Writing Advice

Help for Authors and Writers

The Stages of Writing

It’s funny because it’s true...

While I won’t say I speak for all writers or their process, I think it’s fair to say most writers will identify some of the stages I’ve identified in the process of going from Book Idea to Finished Book.

Stage 1: Excitement. You’re just be-bopping along, minding your own business, maybe fixing a nice stir-fry or watching reruns of Altered Carbon or taking a walk or whatever, and wham! An idea falls into your head from that abstract land where all stories live, waiting for a suitable vessel to write them. You rush to your computer, the promise of a new story coursing through you, and you sit down to write.

Stage 2: Eagerness. The words flow around you and through you as fast as you can type. You’re not even thinking about it, you’re merely a conduit. Everything is effortless. The file grows longer and longer. This is awesome! The story writes itself! You feel the thrill of that first long fall on the Writer’s Roller Coaster.

Stage 3: Despair. The words stop flowing without effort. Now you have to think about it. What happens next? You’re not sure. Maybe you’ll never be sure. Maybe you aren’t cut out for this. You slog down into the word-mines, with a pickaxe slung over your shoulder, but the seam has been played out and there are no more words to chip from the living rock. You stare at a blinking cursor, wondering how your life has led you here, wondering if maybe you should’ve taken that job at Costco sweeping the floor in the walk-in freezer. You start considering a new career as a mercenary in some war-torn hellhole. Anything but this.

Stage 4: Grim determination. There’s nothing in the refrigerator but six-day-old Mac & Cheese and a bunch of those little ketchup packets they always put in the bottom of your fast-food bag even when you tell them you don’t want any ketchup. You’re a writer. Writing is what you do. You sit in front of the computer again, this time with a sense of purpose. You will make those words submit, oh yes you will.

Stage 5: Inspiration. Your head aches from staring at that damn blinking cursor, taunting you, defying you, teasing you with words unwritten. You get up to fix a nice hot cup of tea and maybe take a shower, and then…it hits you! What happens next? I mean, it’s just so obvious! You wrap a towel around yourself and race back to the computer. Once more the words flow, as effortlessly as a kitten’s meow when it realizes its bowl is empty and there may be no more food forever and ever because the bowl is out of food which means no more food in the bowl.

You’ll cycle between stages 3 and 5 for a while, by which I mean a year, as the novel slowly takes form and shape. And then on that fateful day when the first draft is complete, it’s on to…

Stage 6: Rewriting. You’ve finished the story! Woohoo! Now you’re a third of the way through the process! Or maybe a quarter! Or, who knows, a sixth! You stare at the computer in shock. You have to do it all again, but this time you have to pay attention. No more allowing the words to flow without effort, oh no. You need to pay attention to continuity. Time of day. Timing. Are your characters where they need to be? This stuff is important; you don’t want to end up with the next Terminator 3, after all.

Terminator 3

This is what happens when you don’t pay attention to details like continuity or, you know, time of day.

Stage 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11: More rewriting. Oh God, whyyyy? You are so sick of this book. You’ve read it from cover to cover, like, seven times. You keep making changes. You don’t even know if the changes are good or bad anymore. You don’t even know if you want to live anymore. You cycle between “wow, this thing I wrote is really quite good!” and “This is shit, I am shit” like, five times an hour.

Stage 12: At last, you’re done. Not because you’re finished, but because the book needs to go into editing. You haven’t left the house in days. Every dish you own is piled in the sink. You’ve ordered another case of tea from Amazon, which was probably a bad idea because you’re already on the edge of caffeine toxicity and you’ve been there for a week, but you’re done. Because, you see, the world outside you has these things called “schedules” and such, and they say you’re done.

Stage 13: Your reward! You’ve survived the Writer’s Roller Coaster, you’ve produced a book, and now, at long last, the payoff for all this agony and suffering… …you get to start the next one!