How To Work Through The 11 Stages Of Writing

As my novel ideas have come screaming back like a furious banshee over the last few weeks, it got me thinking about the Stages of Writing.

For those hardened writers who have been at it for ages, I’m sure you will see some familiarity here. 

For those newly joining us in the world of writing, welcome to what the journey will hold. 🙂

Title Image: Text - How to work through the 11 stages of writing. Image: Box of balloons made of lightbulbs


Stage 1 – The Spark

Struck (in the head) by Genius

This is when the Genius or Muse appears one day and bashes you senseless with an idea.  Some of these ideas come like boulders tumbling from a great height as the plot of a story.

Others leave cracks in your mind for thin shoots to poke through, just a wisp of an idea that has the makings of something bigger.

It is when that spark hits and lights that fire when you start to realise that writing is what you’re meant for.  Especially if that spark just keeps growing.


Stage 2 – Daydreaming

Brain farting

So the spark has spread, refusing to be extinguished.  So we move to stage 2, where you spend your time ignoring people, staring vacantly into space, struggling to focus on anything other than the idea.

The daydreaming stage usually allows more thoughts to convalesce and pull together making something bigger and maybe even showing signs of structure.

You see a stronger thread running through this wisp of a story – huzzah the main plot is born!


Stage 3 – Planning

Becoming serious

You still ignore people but this time you lock yourself away and try your best to focus more on the story threads and budding characters than anything else.

The concept that other things need your attention is shunned as you scribble notes, create character spreadsheets or profiles.  You start to build up points on the graph that the plot threads connect to.

You form the basic structure – beginning, middle and end.  It’s still pretty tenuous and tries not to shift too many pieces in case it rips a hole through the middle of your plot.


Stage 4 – Outlining

The crying stage

Now, this is when many writers branch off onto different roads.  Some are hardened pantsers who shun the idea of outlines and thunder through their story without a thought.

A lucky few will manage it, yet more will end up circling the runway and coming back to this stage to try again with outlining.

Outlining is spinning the web, creating an intricate map from the beginning of the story to the end.  This web can become intensely complicated if you weave in a shit-load of subplots.

This stage is also the time when you usually find some of the biggest glaring plot holes – usually, ones that you kinda knew were there but refused to acknowledge them at the time…in hopes that the writing gods would have fixed them for you.

Tempers fray, you start to lose faith and think the whole thing is a waste.  The outline shows that the story can’t proceed without a scene you like, being cut or a character dying.  This can leave you curled up in a corner weeping into the carpet.

The writer’s temperament rears its head here, spitting and cursing and if you are smart, you step away until you’re ready to address those gaping holes.

(Or if you are like me you continue to try and force the round peg through the square hole because god-damn it that round hole scene is AWESOME and just NEEDS TO BE THERE!!)

Check out my How to outline your novel post.


Stage 5 – Writing

oh boy, finally the fun bit

Yes, the fun stage, the one we’ve all been waiting for.  The words can’t be typed fast enough as the characters chatter away in our heads and the whole thing unfolds as an awesome movie that we could watch over and over.


Stage 6 – Crippling Doubt

Can sometimes develop into full-blown Creative Constipation

This can strike at any time amid the writing though I usually get it about a third of the way through.

Suddenly something doesn’t feel right or I’ll hit a minor snag that builds in until I’m glowering at the screen convinced that writing is not “my thing”.

It is the curse of the creative soul, whether writers, musicians, artists etc, we can become overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy and doubt in our work.  It’s shit but it happens to us all.

This is why it helps to have friends or family who understand you and your weird artistic temperament.  They can be your voice of reason and reassurance, they can stop you doing something idiotic like deleting everything you’ve written

Friends and family not supportive?  Then find someone who is.  The internet is great for that!  IF you are still struggling to find someone who understands, drop me a comment and I will yell at you for doubting yourself.


Stage 7 – More writing

Interspersed with more crying and doubt

So you made it through the crippling doubt, beat it off with a gnarly old stick and you are back to writing!   Usually, those soul-sucking doubt pockets can often end on a high were the stuff you write after is awesome.

Suddenly you are riding that high like a unicorn on speed and imagining winning the Booker Prize or the Pulitzer and doing book signings full of fans who just love your work.

Ahh but then the unicorn blows chunks and explosively poops all over your parade and you are back to crying and hating your work.

To be honest I think a large chunk of the writing experience is this up and down of unicorn-riding roller-coaster.

I think it’s the price we pay for being given the spark of creative awesomeness in the first place.  So suck it up and stomp on through.


Stage 8 – Self-Editing

The “Be Ruthless” stage

You’ve finished with your first draft, it’s grubby and there’s probably some blood on the pages from all the embolisms you had creating the stupid thing.  So now you have to turn on your inner critic and red pen the shit out of your manuscript.

That’s right, you have to read through it over and over.  Everything from spelling and grammar to inconsistencies and continuity errors.

You will spot more plot holes, usually small subtle ones but they’re still there, damn it’s like your manuscript is infested with moths!


Stage 9 – The Repeat

It’s Groundhog Day!

So you just kind of repeat for what feels like forever.  You scribble your edits, update the WIP, print and repeat.  For like 8 drafts!

Hopefully each time the stupid manuscript, that you are starting to lose patience with, is getting better.

You might not always see it but that’s because Writer’s Blindness has probably set in. This is where you need to put down the novel, step away for a few days, a week or a month and get it out of your system.

Then come back with fresh eyes and another red pen….and repeat.


Stage 10 – The Trim

Slash and burn!

I feel this is a stage on its own, separate from the edit.  The Edit is cleaning the manuscript, the trim is where you take the polished manuscript and read it again with the sole purpose of reducing the trite that has remained throughout.

Excessive description, unnecessary dialogue etc.  Unless of course, you are one of those more rare writers who need to add because you’ve been a bit light on details.


Stage 11 – Letting Go

Time to share

This is where you release your work into the world.  Whether that is to beta readers, CPs, an editor or agent.  Eventually, you have to let someone else read it and judge it.

Get ready for yet more vomiting diarrhoea unicorns of crippling doubt… but that’s okay, it’s what being a writer is all about…and let’s be honest, we love it really 🙂

~ ☆ ~

Happy writing

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5 thoughts on “How To Work Through The 11 Stages Of Writing

  1. Pingback: 11 questions most writers hate being asked | Ari Meghlen – Writer | Blogger | Bad card player

  2. I loved this! I could relate to nearly every word. The only true difference I see, is I love my stories. I can’t help myself, as I must be conceited, prejudice and all those negatives because I love them even after I’ve read them so many times I want to never see the story again. If I see anything that reminds me of a particular story I reminisce. Sad, huh?!

    1. Thanks for the comment 🙂 lol I don’t think it’s conceited, I think it’s great you love your stories. I do too, only when I am really having a crappy moment with my (extensive) subplots do I start to get all “OMG this is crap”…three days later I’m back reminding myself how awesome my writing it. (Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say the feelings are usually OMG I’m crap!”)

      I think the worst one was when I wrote this brilliant pirate section and no matter what I did, the plot just refused to accept it – ruined the whole flow… so I threw a tantrum and stomped away cursing that the whole thing was futile. My partner (who is definitely the calm collected one in our relationship) insisted I remove the section and work it into the sequel. When I did remove it from the novel, the flow came back and the story is sooo much better.

      1. I actually threw a temper tantrum for a week when I knew I had to kill the main girl in one of my novels. I didn’t want to kill her. As I was writing the scene my daughters best friend came into my bedroom, where I was writing at the time, and asked me what was wrong. I tried to explain to her how painful it was and she said, “Nonny, but you’re the one writing it.” True. It was a rough moment.

  3. Pingback: Stages of Writing | fiddledeedeebooks

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