Writing is both an art form and a craft that can be developed over time by virtually anyone, provided you follow some basic rules of the road.
And for those who take the time to hone their skills and learn to master the writing process, it can become an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding profession.
But, what exactly is the writing process and why is it so important?
What Is the Writing Process?
Writing is the act of putting thoughts, ideas, and stories into words. To be an effective writer, you must recognize that good writing requires a balance between artistry and craftsmanship.
For you to develop this balance, you need to understand how the creative side of writing (the art) and the technical side (the craft) must come together and support one another.
The writing process, then, is the sequence of steps you need to follow in order to balance these two components so you can achieve your writing goals.
By following this process, you’ll be able to organize your thoughts before putting them down on the page and use a well defined framework for identifying early warning signs of things that may hinder your progress.
What Are the Five Steps In the Writing Process?
The writing process can be broken down into five distinct stages: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.
Each of these stages helps ensure you can create a piece of writing that is well thought out and that will be well received by your target audience.
Let’s take a closer look:
This step involves gathering ideas and researching your topic so that you have a better understanding of what it is you want to communicate through your words.
Parts of the prewriting stage include:
Topic and Audience Selection
Before you sit down to put your words down on the page, you need to know two key things: who your target audience is and what problem you’re helping them solve (i.e. your main topic.)
When it comes to nonfiction, you want to focus almost exclusively on your readers and hardly ever on yourself. You’re not writing to share what you know, you’re using your writing to build a direct path between a problem your audience is experiencing and your unique solution.
Once you have both your target audience as well as your one-of-a-kind solution nailed down, it’s time to turn on your flow of ideas.
Now that you know who you’re writing for and what your main topic is, it’s time to create a mind map of the different components of your book.
In other words, it’s time to brainstorm the content that will make up your book, from your initial thesis, through the root cause of your audiences’ problem, to the genesis of your solution, to its implementation and the changes to be expected by your readers.
At this stage, you just need to bring to the table everything you can think of that might be applicable to your book, whether it’ll end up on your manuscript or on the cutting floor.
Now, you need to take the output of your brainstorming and segment it into a logical flow, where you guide your readers from problem to solution in a way that makes the most sense.
Your goal with the outlining stage is not to organize your content for organization’s sake, but to structure it from the point of view of your target audience.
Your outline needs to make your book easy to read and easy for your audience to benefit from. Obscure or confusing outlines will lead to reader attrition.
Armed with a fully fleshed out outline, it’s time to put pen to paper and begin the actual writing. To get moving forward with the drafting process, use each outline step as a writing prompt.
And since you’re writing nonfiction, you don’t even need to create your first draft in the exact sequence dictated by your outline. In fact, you can begin writing from any outline step that inspires you.
There’s nothing wrong with starting on chapter 5, then working a bit on chapter 2 and going back to chapter 5 later on. At the drafting stage, you need total freedom and not be bound by too much structure that may limit your creative flow.
In short, the first draft is meant to be rough — this is your initial blueprint, so don’t expect to strive for perfection here. Just write sentences without worrying about grammar, spelling and punctuation.
Once you have a completed first draft (congrats — you’ve just achieved the hardest part of the writing process!) it’s time to begin revising your work.
As opposed to the drafting process, where you need to be unbound by structure, the goal of the revision stage is to make sure that your writing is logical and flows well. This is the part where you begin to review your writing for any problems or inconsistencies.
Now, don’t focus on grammar errors and typos yet. Your initial revision passes need to focus instead on the logical flow of information.
For example, at this stage you may decide to rearrange chapters, or sections within a chapter. You may also find yourself rewriting a lot of sentences or paragraphs to make them more cohesive.
While this may at times feel like the most tedious step in the writing process, it is critical because it helps ensure that your writing logic will make sense to your readers.
This is one of the most time-consuming aspects of nonfiction writing, so prepare yourself mentally for the long haul and don’t expect this stage to be over quickly.
Once your revision stage is over, you’ll have your first completed manuscript. But, the work is not done yet!
At this point you’ll need to pass on your manuscript to a professional nonfiction editor. These individuals are trained wordsmiths (true craftsmen of the written word) who will take a fresh look at your entire manuscript with the goal of taking your diamond in the rough and making it shine.
Editing is the process of refining your writing so that it meets the criteria expected of your genre by the book industry, including adherence to established rules of style (e.g. those found in the Chicago Manual of Style,) as well as any specific requirements from your publisher.
If you’re self publishing, you still need to hire a professional nonfiction editor because you’ll be competing in the marketplace against traditionally published books that will be subjected to the same rigors.
The final draft in the editing stage involves fact-checking, where the editor (or in some cases a dedicated proofreader) will make sure that all facts in your book are accurate and verified with credible third-party sources.
This is a very important expense: an unchecked book, if incorrect, could severely damage your credibility as a subject-matter expert.
This is the final step of the writing process, where you’re ready to share your nonfiction book with the world.
Before you do, however, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve dotted all the legal and logistical i’s to make sure that your book doesn’t encounter roadblocks along the publishing journey.
For example, you need to ensure that you’ve obtained written permission from the copyright owners of any text (beyond fair use rules) or images contained in your book that you didn’t create yourself.
You’ll also need to obtain an ISBN and matching barcode to make your book available through traditional channels of distribution (pro tip: check that your barcode is correct and readable by scanners before you go to print!)
Finally, you’ll need to create a book cover that has all the required marketing elements expected from works of nonfiction by the book trade.
If you’re self publishing, this is another area you want to leave to the hands of professionals — don’t attempt to create your own book cover unless you’re a trained graphic designer, because chances are it’ll look amateurish compared to professionally-produced books.
Writing an entire book may feel like an intimidating endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. With the proper writing process in place, book projects become much easier to manage and complete.
By understanding the five steps of the writing process — prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing — you can make this a much less daunting task as you create a work of nonfiction that’s truly beneficial for your target audience and a joy to read.
So, take the time to understand and follow the above writing process diligently and you’ll not only be able to produce a nonfiction book you’ll be proud of but also enable lasting changes in the lives of your readers.
Harry Wallett is the Managing Director of Cascadia Author Services. He has a decade of experience as the Founder and Managing Director of Relay Publishing, which has sold over 3 million copies of books in all genres for its authors, and looks after a team of 50+ industry professionals working across the world.
Harry is inspired by the process of book creation and is passionate about the stories and characters behind the prose. He loves working with the writers and has shepherded 1000s of titles to publication over the years. He knows first-hand what it takes to not only create an unputdownable book, but also how to get it into the hands of the right readers for success.
Books are still one of the most powerful mediums to communicate ideas and establish indisputable authority in a field, boosting your reach and stature. But publishing isn’t a quick and easy process—nor should it be, or everyone would do it!
A professional grade book takes 250+ individual tasks to complete. Cascadia is an expert in every single one of them. Do you want to harness our expertise to launch your book into the stratosphere? Chat with us!