The Four Essential Stages of Writing (for Anything You’re Working On)

Note: This post was first published in 2011, and updated in July 2018.

Do you struggle to focus when you’re writing, or do you find yourself starting and stopping a lot? It might be because you’re skipping certain stages of the writing process without even realising.

In my post, 7 Habits of Serious Writers, I cover the importance of actually writing, plus the need to redraft. But writing and redrafting aren’t the only stages you need to go through to produce an effective piece of writing.

Every finished writing project, big or small, passes through four stages:

  • Planning
  • Drafting
  • Rewriting
  • Editing

Sure, you could potentially publish a blog post without doing any planning, or any rewriting and editing. Unless you’re very lucky, though (or writing something extremely short), you’ll be lacking a clear focus, the structure won’t quite work, and there’ll be clumsy sentences all over the place.

It wouldn’t really be a finished piece. It would be a draft.

The four stages don’t always have to be tackled in order. Sometimes, you’ll find that they can be combined – rewriting and editing, for instance. They don’t necessarily have to be carried out by the same person. (When freelancing, I’ve written blog posts based on other people’s plans, and I’ve often had my work edited by others.)

But it’s crucial to be clear about what each stage involves. If you’re struggling with a particular piece of writing, there’s a good chance that you’ve skipped a step somewhere – or that you’ve tried to do everything at once.

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The Right Way to Expand a Too-Short Piece of Writing

Quick announcement: I’ve just launched two brand new self-study seminar packs (sets of recorded seminars you can download and work through at your own pace).

The new ones are:

  • The Advanced Fiction Pack (#5) (covering story ideas, heroes & villains, handling viewpoint, and more)
  • The Novel Editing Pack (#6) (covering structure & outlining, the difference between revision and editing, and more)

The seminar packs are normally $19.99, but until Thursday 5th July, I’m running a launch offer on these two, making them just $9.99.

I’ve also temporarily reduced an earlier seminar pack, The Craft of Fiction (#2), to $9.99 so you can pick that one up too if you haven’t already got it — then you’ll have the full fiction-writing set!

You can find out all about the seminar packs here.

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Note: This post was originally published in 2012, and was updated in June 2018.

One common issue that standard writing advice covers is how to cut down your first draft.

And this advice comes up time and time again for a good reason. It’s easy to over-write, perhaps telling the reader things that you’ve already shown them, or using five words where one would do, or repeating yourself unintentionally.

But under-writing is a problem too – and one that I don’t often see tackled.

Under-writing often shows up in a failed attempt to reach a word-count:

  • You were supposed to write a 1,500 word essay for school, but you finished in 800 words.
  • You’re entering a 2,000 word short story competition, but your story is over after 1,000.
  • You know that novels in your genre should be at least 80,000 words, but yours is only 50,000.
  • You want your blog posts to be at least 500 words, but they keep coming out at 300.

So what can you do about it?

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Everything You Need to Know About Writing Brilliant Blog Posts

Over the last eight years, I’ve written hundreds (probably thousands!) of blog posts for dozens of different blogs.

I’ve also written quite a bit about blogging. Today, I wanted to share five of my favourite pieces about blogging, all published here on Aliventures over the past couple of years:

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“Show, Don’t Tell” Doesn’t Always Apply: Here’s What You Need to Know

If you’ve been in any writing groups, read any writing books or blogs, or hung out in any writing-related forums online … you’ve probably come across these three words of advice:

“Show, don’t tell.”

It’s a very commonly quoted writing “rule”. There’s enough truth in it that I wouldn’t call it bad advice – for that, check out my posts Four Dangerous Pieces of Advice for Writers and Four More Dangerous Pieces of Advice for (Fiction) Writers.

However … it’s not a rule you need to stick to all of the time.

Plus, even when “show, don’t tell” does apply, it can be tricky to be sure exactly what’s meant by it. Where’s the line between “telling” and “showing”?

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Four Dangerous Pieces of Advice for Writers (And What to Do Instead)

Any writing-related advice that says you should always or never do something can generally be taken with a very large pinch of salt!

I’m sure you’ve heard lots of poor writing advice over the months, years or even decades that you’ve been writing. Here are some that I come across quite frequently – from often well-intentioned people.

Several of these might work for some people in some circumstances. Some are best ignored altogether!

Today, I want to look at some advice that almost all writers will hear at some point, whether it’s from an interested friend, a fellow writing group member, or a self-styled guru…

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Why Some Writers Are Much Faster than Others: Four Quotes and Six Key Reasons

I’ve written before about writing fast versus writing slow – but it’s an issue I wanted to look at again, particularly in terms of how many words per hour or per day is a “good” rate of writing.

In my late teens, I mentioned to a fellow member of my writing group that I normally wrote 1,000 words in an hour. Their reaction suggested this was a surprisingly fast rate!

Since then, I’ve come across writers for whom a hundred words in an hour is great … and others who won’t be happy unless they’re hitting 3,000 words per hour or more.

Are the slow writers just procrastinators?

Are the fast writers just hacks?

I don’t think so. I think that there are a lot of factors affecting how fast (or not) writers physically get words down onto the page – and neither fast or slow is “better”.

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Short Story Competitions: Are They Worth Entering?

Over the years, I’ve entered a fair few short stories into competitions.

I’m a novelist by inclination, and so most of my fiction writing has been on much longer projects … but I’ve found short stories a great way to try out different techniques, to work to deadline, and to simply have fun.

If you’ve never entered a writing competition, why not give it a try?

You might be worried that everyone else will be amazingly good – but unless you’re going for really big competitions (like the Bridport Prize), you’ll probably  find that the other writers entering aren’t at a super-high standard.

Back in 2007-8, when I was still a relatively inexperienced writer working a full-time day job, I managed to get a couple of shortlistings and a couple of small prizes (a 3rd place and a 2nd place) in Writing Magazine’s competitions.

Looking back at those stories, I cringe a bit: they’re definitely not my greatest writing, but they did well enough to get somewhere in a competition – which was hugely encouraging to me at that stage in my writing career.

After quite a few years focused on novels, I’ve gone back to short story competitions again this year. I entered a couple in January and February – one story sank without a trace; the other (rather to my astonishment) won first prize and was printed in Writing Magazine. You can read it, plus the judge’s lovely comments, here.

So even if, like me, you’re not a particularly experienced or accomplished short story writer … think about giving competitions a go.

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Is Your Writing Just an Expensive Hobby (and So What If It Is?)

Do you see your writing as a profession or a hobby?

Or both?

While some writers insist that writing is much more than a hobby – it’s a job, a business, even a calling – you might find it helpful to (at least some of the time) treat it like a hobby.

I know that some writers feel that “hobby” has negative connotations … but hobbies have plenty of advantages, after all:

You’re not expected to make money at a hobby. I enjoy reading; I’ve no ambitions to be a paid reader! I can spend time reading without anyone (including me) expecting that I’ll make even a small part of a living from it.

You can spend money on a hobby. Think of golf, sports, craft, even enjoying a particular band: so long as it’s reasonable within your household budget, you don’t feel bad about spending on these things.

Your hobby is (generally) a relaxing break from the rest of life. When I write fiction, I try to see it as something I do – first and foremost – because I enjoy it. A couple of weeks ago, I spent a whole evening working on a short piece that may or may not ever become something I publish … but it doesn’t matter, because I really enjoyed writing it!

 

I’m certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t be ambitious, or that you can’t turn your writing into a paying job. I do think, though, that treating your writing as a hobby, at least some of the time, can take the pressure off.

If, for instance, you want more writing time but you’re struggling to explain that to your partner or family, then you may find it easiest to frame your writing as a hobby. Everyone needs (and deserves!) some down time. Maybe their hobby is playing football on a Saturday; yours is writing.

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What to Do When Your Writing Goals Seem a Long Way Off

What do you want to achieve with your writing?

You might have all sorts of goals. Here are just a few possibilities:

  • You want to win a short story competition.
  • You want to make an extra $500/month freelancing.
  • You want to make a full-time living as a fantasy novelist.
  • You want to sell 100,000 copies of your latest book.
  • You want to get a book onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Some goals are more “realistic” than others. Some goals might take years or even decades to achieve.

Whatever your writing goals are, you might feel like they’re a very long way off. If you’ve currently written a total of two short stories, ever, then making a full-time living writing fiction is going to take a while.

When your goals seem so far away, it’s easy to get discouraged – or even to give up entirely. If you’re going to keep writing, you need to do three key things:

  • Set intermediate goals
  • Get support from other writers
  • Review your progress regularly

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