The 10 Stages of Writing: Iterating Ideas from Draft to Done

The writing process can make your brain feel like processed cheese (not to mention your self-esteem). Here are 10 steps for writing that will help you bridge the gap between one-and-done-drafts and that book chapter you’ve been rewriting for years.

-1. I’m assuming you’re writing electronically. If your method is pen and paper, that’s really cool, but not what I am doing here. I will say that writing stuff out can be helpful for steps 1 and/or 2, but I find it just delays the true editing process. I’d rather have electronic text—typically Google Docs—at the ready, since it is more malleable and ready for iteration.

0. Before you begin, and at any of the points listed below, intersperse a walk or other low-impact exercise. This clears your mind but also percolates fresh outlooks and ideas.

1. Start by typing out your goal or idea in a sentence or two. You may also want to type out some high-level points in a list. You can build upon this list or just refer to it once you have more written down.

2. Pour all your thoughts out onto the page unencumbered by structure. Don’t worry about the order of what you have to say, just say it. Keep typing and allow for as few mental roadblocks as you can manage.

3. Look at what you’ve produced and try to find some order in it. Start breaking the text into sections, maybe with some placeholder headers that may or may not make it into the final draft (personally, I love section headers).

4. Reread what you have so far a few times so you can lock the proto-draft into your head. You started with an idea and now you have a bunch of words that ought to be bolstering it. You need to internalize what you just typed out about your original idea.

5. Save your work and walk away—for half a day at least. The odds of you hammering furiously on your keyboard and outputting your final, best draft on the first go are slim to none. You need to stew on what you’ve tried to say to see if it holds water still. Plus, your mind needs to be reset a bit so you can come back with fresh, clever, critical eyes.

6. Open up your document and begin trimming the fat. Rather than look at the whole draft, focus on each paragraph singly. Reduce the amount of words used to express yourself. Combining sentences logically. Smooth out your future reader’s path by removing awkward sentence structure or halting word choices. Usually, I toggle over from Editing to Suggesting in Google Docs so I can see both what I first wrote and my possible revisions simultaneously; I can’t learn without the comparison.

7. Shift back to macro and look at your draft as a whole. Move sections around as necessary (another great pro for using electronic docs). Make a sensible structure of your words and be ready to cut whole paragraphs if they break the flow.

8. When you think you have your final draft, read it out loud slowly. I always find a few pseudo-typos this way (like when I meant to type “our” and instead typed “out” but it didn’t trigger a spellcheck red squiggle because life isn’t fair).

9. If it still doesn’t seem done, put it down for a day. Odds are that what you’ve written is good to go, but you’ve fatigued your mind with the editing process. You need a rest before you make a final call.

10. Return anew and, if all looks well: Publish! Or Email! Print! Whatever your delivery method, you’ve done your due diligence and can call it “done” with confidence. Well done! If things still seem awry, revisit steps 6 or 7. Just remember that we all believe in you and, once you’re done, there are pizza bagels in the freezer.

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One Comment

  1. Good Tips John! I use many of these myself. I sometimes dictate my first thoughts if they especially tough to map out.

    And sometimes it easier to “Write drunk, edit sober.”


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