A 5-step writing process anyone can use

"I don't know where to start!" This must be the most common cry of the would-be writer – the person who wants (or needs) to write a blog post or an article or an essay – even a book – but is overwhelmed by the idea before they put fingers to keyboard.

In this post I'm going to give you a magic five-step writing process to overcome this inertia. However, I offer this process on the understanding that there is no single 'right' way of doing this. Ultimately the only right way to write is the way that works for you. However, finding your 'right way' often requires a bit of trial and error and this process just might get you underway.

The basic philosophy of this writers' process is to start with a mess and end up with a 'tidy' finished product.

1. STORM: Brainstorm the points you want to make

I'm going to assume you have a broad topic in mind. Your first step is to jot down as many points as you can think of that are relevant to that topic. You can do this using a whiteboard, a pad of sticky notes, a blank notebook or on a digital device. Sticky notes are one of my preferred options as they are tactile and they also make the next two steps easier.

An important point is not to edit yourself – anything goes. And don't try and apply any structure to the thoughts. Just get 'em down.

Now you have your 'mess'.

2. SORT: Collect those points under headings

It's time to add a little structure and perhaps do a bit of 'yes versus no' decision making. Looking at your ideas as a whole, try to identify some common themes – perhaps three to five – that run across them. Make those themes into headings and sort your ideas under those headings as best you can. (If you're using sticky notes, try to find a pad of different coloured notes for the headings.)

If something clearly doesn't fit under any heading, either make a new heading or set the idea aside for another day.

3. SHUFFLE: Arrange those headings in a logical order

Now you're going to take your headings and sort them into something that seems like a logical order – a 'flow' for your argument from start to finish. Do the best you can without being too fussy. Sometimes the ideal order won't reveal itself until you've started on your draft.

4. SCRIBE: Write a draft

The time to write has come, but you're not yet going to scribe the finished product. You're going to write a draft. You have your headings and underneath those you have the points you want to make. Fundamentally, all you have to do now is turn those into prose. Sure, it's not always easy, which is why you need to avoid getting too wrapped up in 'getting it right'. Rather, just get something down. Remind yourself as often as necessary that this is a draft, not a finished piece of work.

5. SHINE: Re-write and edit

Your mess should be starting to take shape by now. The final task is to re-write and edit the draft until it takes a form that you are happy to publish. This may require some reordering of your arguments. It may require some 'killing of darlings'. And it may take two or three goes to get right. But nine times out of ten you'll find that this final step is a lot easier if you're starting from a draft than if you're starting from a blank page.

If you get to the end and you've got too much material for, say, the blog post you want to write, then make it into two posts. That'll make next time much easier!

Writing something longer? The book-writing process is essentially just the same – it's just a bit more involved and will obviously take longer.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please add a comment below or contact me.

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