My 3-Step Writing Process

by Denise Renee  - June 1, 2024

Ditching 80 pages of unorganized notes, I wrote the senior thesis for my English degree from beginning to end in about three days. The result? I got an A- and graduated two months later.

Twenty-nine years later, I’m still mad at myself about that. 

Had I given myself two extra days for editing, I believe I might have earned an A+. 

Am I delusional? 

Yes, just a bit! 😎

Because, ummm, let’s address the elephant in the room… 

Who in the world writes their senior thesis in three days and gets an “A” anything??? A senior thesis project is a semester-long or year-long project. How in the world did I pull that off?

Was it because I’m a brilliant writer? 

Definitely NOT! I’m a talented writer, but I wouldn’t say I’m brilliant. 

In full transparency, certain factors allowed me to accomplish this herculean feat without an outline (remember, I ditched my notes). 

Let me tell you what happened and then I’ll unpack those factors. I hope you’ll learn from my experience what you need to slay whatever writing dragon is currently challenging you.

THE 3 FACTORS THAT HELPED ME WRITE QUICKLY AND EARNED ACCOLADES

Here’s how I could ditch my notes and write my thesis in one pass, from top to bottom, and earn an A-. 

Although I’m about to give these factors numbers, they aren’t necessarily in order of importance. I needed all of them to produce a great piece of writing which resembled a book manuscript.

Factor number one: I knew my subject backward and forward. Factor number two: I had a crystal clear schedule. Factor number three: I had a deeply ingrained writing process.

Let’s dig into them one by one.

Factor #1 – I knew my subject backward and forward. 

In my last blog post, (https://writingwithdeniserenee.com/inner-storyteller/) I shared how dramatic my senior year of college at an elite New England school was. By the time I chose to lock myself in my room for several days, I had been living with this project for about a year. 

I came up with the idea for my Honors English thesis early in my Junior year. I didn’t think my idea of blending a scholarly examination of the Caribbean American experience in Paule Marshall’s work with my collection of short stories as a foray into the canon would be accepted. 

To pull the project off, I needed two different advisors. The first was my absolute favorite, Robert Farnsworth. (And yes, Bates actively encouraged us to ditch formalities and call our professors by their first names.) Rob was from the English department and I needed him for the creative writing portion. My other requested advisor was Timothy Chin from the Rhetoric department. I needed his specialty in Caribbean Literature and lived experience (as he is a Jamaican-born Chinese person raised in the United States) so he could advise me on the critical analysis portion. 

To my shock, the Honors thesis review board accepted my pitch. When I found out, I felt elated for about two seconds. In the third second, panic set in. I was instantly stressed out. I remained so until I quit the Honors program three weeks before I was due to submit my project. 

Between those two time markers, I read like a maniac throughout the end of my junior year. I read Caribbean-themed short story collections and novels. When I got back home to New York City for the summer, I scoured The Strand and the block-long Barnes and Nobles on 6th Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets (which sadly closed in 2008) for any type of scholarly analysis I could get my hands on about Caribbean people’s experiences in the States. 

Eighty pages of unorganized notes quickly piled up. I started writing the critical portion three different times that fall, but abandoned all versions. I had ideas for my short stories and created a few drafts, but didn’t make much progress. Writing short stories was the most fun part of the project; I knew I could whip those out anytime I wanted. The critical analysis portion took up all my brain power.

I was worried about it because I didn’t have Tim Chin. He had taken a position at another school, effectively abandoning me. I replaced him with Charles Nero from the Rhetoric Department. 

That was an unsettling choice. First, Charles didn’t have a handle on the subject the way Tim Chin did. However, as one of the few Black professors on campus with expertise in African American studies, he was the most suitable replacement. Secondly, the last class I took with him didn’t go well. In my mind, I had to redeem myself in his eyes.

Three weeks before the Honors thesis deadline, I was far from ready. I knew I didn’t have enough time to produce the project I pitched so I had to let my dream die. I dropped the Honors designation, but still had a thesis to write. It automatically became a semester-long project, rather than a year-long one. I didn’t have to face a jury or write a short story collection. However, I still needed to turn in the critical analysis. I had little time to complete it because the semester-long theses were due right after the honors ones were due.

That’s when I ditched all my notes and previous drafts. The fresh document on my Macintosh Powerbook 145B glared at me with its winking cursor. I glared back and instantly started typing, filling it up with a fury. I wrote from beginning to end in three days.

After living with the information for more than a year, words tumbled freely from my fingers.  I always possessed the ability to write this piece in my sleep; the problem was when I was awake. I had let stress block me from thinking or writing clearly. Ultimately, the time crunch proved to be a bigger bully than stress. It silenced the chatter in my head and chased the words out of my soul. They landed on the page as a perfectly outlined coherent thought.  

The big takeaway is writing is easier when you know your subject well. If it is something you can talk about for hours, even better! Too bad I had to put myself under extreme stress to figure that out. 

But hey! Now, you get to benefit from my crazy experience. You’ll write faster when you choose a subject you know like the back of your hand.

Factor #2 – I had a crystal clear schedule.

The only way I could pull off the task was to clear my schedule. I needed to write without interruptions. 

Even though I had a full credit load, I barely had to grace the confines of a classroom. I was taking my last music requirement: a squishy appreciation class I only needed to attend once a week.

My two thesis projects for both English and Music carried credit, but my time was my own. The only other thing that took up my time was working as a receptionist and a concierge for concerts at Olin Art Center. I cleared my schedule by giving away all my shifts for several days following my only classroom obligation that week. I would be broke, but my thesis would be done. 

Then, I locked myself away in my room and wrote for three days straight. I lived on ramen noodles and waffles with peanut butter. On day four, I took a break to get some air. I went to Commons (where the dining room was). I hung out with friends and played some pool. The next morning, I gave my writing an editorial once over, then strolled across The Quad into the computer lab at Pettigrew Hall. I printed and bound my project, then marched it upstairs to Robert Farnsworth’s office. He wasn’t there so I plopped it in his inbox with a “meh” sentiment. 

I was emotionally and physically spent. I made a bee-line back to my room at “The Bill” to get some well-earned sleep.

The big takeaway is that having time to write distraction-free yields amazing focus and productivity. 

To a degree, life was simple in college. It didn’t have the pressures of adulting. I’m sure you can agree that getting a responsibility-free day is a rare luxury as an adult. I don’t know about you, but whenever I get that opportunity, I only want to sleep or vegetate on the couch with my favorite foods and movies. But even though life is more complicated as adults, the beauty is we still have control over our schedules. If you intend to write a book, consistently making time to write is imperative. 

Do you have to clear the table like I did? No. 

Work with the time you have. Can you only commit to 30 minutes each day? It’s better than no commitment. If you are consistent, you can still accomplish the same result I did… a finished project! Of course, the more time you can dedicate (for instance, 72 obligation-free hours), the faster you’ll finish. 

Factor #3 – I had a deeply ingrained writing process. 

I was always a star student in my high school English classes. During my first year of college, I breezed through the 100-level English classes. In the first semester of my sophomore year, I had my ass handed to me by Ann Thompson, the head of the English department. She gave me the first C’s and D’s in English I’d ever had in life! 

Like two strong-willed female rams, we locked horns. But in the end, I sat my precious tail down in her office, listened to her critique, and improved. She was so instrumental in teaching me to become a beast at crafting persuasive and comparative literary essays. My last two papers in her class that semester were A’s. I redeemed my dignity and earned her respect.

What I learned with her help turned into a God-send in my Junior year. My intense course load in ‘93 and ‘94 had me writing papers weekly for my English and Music classes. Without realizing it, I seamlessly went from having a natural talent and love for writing to having a well-oiled process for cranking out papers and short stories on demand.

I had formed and internalized my writing process. I had practiced it so much it became ingrained. Stumbling or stuttering over my thoughts was a thing of the past. I rarely needed to create an outline for shorter papers because I got used to thinking through my points in my head first. When I sat down to write, I skipped the outlining phase on paper and went straight into writing my first draft from beginning to end. I never worried about what grade I would get because it was always a B or an A. 

Although my writing process matured over time, it is still ingrained. At any moment, I can begin writing on almost any topic. Writer’s block is not an issue for me (unless I’m emotionally stressing out about something). This has come with time and experience, not because I’m the most brilliant writer there ever was.

The big take-away here is that writing is a skill, and a learnable one at that. As with anything, the more you practice writing, the better you get at it. I logged my 10,000 hours of mastery into a compressed two-and-a-half-year timeframe. When you have little practice communicating your ideas in writing, the process is longer and more frustrating. 

The only way to shortcut the process is to use templates and formulas or to adopt someone else’s process that resonates with you. 

That last option is what the rest of this article and today’s featured video will help you do. 

MY 3-STEP WRITING PROCESS

The following video lays out a simplified version of my current writing process. This framework is versatile. It can be applied to creating content of all types, such as YouTube scripts, podcast scripts, courses, digital products, blogs, and more.

If you’ve been trying to write your book but the process has been frustrating, try my 3-step writing process and see if it suits you. 

ANYONE CAN LEARN TO WRITE QUICKLY AND EFFECTIVELY

My hope in sharing my academic story (that only my fellow nerds would love) is to show you how I learned my process for writing… I wasn’t born with it! 😎

If I learned it, you can too! 

Many people who are interested in writing a book talk themselves out of it because they are afraid it will take too long. In response, I see many book writing coaches promoting programs that focus on helping you write quickly. 

I’m not mad at the reasoning behind this tactic; if you can help someone overcome their perception of “a long time” and get them to finish their book quickly, they will finally accomplish their dream of being an author. 

The thing is, I don’t think it’s a time problem. I believe it’s a process problem. Ultimately, what these coaches offer is a way to condense time by giving you their process to follow. 

Since I have not experienced every single program out there that takes this approach, I won’t make any blanket statements about them. What I can say is that my approach as a writing coach is the unsexy one. 

I don’t promise a particular time frame when you’ll finish your book because so many factors can influence that which are outside of my control. What I DO promise is a process for getting the work done. A process cosplays in overalls; it’s a big signal that work is required. But I promise to make the work easier and more doable than if you were trying to do it alone.

If you are finally ready to write you book with the right process in place, I have some resources below that can help. Email me or DM me on LinkedIn to let me know how your process is going and if I can help you further!

RESOURCES

Learn my 4 steps to book writing success here (has links to more videos on my channel that break down each step) – http://writingwithdeniserenee.com/4steps 

Let me walk you through the process of getting started writing your book here – http://writingwithdeniserenee.com/getstarted

Get inspired by a more flowing process from Grammy-winning songwriter and artist H.E.R – https://youtu.be/t0B-sjFbes8

Here is a quick overview of James Webb Young’s “A Technique For Producing Ideas” – https://youtu.be/ybNoYjLmfPA 

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Denise Renee

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