The Writing Process: 5 Steps from Start to Finish

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A couple of weeks ago on Twitter, I threw out a very simple question, “what shall I write about?” I received  a variety of comments ranging from donuts to my own awesomeness, both of which are excellent topics, but I’m pretty sure they’re not what you’re looking for here. The truth is, it can be a challenge to find fresh topics to write about on a regular basis. After four and a half years of writing about writing, the last thing I want to do is bore anyone or get redundant on you.

Admittedly, I asked the question to stimulate discussion more than anything else, but I was intrigued by some of the responses enough to consider adding them to my “to do” list.

One Twitterer suggested I get back to basics and discuss my own writing process.

I liked it.

I liked it because the writing process is different for everyone. We all have our own order of doing things. Some of us can’t write without an outline and others prefer the top of the head approach. Some of us need a gallon of coffee to get us through while others prefer a diet soda or some tea. I like this topic because we can all share what we do, and there will be no wrong answers.

So in following that advice about getting back to basics, I’m going to share my writing process with you and show how I organize my thoughts from start to finish. After that, I’d like you to share your process as well.

Deb’s Writing Process

1. Choose a topic: I find inspiration everywhere. Shopping, reading, listening to the news, talking with friends and by visiting the social networks and asking questions. There are so many different ways to choose topics, though it’s more of a challenge to choose original topics.. The drafts section of my WordPress is filled with ideas as I generally enter about two or three titles each day.  When I make up my week’s editorial calendar I revisit each of the titles and work out ideas.  Some titles have been sitting in draft for months because I’m still not sure which way to take the, others are a no brainer.

2. Research:

Step.Away. From. The. Google.

Web searches come later. Before I start gathering research for my topic, I like to think of the different ways I can gather research without having to resort to search engines. Considerations include reading books and magazines at the library and interviewing experts. Once I’m ready for the web I like to use government, university and other official and reliable sites to ensure I’m not writing from someone’s already regurgitated and factually incorrect content.

3. Create an Outline: I’m a firm believer in the power of the outline. Outlines help to organize  thoughts, find the piece’s natural progression and create a cohesive article. If I’m ever stumped for where to go next, I only need to create or look to an outline for inspiration. Many of the list posts you see at FWJ are the result of an outline. Yeah, I’m a fan.

4. Write: After I gather my research and create my outline, I begin writing. Sometimes I use the outline points as subheads (as I did with this piece) other times, it’s a reference point. I don’t worry about spelling or usage at this point, I let the words flow freely until I’m done.

5. Tweak: When writing for my clients, nothing is done until it gets a proof or two…or three. After I write, I tweak. I read what I write, tighten my sentences, fix typos and consider whether more information is necessary. If it’s not a piece for me or this blog, I check it against my clients’ instructions to make sure it’s what they’re looking for. I admit to not being as diligent to proofreading before publishing here. I always give my posts at least a quick once over, but if I’m in a hurry, they don’t get the same attention as I give to my clients.

But wait…

The piece isn’t done yet. It gets another proof and more tweaks and reads until I feel it’s perfect. No matter how many times I have my glasses upgraded, I still don’t catch certain silly mistakes – I’m sure that’s happened to you as well. Sometimes, I’ll have a second set of eyes look over important works because I want to be sure I’m turning in clean writing. I can be very insecure about my writing and having another person proofread gives me peace of mind.

And you?

Now, this isn’t what you have to do. I’m just sharing how I like to work out  a piece of writing. I use this method for blog posts, ebooks, articles and even speaking gigs.

I’m interested in learning how you do it. Do you just write or do you have a list of steps you go through?  Please share…


15 responses
  1. Cody Nolden Avatar

    I agree with your philosophy on proofreading. I’m a firm believer that good writing is really good editing.

    1. Deb Avatar

      Cody, I’m the worst proofreader ever. I have to tell myself to stop, slow down and read every single word. Sometimes I’m in such a hurry I miss stuff. One thing I’m learning to do is to save my proofing for when I have the most time, this way I’m not rushed and I don’t miss stuff.

  2. Dave Doolin Avatar

    I usually start with a notion.

    Then I riff on that notion until I get a clear picture of what I want to say.

    Once I know what I want to say, everything gets a lot easier.

    I use outlines when I have to write highly technical material, material that can be written from templates (already have the outline), or to organize thoughts already written.

    For organizing thoughts already written, it’s not uncommon that whole sections get excised, possibly turning into there own blog posts.

    I wouldn’t surprised if this was horribly inefficient. I’m not a pro writer by any means, just sort of play at one on the internet. But it works well for me.

    1. Deb Avatar

      I’m all for the riff, Dave. Problem is, I’m very disorganized with my thoughts. If I don’t use an outline, the progression of the article is out of whack. I’m not always a good top of the head writer.

      Agreed on the eliminating the unnecessary and sometimes turning them into blog posts. I do that often as well.

  3. paulandrewrussell Avatar

    I’ve never written anything using an outline. Maybe that’s where I’m going awry.

    I start out with an idea but then I go off all over the place and have trouble reorganising it into a comprehensible form. I really have a problem with the discipline of writing. I do write and write a lot but it’s generally whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like. lol

    I guess my writing process needs help. Maybe that’s why I have only had limited publication success with shorter pieces.

  4. Phil Avatar

    MMMmmm…donuts 🙂

    1. Deb Avatar

      Unfortunately, Weight Watchers hasn’t yet made the perfect donut.

  5. Arwen Taylor Avatar

    I generally follow the same process. The client will usually provide the topic, I just need to come up with the angle. I usually come up with the angle while doing research on the topic. After I figure out what I want to say, I usually list some bullet points and then write from those.

    I’ve developed a bad habit of trying to write from beginning to end. Even if I know what I want to say in one part of the article (one of the bullet points) I can’t seem to bring myself to write just that part and then tackle the other parts I may not have enough info on. I’m working on allowing myself to write an article piecemeal because I find I write faster if I start with what I know and then tackle the parts I’m struggling with.

    Hopefully that made sense.

  6. Arwen Taylor Avatar

    Also, if you are still accepting topic suggestions, could you talk about the step by step process of contacting a prospective client and offering your services without looking like a spammer?

    1. Deb Avatar

      I think that’s a worthy topic, Arwen and I’ll put it on the to do list.

  7. Allena Avatar

    Ooo, I just did an article on the process, but specifically for profiles or interview-based articles, which I seem to do a LOT of lately. My process is like yours, except, for profiles, I get to let the subject fill in a lot of the words (yay!)

    Have you ever considered hiring a proofreader? Even though I proofread for publishers, I simple CANNOT proofread my own work. I’ve found a proofreader is worth the investment.

    1. Deb Avatar

      Hi Allena,

      It’s a good idea.

      I’ve been thinking about hiring an editor for FWJ but I want to wait a while to be sure this boost in profit isn’t a flash in the pan. It’s definitely at the top of my list.

  8. akhlis Avatar

    Sorry, I mean: AFTER the subordinate clause.

    Think I need a proofreader, too. LOL

  9. Jason Avatar

    Nice article I usually write my articles from start to finish without pausing a great deal. Maybe a minute or two to think about what I am gonna say next if i have a loss for words. As far as the outline I have not tried that, it sounds like a great idea I will give it a go. Thanks for the tips!

  10. Freeha Avatar

    I agree with your strategy and steps for writing something which u share with others

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