Finishing a piece of writing is hard and many aspiring writers and authors fail to do so. Starting a project, dedicating your time towards it, and eventually failing have to be one of the worst things that can happen. This doesn’t need to be the case when it comes to writing.
The Writing Process is a part of any writer’s toolkit. It helps you to develop your writing voice and set a tone and style that matches your audience while using the right tools to create strong, engaging content.
This guide is going to give you a writing process that will come through for you as long as you follow it.
Let’s get to it.
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What is the Writing Process?
The writing process refers to any number of steps you might follow as you write. The main aim of this process is to help you prepare yourself for the project, develop ideas, get your ideas written down, and produce a manuscript that’s ready for publication.
The process of writing is like any other. You need to follow systematic steps. While writing steps are more flexible than most processes, there are still steps that need to be completed before others. For instance, you cannot publish a book before you’ve written anything. Any process you follow is not about ticking boxes. It’s about making things easier for you as a writer.
Why Should You Have a Writing Process?
Being stuck right in the middle of a 70000-word manuscript when you run out of ideas is one of the worst things that can happen to an author. Having a process can prevent this from happening.
Here are some reasons you should have one when writing:
- A process gives you structure, so you know what to do next without being overwhelmed.
- Having a process as you write can help you counter writer’s block, since you probably drew an outline during the prewriting stage.
- Having a process makes sure everyone is on the same page – this is crucial if you are working with a co-author.
- Some of the world’s best-selling authors have used these steps, – so you know what you are trying actually works.
Simply put, following a process in your writing journey can prevent a lot of undesirable problems down the line.
The Writing Process Steps
There’s no formula to being a great writer. The order you follow might differ somewhat from the one below. However, this is what a good writing process looks like:
- Planning And Outlining
- Drafting/Writing The First Draft
- Proofreading And Editing
Following these steps will help you develop a process to center yourself when you’re overwhelmed.
Whether it’s gathering ingredients before preparing a meal, or putting on latex gloves before examining a patient, everything has some steps that need to be followed before you start. Writers predictably call this step prewriting. You want to write, but do you have any idea what you want to write about?
Have you already picked a genre for your work? Are you going to write alone or work with a co-author? How much do you know about your chosen topic? If you are asking yourself any of these questions, you’ve already started the prewriting phase. Simply put, prewriting is all the little things that need to be done before you can start drafting.
Here are some things you can do during the prewriting stage:
- Brainstorm ideas – you can use online idea generators, mind maps, or bounce ideas off a creative circle to do this.
- Write down anything that comes to mind, even if it is nonsensical – you never know when you’ll run into a different idea that will make the first one suddenly make sense.
- Research places, concepts, and ideas you want to work with – knowledgeable readers are quick to catch things like geographical errors.
- Read works similar to what you want to do in order to understand what your competition is doing.
- Always keep a pen and notebook or text editor-enabled device at hand – you never know when inspiration will strike.
Let’s say you want to write a piece on your holidays in Cape Town. You can start by reading as much as you can about the city, reading books and articles written by other tourists, and constantly jotting down every new idea that comes to mind.
Skipping this step means you’ll be taking a huge risk by writing without being prepared. Imagine writing a 90000-word novel, only to find out the main idea behind your book is impossible. You would have wasted months of your time.
Let’s say you are writing a semi-biographical account of your adventures as a tourist in Cape Town.
This is what the prewriting stage might look like:
- Create a mind map with the word “Cape Town” at the top.
- List down all the places you visited in Cape Town.
- Research the history, development, and general information of each location – you don’t want to end up claiming you drove from Cairo to Cape Town in one day.
- Read adventures other tourists have had in Cape Town – the last thing you want to do is write about something that has been tackled Ad nauseam.
- Be ready to jot down notes whenever ideas occur to you, whether that’s at work or at home – you might end up forgetting things you didn’t note down.
Consider the following words/concepts:
- New York
- Harry Potter
Use the words/concepts above and:
- Note down anything that comes to mind when you think about those words.
- Pick any idea from 1 and do a bit of research on it.
- Search for works other authors wrote about your chosen idea.
- Jot down any new ideas that occur to you during the course of the day.
Remember that there’re no hard rules when it comes to writing. You don’t need to force yourself to follow any of the steps in the prewriting stage if they don’t work for you.
Prewriting is the first step of the writing process. Making mistakes during this step can lead to your entire project collapsing midway through.
To learn more about Prewriting, check out our guide on Prewriting Strategies: 9 Proven Steps With Tips, Examples & Worksheets.
#2. Planning and outlining
This is a step that can either make or break your project. A well-developed outline can become your salvation down the line, while a badly produced plan could doom your work. This is the stage where you map how your book is going to play out. You need to put down what happens at the beginning and the end at the very least.
Visually oriented-authors might choose to use complex diagrams. A plain text outline is however still acceptable. The important thing is you know where you are going.
This can be broken down into the following steps:
- Write down your entire idea in one paragraph.
- Start building character bios – this can be expanded as you work.
- Decide on your book’s stakes – what needs to happen, what bad thing will result from the thing not happening, and what is preventing it from happening?
- Draft a one to three-page synopsis that describes what happens in the book.
- Outline book scenes along with what happens in each scene.
Skipping this step is dangerous, especially for new writers. There’s this thing called writer’s block. It refers to when a writer’s mind goes blank, and they are not able to write anything. A good outline will help you prevent writer’s block since you will already have all your ideas written down.
Here is how we might go about developing an outline for our Cape Town adventure example:
Idea in one paragraph: Cindy is expecting to find rest in Cape Town after a hard breakup and tough season at work. She didn’t bargain to stumble into a whirlwind romance that would end in her own attempted murder.
Character bio: Cindy is a 26-year-old tall British woman with black hair, brown eyes, dark skin, and a fiery temper.
Stakes: Cindy longs to be with her new romantic interest. This is impossible because he is on the run from his former gang. They have to stay away from the gang, otherwise, they could both be murdered.
Synopsis: This could start with Cindy arriving at the airport, and end with the final scene in the book.
Scenes: EG In scene 1, Cindy arrives at the airport. She runs into her future love interest who has taken her bag by mistake.
Check out our guide on How To Outline A Book: 6 Simple Steps with Templates & Examples for more book outline examples and formats
Pick any idea of your choice and do the following:
- Summarize the idea in a paragraph.
- Build a short biography for your main character that includes physical appearance, history, and personality.
- Come up with anything that your character desires.
- Decide on something terrible that will happen if your character doesn’t get their desire.
- Create a force that tries to prevent your character from getting what they desire – this is also known as an antagonist.
- Create a summary of everything that happens from beginning to end – be as specific as possible.
- Outline a couple of scenes using the synopsis as a guide.
There are two types of writers. Plotters (who outline) and Pantsers, who make it up as they go along. The outlining stage might not be helpful to you if you are a pantser. Even if you work better without outlines, try writing down the beginning, middle, and ending at the very least.
To learn more about Outlining, check out our guide on Outlining In Writing: 6 Easy Steps For Success [With Formats]
Anyone who makes it past this long and grueling stage has all but made it. The drafting stage is where you actually get to start writing out your pros. There’s no formula to it, like with most things in writing.
Some authors mindlessly write from beginning to end, others write and edit at the same time, yet others use a combination of both. You can abandon a scene that’s not working and write another if your outline is that extensive.
There aren’t many steps at this stage. That said, here are some helpful guidelines:
- Write as much as you can.
- Ignore any rules you think you might be breaking.
- Write even if it feels like what you have isn’t that impressive.
- Make sure you have written down something before shutting your laptop.
- Don’t overthink it – just let your creative juices flow and have fun.
The most important thing at this stage is getting everything on paper/in your word document. Everything else is unimportant compared to this. Overthinking things could eventually lead to writer’s block you can never get out of.
Using the same example from steps 1 and 2, do the following:
- Set a timer for 30 minutes. Write as much as you can about your idea from the previous step, and only stop when your timer goes off.
- Set your timer for 30 minutes again. Write another scene until the timer goes off, and try to edit as you write.
- Check which one has more words, the scene from 1 or the scene from 2.
- Try to write the second from last scene in your outline.
Remember that getting down your words is the most important thing in this step. So be as comfortable as you want to be. Make sure you’ve created the perfect working environment for yourself. If you write better at night, do so. If you prefer working in a quiet park, do so.
Congrats if you’ve made it thus far.
You now actually have a completed manuscript. It’s now time to shape it into a piece people want to read. The revising stage comes when you’re finished drafting. This is where you now go through your manuscript and improve it.
You can now start eliminating certain words, extending scenes, fixing dialogue tags, and more. It’s a good idea to read out your work to hear what it sounds like to the ear – you might have to revise awkward-sounding phrases.
You can follow these steps when revising:
- Give the manuscript a few days to breathe before starting revisions.
- Read through the manuscript once without changing anything – you can however highlight things you pick up along the way.
- Go through the manuscript sentence by sentence as you revise.
- Eliminate redundant words such as “that” and “just”.
- Change your passive voice sentences to active voice.
Your work needs revision. It doesn’t matter how good you are. Failing to revise will lead to you publishing work absolutely no one wants to read. Those who read it will have a very hard time understanding what you wrote.
Here are a couple of passages from our Cape Town adventure example that need a bit of revising.
“Cindy mobilized her person out of her holiday abode and got in her vehicle. The heavens evidenced a high probability of a deluge of H2O particles.”
The first example sounds awkward and pretentious. No one says “H2O” particles instead of rain. Here is a revised version of the first example:
“Cindy left the holiday home and got in her car. The skies outside were threatening rain.”
Let’s consider another example:
“You are loved by me, Cindy.”
This example is in passive voice. It sounds awkward and unnatural because most people don’t talk like that.
Here is an active voice version of the second example:
“I love you, Cindy.”
Do the following:
- Go back to the passages you wrote during the drafting stage. Revise them using the steps we just discussed.
- Read a passage from any book you own. Try to revise two or three paragraphs using what you now know.
- Read a story in any magazine or newspaper. Revise as many passages as you can.
- Find a lengthy post on any of the social media platforms you use. Try to revise the entire post.
- Go back to your own writing and choose three paragraphs. Read each sentence, and label it as either active voice or passive voice.
Accuracy matters when you are revising. Be as accurate as possible. Keep a grammar rules book and a dictionary at hand as you revise. Never revise while you’re tired. This could potentially lead to you not making correct changes.
You wrote and revised your book. It’s now time to edit and polish it. Readers have tons of other books at their disposal. They can easily throw yours aside and pick up something else. That’s why you need to make every word count.
Remove all the fluff and clever pros that serve no purpose. Writers call this process “killing your darlings“. Be as thorough as you can be about your grammar, tone, word choices, and passage lengths.
Follow these steps during the editing stage:
- Step away from your manuscript for weeks if possible.
- Print out your manuscript and make all changes using a marker before making changes to the soft copy.
- Remove all spelling errors, redundant words, and unnecessary/purple pros.
- Use as few words as possible.
- Use any software at your disposal, including your word processor’s spellcheck function, Grammar checkers like Grammarly, Wordtune, Quillbot, and other online editors.
- Hire a professional editor if you can afford it.
Editing is the second most important step after drafting. An unedited piece will never be read.
Editing Process Example:
The following is from our Cape Town adventure example:
“Cindy stood up and shook her head in disagreement. She was extremely angry and furious. She ran out of the house with her legs.”
The sentence above contains some unnecessary words.
“Stood up” is redundant because there’s only one direction in which people can stand. “Angry” and “furious” mean the same thing.
Here is a more concise version of the passage:
“Cindy stood. She shook her head. The young woman was furious. She stormed out of the house.”
The first sentence has 24 words, while the second has 17. We managed to reduce the size of a single passage by almost a third. That’s a big leap!
Editing Process Exercise
Do the following:
- Edit your work from the previous steps.
- Try to edit a passage from your favorite book.
- Try to edit an entire newspaper article.
- Find another lengthy social media post and edit it.
Hire a professional editor if you have the money. You can also exchange manuscripts with other authors for critiquing. This of course means you have to be open to reading other people’s work and giving them feedback.
Consider finding beta readers. These are ordinary readers who can give you a glimpse of how the general public will receive your work.
You can find people willing to do this for free on social media. That said, paid beta readers usually provide the best results. You can find beta readers for as cheap as $20 on places like Upwork and Fiverr.
You finally made it. The only thing left now is to get your manuscript out into the world. You have two choices when it comes to publishing. You can either self-publish or work with a publisher.
Self-publishing means you’ll have to hire your own cover designers, editors, and marketing experts, but there are mistakes you should avoid. But you retain total control of your work, and all profits aside from what platforms like Amazon take is yours.
On the other hand, going with a publisher means access to top-of-the-range resources. Finding a publisher is unfortunately hard as competition is fierce.
Here are some considerations to help you decide:
- How big is the market for your work?
- Has it ever been published somewhere else before – publishers are not enthusiastic about previously published work.
- Do you have the expertise to edit, format, design covers, market, etc.?
- Are you willing to wait for a long time before getting published – publishing through a publisher can take up to three years before your book is out in the world.
Any decision you make is fine. Just make it based on facts and research.
- Go to Amazon.com and research how their self-publishing program works.
- Go back to the list of books (or other content) similar to yours that you drew up during the prewriting stage. Find out:
- Who published those? What is that company’s publishing process?
- Which literary agents represent those authors? How do those agents sign new clients?
Publishing can be a lucrative business. Because there’s money to be made, there’re sharks waiting to pounce on unwise authors. Always carefully research anyone who claims they can help you. Remember that in publishing, money always flows from the publisher to the author and not the other way around.
Don’t forget the golden rule: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Key Tips For Developing Your Writing Process
The process is all about you and no one else. It’s more important for it to work for you than it is to follow every single step. If you work better without a detailed outline, go ahead and write without one. If you prefer revising each scene immediately after writing it, feel free to do so.
Consider having a second set of eyes look at your manuscript before publishing. This can be critique partners, beta readers, or a professional editor. Avoid only getting feedback from close friends and family – they are not qualified to do this, and are less likely to be honest if they don’t like your work.
Be wary of procrastination that looks like work. You have no business trying to design a book cover before you even have an idea. You don’t need Facebook ads for a book that’s still in the drafting phase.
Above all, have fun. Try not to stress. It’s okay to walk away from your manuscript for a while if you are feeling overwhelmed.
Automation: Can You Automate The Writing Process?
Automated writing refers to using any number of AI tools to generate content. Automation tools have come a long way in producing natural-sounding content. Automated content still has a few drawbacks. These include unoriginal content, answers that don’t always solve the problem, and the occasional nonsensical phrase.
Use automation tools sparingly if you do decide to use them.
Final Word On The Writing Process
The writing process is a flexible number of steps you can follow as you work on your book. Stages in the process include rewriting, planning and outlining, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.
Do you have a writing process different from what we’ve discussed? Let’s have your opinion in the comments 🙂
Have fun writing!