The 5 Stages of Writing a Book That Every Author Goes Through
Writing your first book or a seasoned author? If you're reading this, chances are you're either pumped about a big idea or have hit a wall. Before panicking or shouting about your debut novel, make sure you read guest writer Savannah Cordova's much-needed advice (and reassurance) on the inevitable stages of writing.
For as long as there has been the written word, there have been people like me who are brave enough (or stupid enough) to believe they’ve got what it takes to be a writer. Over time, I’ve come to realise that there are some common experiences we all go through when writing — and that knowing what to expect means you can handle each stage with more calm and composure! Whether you’re writing the next work of literary fiction or a picture book, I’m here to break down the five stages you can expect to go through as an author.
Stage 1: “Why didn’t I do this years ago?”
Almost every author begins their writing journey with a nearly delusional level of self-confidence. This is a good thing, as none of us would probably ever bother to put pen to paper if this weren’t the case! If nobody ever naively thought, “How hard can it really be to publish a children’s book?” we’d have far fewer amazing children’s books than we do today.
Enjoy this honeymoon stage while it lasts: the words are flowing, inspiration is abundant, and you haven’t had to figure out that massive plot hole in the third act yet, because you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it. Other symptoms of “early-stage writing process” include telling way too many people — friends, colleagues, your barista — about your new project because, well, saying “I’m writing a book” just sounds good, doesn’t it?
Pride, of course, comes before the fall. Once the heady days of that new first draft are over, we writers are almost always punished for our hubris. In my experience, it’s usually as soon as you dare to think something like, “I bet I’ll have this draft finished in no time!”
Stage 2: The dreaded blockage
Writer’s block is as inevitable as it is terrifying. Unfortunately, every author will face the overwhelming fear of the blank page — or the even more overwhelming fear of a half-full one they won’t know how to finish — at least once in their writing career.
The low of writer’s block after the giddy high of a productive beginning can be especially painful, but there are ways to tackle this particular disease.
Every writer has their own preferred way of pushing through the dreaded blockage. Hunter S Thompson famously recorded himself talking his way out of plot holes, while Hilary Mantel suggests just backing away from the desk.
If you’re curious, my preferred method is denial, and biting the heads off of all my friends and acquaintances for asking, “How’s that book of yours coming along?”
If you’re feeling particularly stuck, it may be best to just allow yourself a break and do some procrastinating inspirational reading instead. If this sounds more like you, you can check out the books The Dabblers’ Book Club features on the podcast.
Stage 3: Back on track
Once you’ve pushed through the blockage, you’ll really be cooking with gas. You’ve learned from the foolishness of your earlier mistakes, and you’re back on track to get this thing done.
This stage in the creative writing process, after you’ve worked out all the plot kinks and used up all your means of procrastination, is a relatively painless (if somewhat boring) one.
Luckily, you’ll have learned not to announce your progress to everyone this time around.
And again, you’ll want to enjoy this stage while it lasts! There are only so many times you can say “whatever, I’ll fix it in the edit” before said edit is upon you, and that’s where the hard work truly begins.
Stage 4: Perfectionism strikes
If there’s one thing that’s more difficult than starting the edit, it’s knowing when to stop editing. After months of just trying to get words on the page, the redrafting process will lead you to realise that you dislike literally every single one of them. You’ll suddenly obsess over minutiae for hours at a time, moving commas around the page until you’ve forgotten why you even use them.
After blockage (where the risk of giving up is obviously the highest), this stage is the most dangerous. To use a hackneyed idea, darn a sock enough times and it eventually becomes an entirely different sock — a sock that you hate and never want to set eyes on again. Resist the urge to put the metaphorical sock in the metaphorical bin. At most, put it in the metaphorical drawer for a while, but don’t let the need for perfection consume you.
Powering through this stage is essential to moving onto Writing Nirvana, or what I like to call…
Stage 5: The Let Go and Let God” stage
To quote Margaret Atwood, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” The same is true of editing; you can’t keep attempting to perfect your manuscript, because there’s no such thing as perfect. At some point, you’ll need to accept that this is your best work, and potentially call for reinforcements if you still want to improve — even if the thought of showing an editor a less-than-perfect draft kills you a little.
By letting go of the need for your book to be flawless before anyone can ever read it, you’re exponentially closer to doing something with it. I call this the Letting Go and Letting God stage because it can sort of feel like you’re giving up, but in the best possible way. Your job is done; it’s out of your hands! And let’s face it, after all that denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, it can be nice to finally land on acceptance.
Now that you have your roadmap to the writing process, you’re set for survival! And next time you’re in the weeds with your writing, or blocked within an inch of your life, don’t forget that we’ve all been there — even Shakespeare. Probably.
Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world's best publishing professionals. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She’s very passionate about indie publishing and hopes to help all aspiring authors achieve their dreams.