Stages of the Writing Process

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To get the most from your writing time, it helps to work in stages. Each part of the process requires a different mindset. Story ideas demand creativity. Outlines are logical constructions. First drafts ask that you become a prolific uncritical writer. Second and final drafts put you into an editorial role. Getting your work out to the public requires sales, marketing and negotiation skills.

Idea Generation

A great way to work on story, article and book ideas is to keep a file of ideas. If you keep your idea file handy, you can add ideas to it any time they come up. Even when you’re not writing, you can get ideas from what you read and the activities you’re participating in. I keep a small notepad in my back pocket for just this purpose. It’s not just good for capturing ideas. Sometimes you’ll find yourself filling many pages when ideas expand as you write them. That brings us to the next stage.

One Liners (Themes)

A one liner is a theme. Rather than just a vague idea, it is a line that explains the entire plot or outline of something you would like to write in one sentence. If you need to write more than one sentence, go ahead. You may be moving your theme forward to the status of a plot.


A plot is a walkthrough of the story you are considering writing. It is usually a single paragraph. To write a plot, start with the ideas that launch the story and grab your readers. Decide what obstacles will need to be overcome and work out a resolution.

The plot for nonfiction is also a road map. The “story” involves developing the readers’ understanding in some area. You need to catch their interest early, overcome obstacles to learning and wrap up with a clear overview of your topic.


A synopsis expands the plot into a condensed short story of the complete novel. It must work through the actions that will lead to each change and build to the dramatic conclusion.

For non-fiction, you will build your topic up from introductory material through more complex ideas and end with an overview. The synopsis expands the plot with chapter topics and a brief look at what you will cover in each.


Some writers prefer to use only an outline or only a synopsis. Both are good tools to guide you through writing your first draft. The outline is more useful because it’s more detailed.

Your outline should be about ten percent as long as the final book length you have planned. Write your story as if you were telling it to a friend who just wants the high points. Skip deep description and dialogue. You need to include everything important and none of the side stories.

The outline will reveal whether your story has a good flow. It also makes it much easier to detect plot holes before you’ve written the entire manuscript.

An outline is also a good nonfiction step. By writing about your subject in a prose style, you will reveal whether your sub-topics naturally follow one another.

First Drafts

The first draft is the secret weapon of many courses where you can write a book in a few days, a week or a month. The key is that this is the first of three drafts. It doesn’t matter how badly you write or how much mess you make. You will have two more drafts to fix any problems. With that in mind, you should be able to fly through your writing project in no time.

Be sure you know what tense and person you’re writing in and keep to the same writing style throughout. Otherwise, just keeping pounding out your manuscript. Let every idea flow out and keep going until you’re done.

Second Drafts

The second draft is a re-write of the first. This is much easier now that we can do it on computers. Re-save your first draft as the second and start making repairs. Re-write sentences and paragraphs. Move sections around. Correct spelling, sentence structure and paragraph length.

Add anything that needs to go in and cut, cut, cut. First cut out big sections that don’t need to be there, then cut smaller chunks. Cut sentences. Cut words. Look for every opportunity to improve your writing by cutting.

Keep track of where you are in the second draft using a bookmark. I just use the word “bookmark”. When you get to the end, take a day off and then read your manuscript from beginning to end without editing. Is it almost perfect?

If you feel like your manuscript is in really bad shape, repeat the second draft process. You should continue repeating the second draft process until you can say it’s good.

Final Drafts

When the second draft finally looks good, it’s time to write the final draft. Recheck everything; spelling, tense, sentence structure, chapter lengths, references, go over every detail. It’s your last chance to catch mistakes.

Some people, including me, prefer to just repeat the second draft process until they decide they have reached the final draft.

Presentation Themes

A presentation theme is a one-liner that describes the book you’ve written. It’s a lot like the one-liner you wrote earlier, but now it’s based on your finished work. You will put your theme to work as a link if you sell your book on the net. It can be your comeback if someone asks what your book is about and they’re looking for a short answer. For a screenplay, it may become the one-liner on the movie poster or DVD case.

Presentation Plots

The presentation plot is the same as a plot but written after the book is finished. Write a walk-through of your finished book in one or two paragraphs. You must reveal all major plot points including the ending.

Presentation plots are used in query letters to potential publishers. This short walk-through of no more than a page is your chance to grab their interest. If they like what they see, you may be asked to submit your manuscript or a presentation synopsis.

Presentation Synopses

The presentation synopsis summarizes your book. The length will vary depending on what your publisher wants. A popular way of writing this is to read your manuscript again and take notes along the way. It sounds crazy because you just wrote the book, but it’s necessary.

This is not a repeat of the synopsis you wrote above. That synopsis was to help you write your book. The presentation synopsis is to help you sell your book. You’ll want it to be as good as your manuscript and to be an accurate representation. You should put as much work into a presentation synopsis as you did the book. That’s effort, not time.

A final word on presentation synopses. Don’t write one if you don’t need one. They are most common in screen writing. If you’re going for a book deal, it may never come up.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short survey of the stages in the writing process. You don’t need to use every stage. Use what works for you to get the job done the way you like it.

Article by Ivan Izo.


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