How My Writing Process Changed and Rocketed My Production


As an author, the most frequent question I’m asked is, “How do you write so much?”

I consider that a huge compliment. It wasn’t that many years ago that I didn’t write at all. I had lost my confidence and looked for excuses not to put words onto paper.

Helping a friend write his biography brought my mojo back. However, my writing process remained haphazard. I wrote later in the evening and on the weekends when I had time.

Now, my writing process is entirely different, and I’d like to show you what it looks like. It didn’t seem like such a significant change then, but it has allowed me to crank out more than twenty books over the past four years. Seeing that number boggles my mind.

The thing I focused on was developing the right habits. Or should I say, the write habits?

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

The Most Important Habit

Let’s start with the most significant change I made. It’s something any author can do to shake themselves out of their writing doldrums.

Wake up early and write.

That’s it. It’s not very glamorous, but it works like a charm.

Every morning I wake up at 4:30 a.m. to write. That might surprise some, and it might seem ludicrous to others, but there are plenty of successful folks who wake up early to get a jump on their day.

Former Navy SEAL and author Jocko Willink starts his day at 4:30 a.m. He works out and then gets after his other responsibilities.

Actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson wakes up at 3:30 a.m. so he can work out and then meet the demands of his career.

Actor and serial entrepreneur Mark Wahlberg famously wakes up at 2:30 a.m. to begin his very packed day.


I don’t like working out in the morning, but I love writing at that time. I discovered my creativity well after listening to a friend explain how she’d found success writing in the early morning. I discuss this in greater detail in the post Creatives, Pay Yourself First.

In Janet Evanovich’s book, How I Write. She explains that she wakes up at 5:00 a.m. to write.

If working out in the morning is your thing, that’s great. Get after it. But it’s not for me. I like to work out at midday. It provides a boost and wakes me up. That exercise pushes me into the latter part of my day.

Getting up at 4:30 a.m. allows me two solid hours of writing before the family wakes. I used to get up at 5:30 a.m., but as the boy got older, his school hours started earlier. I can’t ask him to be quiet as he prepares for his day. Instead, I had to get up earlier.

Every morning, my writing goal is 1,000 words. Most days, I sail by that without much hassle. However, it does take work on the days I’m out of town.

I never skip a writing day—not for my birthday or Christmas or even a sick day. I still wrote when I had Covid; those were some rough days.

Only New Words

Okay, so we’ve nailed down the biggest habit—getting up early.

Let’s move on to the second change I made. I don’t edit second or third drafts during my morning writing blocks. That time is set aside for strictly creating new stories. Editing takes place in the afternoon or early evening because I want the morning creative well to be used effectively.

That doesn’t mean I’m not editing a current writing piece. I often jump back and forth through a manuscript to tweak, move, or delete words, sentences, or paragraphs. My initial drafts are composed in Scrivener, a fantastic writing tool that allows a writer to break apart a novel into chapters. It will enable me to bounce around a book faster than Microsoft Word.

Some days, I stop adding new words to a work-in-progress so I can jump back into an earlier chapter. I consider this like an artist adding shade or heavier lines to something they’ve already drawn. After I decide I’m happy with that first draft, I export it to Microsoft Word because I prefer its editing tools.

By the time I think I’m finished with the first draft, I’ve been through the complete story multiple times. I am almost sick of it.

That’s when I set it aside to let it season.

Add a Little Seasoning

A book must sit for a substantial amount of time before editing starts.

During this time, I don’t let anyone read it. It’s not ready. It would be like starting a recipe and letting someone taste it before adding spices or cooking it to a proper temperature.

While a book is seasoning, I move on. Often I will start writing a new book as soon as I finish writing the previous one. This means I may not return to that recently completed novel for months, and that’s okay.

I must forget about the book I just wrote. I need to come at it with fresh eyes, and I should be surprised when I read a nice turn of phrase. Sometimes I proudly think, “Man, that’s good.” But there are times when I think, “Yuck. I’m glad I didn’t let anyone read that yet.”

The Second Draft

The second draft is when the story gets torn apart—more so than any other draft.

I like the editing process. The creation process will be long and dreary if an author doesn’t enjoy it.

In my earliest novels, I wrote the last word in a manuscript and thought they were finished. That was immature and unprofessional. Writing takes time. Cutler’s Return took seventeen years to get published.

But now I love the editing process. Especially the second edit because the story seems new to me again. This is when I fall back in love with a story. At this point, I’m trying to make sentences tighter. I’m yanking out words, and I’m deleting entire sentences.

During the writing of Some Degree of Murder, my co-author (Frank Zafiro) and I developed the analogy of keeping our book on the freeway. Anything that took the novel onto an offramp and into a neighborhood of bibble-babble needed cutting. It’s an analogy that has suited me well as I try to find the smoothest way to move a reader from the story’s beginning to the end.

The Third Draft

Once the second draft is done, I still don’t let anyone read it. I immediately turn around and go right into another edit. This draft is not as fun as the second, but it’s more satisfying.

I’m further tightening sentences and beginning to look for repetitive words or phrases.

It’s interesting how certain things might pop into your consciousness while you’re writing, and it appears over and over in a single draft. In a recent manuscript, I used the phrase “to tell the truth” in dialogue half a dozen times in one story. I stumbled on it during the third draft edit and deleted them all.

By the end of the third pass-through, I’m about sick of the book again.

That’s when I know it’s time to hand it off.


I’ll send it out for editing and get those comments back. Depending on how long that takes, I may let the comments sit again. If it’s a quick turnaround, I don’t want to go back into the book immediately.

I may be actively writing a new book, and I don’t want to be distracted by the feedback. Occasionally, issues are pointed out that need to be resolved. Those take time and focus.

Remember, I’m sick of the story by the end of the first draft, then I’m sick of it by the end of the third. I want to like it again, so it needs to season a little more. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It also makes my ears more receptive to constructive criticism.

Once those changes are made or challenged, it’s time for proofreading.

I’m usually no longer sick of the book, but I’m no longer in love with it either. We’re friends at this point—old friends. And you know what they say about old friends—they start to get smelly like fish if they hang around too long.

Therefore, I want to get those proofreading corrections made asap and the book scheduled for publication. I’ll give it a couple more reads, including one using Word’s “Read Aloud” function. This allows me to hear what it would (sort of) sound like if a narrator read it. I will often make little tweaks here for clarity.


That’s my writing process. Every author’s process will be different. Maybe it’s close to mine, or perhaps it’s wildly different. But certain things will remain the same. If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below.

I skipped over the publication process. If you’re interested in that, leave a comment below, and I’ll create a post addressing some of the steps involved.

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