You can’t edit your writing before you write. You also can’t publish your work before it goes through an edit. There’s a process to writing a book, and it takes time. To learn more about the steps of the creative writing process, keep reading.
What Is The Writing Process?
It may seem obvious to those who are seasoned writers or even if you’ve never tried writing a book before. But the process of creative writing is more of a step-by-step guide on the stages of writing a novel.
We all follow these steps for writing whether we realize it or not. However, we all do it differently, depending on our writing styles.
It’s also worth noting that depending on your creative writing type, your process will differ from someone else’s.
For instance, you may choose to write one (or more) of the following:
- Short Stories
- Scripts or Screenplays
In addition, every project you write will have a different process from the last, even if you’re going from one mystery novel to another mystery novel. Every story, every form of writing, is unique from the rest.
But what exactly are the stages of the writing process?
Steps Of The Creative Writing Process
Ask any writer what the steps to the creative writing process are, and I bet they’ll have a different answer from the previous writer you asked. Again, every writer follows these steps differently, but they’re more or less the same.
Some people outline, others don’t. But we all write, edit, write, edit, and repeat.
There’s so much more to it, so let’s break it down.
Yes, pre-writing is part of writing. There are many substeps to this part that people may or may not do. So, let’s dive in.
Your novel begins with an idea. Some writers take that idea and throw it to the wolves by writing it down and starting the story.
But there is a planning stage that many writers go through, whether they realize it or not.
When you come up with a story idea, you’re not only thinking about the overall plot, but you’re thinking about the character who would do well against that plot. You’re also thinking about the time period, systems (such as government or magic), character motives, and more.
In addition, when planning, you may wonder what to do with this idea. Do you write it for yourself? Do you write it for an audience? If so, who is your target audience?
What’s the purpose of your story? Why is it essential to be told, and why are you the writer to write it?
Once again, only some people think deeply about it. They get excited about their idea and begin to write. But, at some point during the process, these questions do arise.
That brings us to outlining. This is similar to planning, but not quite. Outlining is when you plan the actual story and all the elements that go into it. You’re not necessarily planning the why of the story but the how.
There are many outlining methods for a story; everyone does it differently, or they don’t outline at all.
These methods might be planning the overall timeline of the plot, writing details about the settings, writing character profiles, and the like.
I used to outline by writing a summary of every chapter. I would also keep important notes about the plot, settings, and characters.
Now, I outline while I write the first draft. I do this because the outline is more like a guideline. I found myself following my outlines less and less during the first draft. So, I thought I’d beat the process at its own game.
I sound like a broken record when I say that outlining is something that not everyone does; if they do, they may not do it right away. Still, I think it’s a great way to keep notes of important events and ideas in the story.
Researching information for your novel is something else that’s often done in the planning stage. You’re prepping development for your characters and settings if your ideas take information from real life.
The thing about research is that it’s going to pop up now and again throughout the whole process of writing.
You can search for what you know you’ll need before writing, but other things in the plot will happen. You’ll need to fact-check yourself later, usually within the editing stage.
First Draft Writing
Once you have your novel planned and prepped, now is the time to write that first draft finally. There’s not much to this stage because you’re simply writing.
I say “simply” as though the writing is such an easy task. But the first draft, believe it or not, is the easiest part. (In my opinion, at least.)
In a nutshell, the first draft is you telling yourself the story. So, if you need to leave certain bits out because you need to do additional research or haven’t thought of a good name for that specific city yet, that’s okay.
You have a solid first draft if you have the basic skeleton for the entire story.
Take A Break
Now that the first draft has been written, it’s time to set it aside and let it simmer. Writing a first draft can take weeks or months (or even years). Give your characters a rest and allow your brain a vacation from these ideas. Then, you can begin the next step with a fresh mind.
Now, the actual writing begins. Most people use the terms “editing” and “revisions” interchangeably. But they’re pretty different from one another.
Sure, editing and revisions aim for the same end goal, but revisions still pertain to you writing the main story.
Revision is when you fix the accuracy of information (fact-checking your research) and make logical changes to the story’s structure and overall organization.
For example, if you left that city name blank, now is the time to figure that out. Get all your ducks in a row, list your settings and characters, and take notes on important events.
Maybe some scenes don’t fit well within the story. Perhaps they would be better off somewhere else in the story or need to be cut.
Of course, this can also be done in developmental editing. However, developmental editing focuses more on the overall development of the story, its characters, and the plot.
Once your revisions are done and you’ve gone through your manuscript once (or twice), it’s time to write that second draft.
Luckily, you’re not writing this one from scratch. You have most of it outlined and already written from the first draft. You also have many notes from the revision process as well.
Depending on how much time you have to commit to the rewrite stage (and how fast of a typer you are), this step may only take a week or two.
I like to take another break here. The revision process can take months, and the rewrite is the slowdown from that step. Before diving into another round of edits, stepping away from your book for a week or two is best.
Now, this is the grueling part of the writing process. There are so many substeps to editing. Personally, I like to throw in a rewrite in between each editing stage.
That doesn’t mean you have to. Some writers go through all editing stages at once before rewriting their third draft or handing it off to an editor or a beta reader.
You’ll have to decide which is best for you and your book. So, let’s take a quick look at the different types of editing.
Also known as content editing, this type of editing looks at the overall “big picture” of your manuscript. You can perform a development edit yourself or hire an editor for it. Hiring an editor at some point or another is recommended, especially if you’re planning to publish your book.
This type of editing will fix inconsistencies about settings, character arcs, developments, plot holes, shape the narrative, and ask big questions.
- Why are the characters behaving the way they do? What are their motivations?
- Is this scene adding anything to the plot, character development, or showing off an important setting?
- What’s the story’s overall theme, and how is it resolved? What’s the story’s purpose?
Developmental editing is often the first step in editing and is also the most daunting. It forces you to turn your book upside down and get to know it on another level.
Also known as mechanical editing, copy editing looks at the mechanics of the manuscript. Does it make sense? Is it readable? Overall, copy editing improves the story’s clarity, consistency, correctness, and coherency.
Think of it as a more in-depth version of proofreading. When copy editing, you or your professional editor will correct the following:
- Capitalization and punctuation
- Spelling and grammar
- Word usage and repetition
- Point of view and tenses
- Dialogue tags
And the list goes on. Instead of looking at the big picture and the manuscript as a whole, copy editing takes things chapter by chapter, while still ensuring it makes sense to the rest of the book.
Line editing is often used interchangeably with copy editing. However, they are a bit different. Also known as stylistic editing, line editing looks at each sentence within the story.
Does every sentence add to the plot’s development, boost a character arc, or share more information about the setting? If the answer is no to all of these questions, then that particular sentence might not be needed in the book.
In addition, line editing also ensures that the book flows well. Sentences, paragraphs, and characters should all be in order pertaining to the book’s events or the point of view character.
There are some exceptions to this if there are many time jumps or flashbacks within your story. If that’s the case, then line editing is all the more important. You don’t want to confuse your readers.
Finally, there’s proofreading. I’ve placed this as a separate step from the rest of the editing because it’s a form of editing that should always go last. This is the final step in making your manuscript complete.
If you plan to publish your book, you’ll need to hire an editor before this step. You can also hire a proofreader and then go over it again yourself.
When proofreading, you know the manuscript is complete. The book makes sense, there are no plot holes, the characters had a beginning, middle, and end to their arc, and more. Now you need to go through your words with a fine-tooth comb and ensure there are no silly mistakes.
For instance, proofreading entails the following:
- Inconsistencies in spelling
- Inconsistencies in layout and formatting
- Confusing breaks in between words or paragraphs
Overall, you’ll want to ensure that your book is the best it can be for an audience.
If you’re writing for yourself, then you’re done. There’s no need to worry about the whole editing process and hiring an editor unless you want the practice. But if you want to publish your book, now is the time to get your ducks in a row for that.
You’ll need to decide if you want to self-publish or go through a traditional publisher.
You’ll need to research publishers within your market if you go through a traditional publisher. Get your polished manuscript ready, learn the lingo of the trade, and read through submission guidelines carefully. You may also need to pitch to an agent before finding a publisher.
If you decide to self-publish, you’ll still need to do market research in terms of where to publish and which formats you want your book to be available in.
Also, you’ll want to hire a book cover designer and a book formatter. You can format your book yourself, but if it’s your first time, hiring someone else to do it is ideal for you to see how it’s done.
No matter how you publish your book, you’ll need to do a hefty amount of book marketing. When your book is with your editor, you can take that time to write a marketing plan.
Brainstorm where you want to feature your book, and list blogs, bookstores, and podcasts that you think might open the floor for you to be interviewed.
Publishing your book takes time, but that’s the easy part. Marketing is something you’ll need to do for as long as you want people to have eyes on your story.
Once you have a publisher lined up, your book cover ready, the pages are formatted, and you have a marketing plan, now you can publish your story.
Again, if you go through traditional publishing, they’ll give you a publication date, and you’ll need to work around that.
However, if you self-publish, you’re in control and can hit that “publish” button whenever you want.
As soon as your book is out in the world, it’s time to start the process all over again with a new idea.
How Do You Find The Best Creative Writing Process?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the best way to learn how to write is to write. Finding your process won’t be simple. It’ll take trial and error, for yourself and your current creative project. But when you do find it, you’ll know.
- Podcast Episode: What Are The Stages Of Writing?
- Podcast Episode: How Do You Do Research For Your Novels?
- Podcast Episode: How Important Is Character Motivation?
- Article: How To Get Started In Writing
Rachel Poli is an indie author, podcaster, and content writer working on her debut cozy mystery novel.
Although she favors mystery, Rachel is a multi-genre author with too many ideas and characters in her head, often experimenting with short stories and flash fiction.
When she’s not writing, she’s reading, organizing something, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.