unfolding your writing process

Unfolding the writing process can help you figure out which steps may be tripping you up. It’s like reverse engineering a paper box by taking tab A out of slot B until you have a flat piece of paper. Putting it back together, one step at a time, sheds light on how it works.

The writing process steps listed below are detailed, to help with zeroing in on where things might start to go wonky. Even if you tend to write from start to finish relatively easily, you’ll likely recognize at least a step or two that tend to give you pause.

This list is based on years of experience delving into people’s writing processes. Not all steps will occur in exactly this order or be included for every writer or every project.

As you read through, notice which steps give you a feeling of dread or cause a reaction of “Ugh!” or “If only I could skip that one.”

  1. Decide on a topic to write about.
  2. Decide what format to write in (article, poem, book, letter, etc.).
  3. Decide on an audience (blog readers, out-of-work teachers, parents, etc.)
  4. Decide on a length (number of words or pages, etc.).
  5. Gather your thoughts (this often looks like daydreaming).
  6. Begin to get your gathered thoughts out of your head (handwrite some preliminary notes, speak into a recorder, type a rough draft, start an outline, etc.).
  7. Fumble around with your gathered thoughts to begin finding enough order to come up with a first draft.
  8. Come up with a first draft.
  9. Mull over the first draft, either while away from it or while fiddling more with it, or both.
  10. Fill in missing pieces or concepts by doing research, gathering information, and/or sitting around and musing to develop ideas.
  11. Organize, by cutting and pasting, reading it through, cutting and pasting some more, removing what’s not needed, and adding what is needed.
  12. Explore tailoring the draft toward a finished piece, by taking away what’s not pertinent for the final version that’s becoming clearer.
  13. Tailor further by attending to links (between sections, between paragraphs, between sentences, between phrases, etc.), smoothing the whole by smoothing connections between the parts.
  14. Read it through from start to finish and fix any stumbly bits in whatever way required (repair the logic, fix the misspelling, adjust the commas, etc.)
  15. Run it through a spell-check program, either on the computer or in the form of running it by someone who’s a good speller.
  16. Ask someone to read it through and give you feedback. Whether they’re a professional or a pal, ask someone who likes you and whom you trust to be kind, even as they offer critical suggestions for improvement.
  17. If you’ve written something to share, decide to let your work out into the world to have a life of its own.
  18. Finalize the delivery format (online, hard-copy, etc.).
  19. Produce or publish what you’ve written (hit the “publish” button online, give the printer the go-ahead, etc.).
  20. Notify your audience that your work is available (send the online broadcast, have the book launch party, do the marketing, etc.).
  21. Notice the results. Even your decisions about which responses to your creation you’ll value and which you’ll ignore inform your future writing process.


What did you discover? Maybe you stopped being interested after a certain step, finding the process exponentially more difficult to pull off from then on. A single step may be a huge problem, or a bunch of steps may mildly irritate.

The jackpot comes from knowing where you have trouble, because then you can tailor a solution to ease your passage. Exactly how you do that depends on which step it is, what solutions appeal to you, and your willingness to experiment until you find something that works or gain enough skills to no longer stumble.

Finding help for the weak steps in your writing process can be as simple as starting a writer’s group, taking a class, or moving your desk. There are lots ways to avoid troublesome steps altogether, many of which are free.

Some of the most successful authors I know of couldn’t do certain steps in this writing process if their life depended on it. They’ve gotten around that by figuring out how to play on their strengths and manage their weaknesses.

The key is knowing which steps you want to avoid. Start there.


Related reading: wait here, a simple way to write

3 comments to unfolding your writing process

  • Kimberly

    As always Grace, you inspire me. :) After reading through this list, I’m ready to put pen to paper!! The problem? I get stuck on step one!

    I will not be detered. Forward!


    • Hey, Kimberly. You could see what happens if you try starting somewhere else in the list (like on Step 6 – Begin to get your gathered thoughts out of your head). You might need a different starting point than Step 1 of this list. Do some experimenting — think about things you’ve written before (I know you have) and how you dealt with Step 1.

      (There’s always Step 0: Try something, anything, and pay attention to the results so you can zero in on what works.)

      In any case, not being deterred will take you far for sure!