this morning, something inside snapped awake. A tiny voice whispered in my head, In life there are no dress rehearsals. This morning, I realized that the state of hibernation that I have been suffering for the past two years was finally over.

This very moment, the one we are existing in now, is the only one that we tangibly have. We can plan for the next moment to come, hoping that it appears. Yet, it’s never guaranteed. Take a breath. Exhale. In the next breath, one of us could be dead. A life instantly terminated. We are only promised the moment we hold right now. And if we allow this moment to pass unfulfilled, we may not get the chance at another.

Since 2015, I have been dreaming of what I want to do, but lacked the propulsion and motivation to achieve those dreams. An era of dormancy was maintained until I took a trip to the Baltic states last summer. While wandering the remnants of a Cold Ware era prison in Tallinn, a spark of inspiration involuntary began a transformation within the core of my soul. The spark was so tiny that I barely felt the burn, but there was a slight movement on my part to extinguish the infinitesimal flame as the fear of failing crept into my heart. However, the nostalgic warmth of my former self reflecting in that flame was captivating. The flame was allowed to burn. It took several additional months before the flame was fed and ignited into a wildfire.

The appeal to become physically stronger, to eat healthier, to travel more, and to enjoy life intensified in January.  Suddenly, I found myself exercising everyday, gorging on vegetables and fruit, signing up to run a 5K & 10K race in April, organizing an excursion to New Mexico for May, and eyeing up a September 125-mile bike ride that begins in Quarryville, Pennsylvania and ends in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (those closest to me know of the ‘saudade‘ of the ride’s finish line location). And, I decided to take the final step in committing to train for a triathlon – today I bought swimming gear and made a pact to swim laps 2-3 times a week… at 5 am…

Oh, and the words! The words! At moment of my full awakening this morning, when the inferno of inspiration was set fully ablaze in my soul, I realized that the words were back. My muse rose out of the embers and all the motivation that I had for creative writing once again burned brightly. The new novel that had been brewing as a silent film in my sub-concise showed its purpose. Today, there is direction. During breakfast, the plot was feverishly started. Then an inkling began that my blog was in dire need of revitalization.  And so, here I am.

As insane as all of this sounds, it is like the ‘light switch’ on a transformation to become my true self finally flipped ‘on’. The most amazing part of this awakening is that a change elicited in my writing style and perception.

Dark fiction is a ‘genre’ that I’ll continue to enjoy.  Fear, which is evoked in characters who are placed in harrowing situations, is quite captivating as it is an emotion that reveals a character’s true nature. Yet, it is in that moment when truth is exposed by fear that I now want to leverage as a seed for strength and purpose, as opposed using fear as a tactic to break and destroy characters with a purpose to deteriorate their will to live.  I may still base a few short stories off this trope; however, going forward, I want to convey that one’s strength and purpose are revealed when one has lost all hope. And a will to survive overcomes fear.

These past two years have changed me. For a lack of better words, the time was a cataclysmic whirlwind. Personal negative situations aside, I’ve been fortunate enough to be granted with many opportunities to travel the world. I’ve seen wondrous sites, met the most soulful people, and sampled delectable cuisine. In these experiences I found renewed creativity and inspiration to thrive.

Life’s an adventure, and our next moments stand on precipice of excitement and wonderment! Reach out, take hold, and never let go.


This picture was captured whilst visiting one of my dearest friends, Michelle Muller, in Tallinn, Estonia. She knew Patarei Prison would captivate me. She wasn’t wrong. This mural, which was hand painted outside of the ‘hanging room’, triggered the start of my transformation. The mural directed me to continue the journey of wandering and wondering. (c) Amanda Headlee 2016

Definition of ‘saudade’:

Saudade is ‘the sorrow of not having enjoyed that which was there to be enjoyed; it is the vehement but resigned desire to enjoy a thing we were deeply attached to; and also the yearning to see, or be in the company of, someone from whom we have reluctantly been parted.

(Quoted in Dalila L. Pereira da Costa & Pinharanda Gomes, Introdução à Saudade: Antologia Teórica e Aproximação Crítica (Porto, Lello & Irmão, 1976), p. 10.)