Writing is a bit like building a house.
It is painstaking work that comprises multiple different elements, all of which have to be in perfect harmony to remain stable, not to mention that it takes a very long time to piece everything together.
But once it’s done… you can’t help but feel accomplished and proud of how far you’ve come.
Over the years, I’ve realized that having a writing process – a simple set of steps you can follow – makes the whole writing-a-book business much less complicated. And while there are some major differences between fiction and non-fiction, the importance of a good writing process applies to both.
Let the work begin!
Why You May Benefit From Following a Writing Process
In general, a writing process consists of 5 steps that are involved in the creation of a book:
These are all equally important. If you skip prewriting and go straight to drafting, your narrative may not make much sense; if you don’t do any editing, there’ll be a lot of unnecessary mistakes; if you don’t revise, your manuscript won’t reach its full potential.
So, what does each step comprise? Let’s find out!
Step 1: Prewriting
Prewriting is where your story comes alive before you give it a clear shape. It’s the step where you let your imagination loose, do a lot of research, and brainstorm for hours until you’re finally settled on what it is you want to achieve with this book.
Find your story. Even a non-fiction book needs an overarching narrative, something to ground and immerse the reader in the text. Your narrative might be about your own life, or it could also be an idea that’s separated into chapters in the same way a house is split into rooms.
Figure out why you want to tell this story. What are you trying to achieve? What do you want the reader to take away? How do you want them to feel?
Ask yourself whether you’re the right person to write this book. Do you have the necessary credentials or experience? Have you done enough research to back up all your claims and turn this book into a credible source of information?
Choose the subgenre of your non-fiction book. Do you think your story would work best if it was a memoir? Or would you like to write something along the lines of self-help? The options are endless, and your best bet is to research many different books that tackle your topic of choice so that you know what’s already out there and who the target audience is.
Compile a document of all your research sources and the specific points you want to make. This will make the drafting process much more effective and less overwhelming.
Step 2: Drafting
Now that you’ve turned vague ideas into a concrete narrative, it’s time to sculpt it into a book-shaped form:
Outline your book chapter by chapter. While fiction gets a bit more leeway when it comes to detailed outlines, non-fiction books need to be structured very well as each chapter ought to make specific points and focus on a small fraction of the bigger argument. What’s more, many publishers and literary agents request to see an outline before the whole draft is complete.
Get writing. Contrary to what you might think, you don’t need to write chronologically. If you really feel like starting with chapter six, then start with chapter six. All that matters is that you put the words down.
Establish a routine. Many famous authors, from Maya Angelou to Ernest Hemingway or Stephen King, have relied on a writing routine to finish their manuscripts. Remember that your first draft doesn’t need to be good – it just needs to exist.
Step 3: Revision
This is the step where you take an alright draft and make it into something great. Since drafting is a process that can take months or years, it’s normal to accidentally overlook certain weaknesses in your arguments or to repeat yourself too much.
When your first draft is done, try this:
Let it sit for a few weeks or months. This will allow you to look at it from a fresh perspective when it’s time for revision.
Look at each chapter as an individual essay that makes its own point. Are all chapters mini-essays that contribute to the overarching point you want to make? Does their order make sense? Do they work both individually and as parts of a whole?
Remember your underlying message. Do not stray too far from it and highlight it where necessary.
Step 4: Editing
While revision is more about making major changes – such as rewriting a whole chapter or rethinking the order in which you tell the story – editing looks at the book on a sentence level.
Watch out for any unnecessary repetition and make the story more concise. Avoid overexplaining.
Pay a lot of attention to grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, and typos. Try to polish your language as much as you can.
Prioritize coherence. Ensure that your writing style is the same throughout the book, that your chapters are of a similar length, and that you use the same terminology, citation styles, and font throughout the manuscript.
If you need help editing, you can also reach out to a professional editing service.
Step 5: Publication
Your manuscript’s done! Phew!
…well, not really. A lot of work is still ahead of you, especially if you’re looking to get published traditionally. When working with an editor from a publishing house, you will go over your manuscript again. And again. This will ensure that your book is in the absolute best condition before it’s officially released.
If you’re self-publishing, the road is a bit different, of course. This is the stage where you look for cover artists and get your marketing game on.
Whatever path you choose, remember that great marketing is very important nowadays – the more eyeballs you get on your work, the better. This is why it’s usually recommended to build a social media following if you can and spread the word about your upcoming release.
Many writers follow the above-mentioned writing process without even realizing it as it comes quite naturally to us.
Once you become aware of it, though, you can give each part of the process a bit more structure and purpose, which will ultimately help you create a well-organized and meaningful piece of work.
Lastly, don’t forget that writing is primarily about creativity, so if you want to create your own writing process, go for it!