The Writing Process

By Alison Nissen @ 3 Dog Tales Productions (

The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance. –Richard Price

But what does this mean? It means writing is a process. You have an idea. You paint the picture. You bring it to life. This may be a character or a scenario or an era but it doesn’t come to life without the process.

And process is boring. So, let’s break it down.

Step 1: Brainstorming.

Brainstorming is like a tornado. Thoughts are jumbled, swirling, crashing into ideas. Then, when the dust settles, there is a nugget. You stoop down to examine it. If it were a rock, it might have a bit of glimmer flickering off its rough edges. Carefully, you pick up the nugget, weight it in your hands and hold it up to the light. It’s dull and lifeless but it, nonetheless sings to you. You quickly grab your pen and paper and write down the lyrics. They’re not any good but you can hear the melody because that idea is humming away.

That nugget, that tune, that song starts to solidify in your head, providing background music to your thoughts. You might need to sit a while and write, letting the ideas roll off your fingertips and onto the computer screen. Maybe your spelling is atrocious or modifiers are dangling. It doesn’t matter because the ideas are flowing and the nugget is beginning to shine.

Step 2: Prewriting

Prewriting is an act of organization and learning. If the nugget is about the horrors of war, to borrow Richard Price’s idea, then you need to determine the who, what, when, where, and why of the war. Sometimes an outline is the best way to keep yourself organized. Or you might like using a spreadsheet. Some people like lots of details and others prefer bullet points. There is no right or wrong way to prewrite, it’s just a way to keep your hair on the top of your head and out of your fists.

To start, you might write WAR in the center of the page. Add more details surrounding WAR. Continue to go deeper, providing additional ideas around each of these facets. The closer you get to the edge of the paper, the more specific the detail, until you get to the kid’s burnt sock lying in the middle of the road.

Then you mine the ideas and determine what else you need to know to write a book about your nugget. You become the nugget expert.

Step 2 ½: Once you are an expert, you can create a writing plan. Plans can be changed but a goal without a plan is just a wish. So grab your calendar and pick some dates. Maybe you’d like to write for 30 minutes daily. What about a weekly goal? Say, 5,000 words? Put it on paper. (This is important to hold yourself accountable!)

Or you might decide to write by the seat of your pants (you pantser).  Instead of an idea map, you might prefer to jump right in. Sentence after sentence, your story comes to life. Instead of prewriting, you’re drafting.

But wait! You’ve skipped a step and a half! Do you have to go back without passing go? No! Proceed to Step 3.

Step 3 (or possibly Step 2): Drafting

Drafting is just like it sounds: Writing a draft of your manuscript or poem or short story or newsletter or whatever it is you are producing with words.  If you’re using a map, you might chose to write in any order necessary to put all the ideas on paper (chapter 3 then 5 then 2 then 4). If you are pantsing it, you may have already begun. Regardless of your method, just promise me one thing: Do not be mad at yourself when it’s not perfect the first time. I’ve only ever heard of one author who doesn’t need to write multiple drafts and I think she was lying or maybe instead of writing multiple drafts she had multiple revisions—which brings us to step 3 ½. Unless you haven’t completed Step 2 ½. Then make some sort of plan.

Step 3 ½: Determine what the crescendo will be for your piece. Will you need an agent? Do you know which magazines it might fit into? This is a good time to research the business portion of the process.

Step 4: Revisions

Revisions are drafts, don’t kid yourself that they aren’t. But they are more about finesse than the basics. This is when you expand on the details, create texture, add smells and sounds and flavors. In the Horrors of War, you mentioned the kid, alone and barefoot. Now you paint the socks, abandoned and smoldering as they lay on the pot-hole riddled asphalt. The war is your melody, the boy is the lone saxophone, playing low and slow. The socks give your song depth. But maybe your piece needs a flute too. So, move to step 5 right after you’ve reviewed Plan 2 ½ and focused on Step 3 ½.

Step 5: is a repeat of Step 4. Now, move to step 6 after you’ve checked Step 2 ½ and don’t forget about Step 3 ½.

Step 6: which is a repeat of Steps 5, 2 ½, and 3 ½. Now onto step 7.

Step 7: Okay, at some point, you have to move on to editing. Which is still revising; otherwise known as drafting. Okay. Stop. Expand Step 2 ½ to include editing. Check for punctuation. Spelling. Grammar. Put it on your calendar. Check it again. Why? Because your brain is so familiar with the process that is skips the small stuff. You have to listen for the drum roll and discern it from the bass guitar.

Step 8: Is to just stop. At some point. You will want to start the whole thing over again. Beginning with brainstorming because you fell asleep and The Horrors of War played a new scene in your head and. Oh Boy. Just Stop.