The writing process

I spend a fair bit of time writing articles for this site, and while I've found a workflow that I'm reasonably happy with, I'm quite convinced that it isn't the most efficient way of writing. So here's a question for those of you who write articles, books, reviews, or tutorials: what does your writing workflow look like?

What word processing application (or applications) do you use? Is the process different if you're writing something for your own site or if you're contributing to a community site (Digital Web Magazine, A List Apart,, Web-Graphics, etc) or a magazine? When and where do you write? How do you keep track of article ideas?

I'm not a professionally trained writer, so I'm just doing things the way that works for me, starting with an idea and ending with a published article. However, as in most other areas I'm always looking for ways to improve. My current workflow usually goes something like this:

Getting an idea

I get ideas for articles and tutorials when I read about something on the web, read a question on a mailing list, get a real life question from someone, run into a problem or issue at work, get an email from someone visiting my site, or (and this actually happens quite a lot) an idea pops into my head just as I'm falling asleep or if I wake up in the middle of the night.

Once I get an article idea, I scribble it down in a notebook (of the physical kind, made of paper, using a pen). Just a few words or a couple of sentences to help me remember what the main subject is.


Then comes the hardest part. The actual writing. An idea will often sit in my notebook for weeks before I'm in the right mood to write about it.

Many articles require research, some more than others. Unless I'm writing about something that's just based on my opinion, I really want to get as many facts right as possible. This part can be pretty time consuming, but you can be sure that someone will find (and be quick to point out) any mistakes you make. That's great for the most part, but sometimes it can lead to nitpicking that takes the focus away from the actual subject of the article, so I want to get the facts nailed down as best I can. Nobody is perfect though, so it's nice knowing that any errors are very likely to be caught by my readers.

When I actually start writing, I tend to use the same application I use for coding (currently BBEdit). While I'm writing the article, I add any HTML elements needed for semantics (paragraphs, links, emphasis, lists, etc). It can be a bit awkward, and this is where I feel there must be smarter and more efficient ways of working with text.

Up until recently, I'd always sit at the desk in my living room while writing. I felt more and more restricted by being stuck there, so that's the major reason I had for buying an iBook. Now I can just take my iBook G4 and write wherever I want unless I'm in the research phase of an article, which almost always requires Internet access. I've found plenty of open wireless access points around the city though, so that isn't a huge problem.

Editing and publishing

When I've finished writing, I normally let the article "rest" a bit. A couple of days, sometimes a week. Then I read it again, make edits, have someone else read it, make more edits if necessary. I keep editing the article until I'm happy with it, or I can't be bothered anymore and just want to get it out the door.

Once an article is finished, I wait for a good time to post it. I try to always have at least a couple of articles ready for publishing.

That's about it. After publishing, I keep an eye on any comments and other feedback, and if necessary I'll update the article. At this stage, the text has been entered into MovableType, so I'll do any minor edits through the web browser interface.

I don't know how different this process is from anyone else's. It does feel a bit inefficient though, so if you have any good writing tips, please share.

Posted on January 26, 2005 in Writing