The 7-Stage Writing Process
A huge part of learning how to write, I've discovered, is learning about you as a writer.
We all write differently. We all have our quirks. What works for one might not work for another, so it's essential you become aware of your process.
Having a process makes for a more productive writer. It limits the amount of time you spend spinning in circles trying to figure out what next, and it decreases the chances of you becoming overwhelmed.
I know for me, deciphering my creative process as a writer freed up more time for me to write. It gives me insights into how to jump-start my creativity whenever I'm in a rut. My process has helped in the development of new story ideas and fleshing out the necessary elements. It has also brought into focus my strengths and weaknesses.
So if you're looking for a way to organize your writing, I've got a 7-Stage Writing Process. I'll add links to resources as they become available.
Let's dive in!
I am a planner at heart.
I make to-do lists (and do my damndest to tick things off), I time block like a responsible adult, I create processes for my writing and revisions in stages. All this breaks down the chaos in my head into small bits I can better manage to get the things done.
At the start of 2018, I dived into my resolution to complete my first polished manuscript. It started great; you know that New Year energy, but it petered off as the scope of work grew wider and wider.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, massive floods of information cripple my progress. In overwhelming situations, I have to establish a sanity-saving distance and gain a new perspective. That was how I broke up all the things I needed to accomplish into smaller tasks. Tasks I eventually grouped into stages. And so my 7-Stage Writing Process was born. Cue heavenly music.
7-Stage Writing Process
The thing you need to understand about your writing process is the order changes. Sometimes an idea comes to us, and we see the characters better than the world, or we have a vivid picture of the world but no plot.
So don't get bogged down by the 1-2-3 setup. Writing is dynamic. Go with the flow. Your process is a fluid guide of markers to hit; allow your creativity to decide the route to navigate between them.
Stage #1: Pre-Writing
A. Brainstorm Ideas
Brain dumping on paper (or screen) the ideas you already have unclutters your mind during pre-writing. It's the start of your story notebook or digital story bible.
If you're sitting down trying to come up with a new idea, it's an excellent way to shake loose the muse. Being proactive about your inspiration gives better results.
Check out my Frankenstein Brainstorm Method for a guided exercise in idea generation.
B. Novel Overview
With a general idea of what I want to write, I'll set up a page with some preliminary information.
● Draft Title
● Estimated word count
● Daily word count goal
● Date started
● Deadline goal
● Actual Date of Completion
● Final Word Count
All this information (though you may not have all the answers right away) is essential for project tracking. Note them somewhere in your story notebook or digital bible.
As one of my favorite parts of the process (and a writing strength), I get pretty involved in my worldbuilding. Map creations, monsters (cause why the heck not), locations, races, etc.
I also like to create histories for the worlds I build, so they don't feel as if they popped up out of nowhere. Though they did, duh, it is fiction.
Real-world elements like breathtaking locations, fascinating cultures, and historical events give my worldbuilding added depths.
D. Character Building
Arguably one of my least favorite areas, character building is an ongoing process.
I don’t always reference the long list of attributes I map out, often discovering who my characters are as I write. Call me an exploration writer when it comes to character building.
But if you are a stickler for character sheets and the like, my friend Rebecca has turned it into a Dr. Phil art form. Her Character Mindset Worksheets are excellent resources for character building.
Stage #2: Plotting Structure
A. Plot/Story Type
On to the good stuff. Plotting is my jam and bread. I love it. I love the feeling of piecing a story together.
There are several ways you can do this, but it starts with deciding what type of plot you're going to create. Plot or Story Types should not be confused with Plot Structures. For added clarity, I’ll give you two examples.
The Basic Seven Plots by Christopher Booker:
● Overcoming the monster
● Rags to Riches
● The Quest
● Voyage and Return
If you're as a big a fan of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody as I am then you know …
Not Your Mother's Genres:
● Rites of Passage
● Dude with a Problem
● Fool Triumph
● Buddy Love
● Out of the Bottle
● Golden Fleece
● Monster in the House
As Brody noted, “if you want to write a good story, you have to know what good stories are made of.”
B. Plot Structure
The selection of Plot Structures available goes on for a minute. Throughout my posts on plotting, you'll notice I have a mash-up of three: The Four Act Structure, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, and K.M. Weiland’s Plot Points.
Because I’ve discovered while writing that one system doesn’t necessarily give me the structure I need. It’s a whole process so I’ll get more into it in another post.
Stage #3: Pre-Outlining
A. Develop a Premise
The premise is the foundation on which you build your novel. It’s a statement about how an action affects the characters in your story. A well-constructed premise contains the whole of your story in one to two sentences.
What’s harder than boiling down your 95k manuscript into a spoon-sized summary? Anyone? Can’t think of anything? Me neither.
But, if you can narrow your story down into a strong premise, then my friend, you have a promising manuscript on your hands.
Thankfully there are formulas you can apply as helpers in crafting a strong premise.
Stage #4: Outlining the Story
A. More Brainstorming
The brainstorming frankly never ends. New ideas will come as you explore different aspects of your story. Note them down. Never trust the voice that tells you you’ll remember it later. The voice lies.
For more plot ideas, explore your characters to unlock your plot.
B. Expand Premise into Synopsis
Think of this as the dry run for your submissions synopsis. Lay out the main plot of your story, as stated in the premise.
Figuring out your main plot can help in crafting subplots that weave seamlessly into the main story.
C. Plot Beats in Trello
Once I have a general idea of my plot, I break it down into beats. As I mentioned before I incorporate four systems into one.
To plot my beats in Trello, I focus on the fifteen listed in Save the Cat! Writes a Novel + three plot points from K.M. Weiland — (1) the Inciting Incident, (2) the First and (3) Second Pinch Points.
In total, I have eighteen beats. Crazy, right? But super helpful as I plot my story one scene at a time.
D. Macro Outline in Spreadsheet
The crown jewel of my plotting process rests in the spreadsheet. It organizes all the essential elements I include in my novel into an at a glance document for easy reference.
In the spreadsheet, I created four color-coded sections symbolizing the Four Act Structure.
Both spreadsheet and Trello give you the ability to shuffle things around as you make changes.
E. Micro Outline
Whereas the Macro Outline gives a big-picture snapshot of your plot, the Micro Outline focuses on breaking down each scene. It dives deeper into details than the information logged in the Macro Outline.
I tend to leave the Micro Outline until Draft 2 and beyond when I start to be nitpicky about the details, but you can use it for the first draft if it works for you. Whatever works, right?
Stage #5: Drafting Process
A. Fast Draft
There isn’t much I can say about a fast draft other than sit down, write, and don’t overthink. Tell yourself the story as you see it unraveling in her mind using the beats you’ve created as markers. Don’t get hung up on detailed descriptions or whatever changes that happen along the way, draft one is about discovery.
You can fancy it all up and make sense of the mess in revisions.
Kristen Kieffer gives some great pointers in her blog Should You Fast-Draft Your Novel? Give it a read and decide if it’s the best option for your writing process.
Stage #6: Revision
A. Take a Break
I’ve seen a lot of writers talk about not being able to take breaks as it throws them off their stride. But those same writers not long after end up being burned out.
I used to be one of those writers. And in my experience, it’s easier to pick up from an intentional break than from burnout. Even if it’s only for a week or two, do your brain a favor and give it a rest.
Step away from your project and come back fresh. The distance can give you new perspectives on how to strengthen your novel.
B. The 5-Draft Revision Process
I revise in phases because I get overwhelmed easily. Too much information excites the over thinker in me. So for each draft, I designate a purpose and focus on that alone.
Impatience has no place in writing. Another lesson I have learned the hard way many times. And continue to learn if I'm honest.
Writing is a process from ideation straight into publication. Create steps to get each major point accomplished and refine them as you go along.
A well-oiled system lends to productivity. I’ll tackle the phases of my revisions in a post later on.
Stage #7: Get Feedback
A. Critique partners
Critique Partners are fellow writers with knowledge of the craft. They help you in the first stage of your feedback, often while you’re writing. Feedback from Critique Partners is heavily based on technical writing issues.
B. Beta Readers
Beta Readers, on the other hand, don't have to be fellow writers. They give you feedback from the ‘reader's' perspective.
Follow the link for added information on both along with helpful resources.
And there you have it, the steps I go through when working on a project from start to finish. My process takes the guesswork out of "what now," increasing my productivity.
What steps do you repeat to complete your writing projects?
Take some time and consider your writing process. Map it out in stages with subtasks beneath each. Then evaluate and see if any crucial elements are missing.
● Has your process been contributing to your creativity?
● Does your current process lend to you completing your projects? Or do you need to tweak it for better results?
● What are your strengths and weaknesses?
● Which stage excites you the most and what can you do to make the not-so-exciting steps/subtasks more bearable?
As you grow as a writer, your process will change, become more refined and efficient.