This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links—at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.
Before diving into the five stages of the writing process, it’s important to understand that no writing process is the same.
Here, you won’t find rigid rules but more of a guideline.
Whether you’re curious about the stages of the writing process for college students or you’re a fiction writer, these 5 steps to the writing process and examples are relevant in academic writing, online SEO writing, creative writing, and more.
Stage 1: Brain Dump
In this prewriting stage, it’s all about brainstorming and early notes. Think of it as a stream-of-consciousness exercise with one goal in mind: Get your ideas out of your head and onto the paper/doc.
First you assess the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish, then narrow your focus.
Here are some helpful questions to ask in this prewriting step.
- Who are your readers?
- What’s the main conflict or driving idea?
- Who are the main and supporting characters?
- What references are necessary?
- Do you have an ending in mind?
- What comparative titles would be helpful to study?
- If a book club discussed your book, what themes or main ideas would you want them to bring up?
If you’re an academic writer, come up with your thesis—nothing has to be linear or complete. For some readers, this stage can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.
- Write lists
- Create word maps
- Make a storyboard
- Fill your “creative well” with quotes, inspiration, desired tone, etc.
For this stage in the writing process, allow yourself the freedom to write as if no one will read the final product. It’s not about how you organize the information—it’s about collecting the information and creating order later.
Editor Tip: Create a Storyboard
What is storyboarding? It’s a helpful exercise to visualize your story.
A brainstorming session can easily lead to storyboarding when you gather your ideas, goals, and references to map out a skeleton for your story—sketching scenes loosely so you can see from a high level where your novel is going.
Storyboarding is especially important for people writing picture books for children.
Stage 2: Research
The type of writing, setting, and topic will determine how much research you do. After you’ve decided on your main ideas, you need to dive into your sources.
For academic writing, this is obviously a crucial step to adequately provide analysis and hold up your thesis, but all writing can benefit from a research stage.
Maybe you include it organically in your writing process—your main character visits her aunt in Michigan and you need to quickly research what Michigan is like—but in general, the more research you do before the first draft, the better your writing will be.
Editor Tip: Research Similar Work
Not sure where to start? Try researching your genre and comparative titles. What made them work? What didn’t you like about them? How is the marketability for those books?
Obviously you want your work to be original, but just as an athlete would study a professional athlete’s techniques, a writer can study the storytelling techniques of another writer.
This type of research can be incredibly helpful and may even spark new ideas before your first draft.
Stage 3: Draft
Similar to the prewriting stage, this is the step in the writing process where you try not to censor yourself. You have your research and basic planning or outlines.
Or, if you’re a pantser writing your first draft, you ideally have some ideas jotted down about how you want readers to feel when they read your book.
Editor Tip: Learn Your Workflow
How you write the first draft start to finish is up to you and your workflow.
Some writers prefer to write some passages or chapters, read and revise it, write more, read and revise it, and so on until the book is complete.
Some writers prefer to write without revisiting it until the very end.
Other writers prefer to write certain parts of the story and then piece them all together.
If you have a hard time getting stuck in revisions or you tend to struggle with perfectionism, I would strongly encourage you to write your first draft without reviewing it right away.
Give yourself some distance before the self-editing phase.
Stage 4: Revision
Once you have a first draft, no matter how rough it may be, it’s time for the revision stage in the writing process. This sometimes requires reworking at a sentence level and adding in appropriate transitions and better word choices.
But overall, this is the stage to make sure everything works on a larger scale.
- Does the chronological order make sense?
- Do all of the characters and scenes advance the story?
- Does anything in the plot need to be resolved?
- Do you need to do more research in certain areas that feel a little thin, like worldbuilding?
Editor Tip: Review to Revise
During the revision stage, go back to your early notes in the brainstorming stage. Did you accomplish what you wanted to? If not, what changed?
Sometimes your story evolves into something else, and it can be a welcome surprise. Other times, you need to redirect.
Stage 5: Editing
After the hard work of revisions followed by multiple drafts, it’s time to self-edit your book or project. There are five main levels of editing:
- Developmental (structural) editing
- Content or line editing
- Copy editing
- Fact checking
Not sure how to edit your project and take your writing to the next level? This probably means you’re ready to put your work in the hands of a professional editor or proofreader.
Understanding that you don’t know what you don’t know can be one of the best things to happen to your work.
RELATED: Editor Talk | Four Types of Editing
Editor Tip: Find a Second Set of Eyes
It takes self-awareness to recognize you have blind spots, and a second set of (trained!) eyes at every stage of the publishing process is crucial.
This post was all about the 5 stages of the writing process, examples of questions to ask yourself at different steps in the writing process, and what you need to consider before getting started.