The Ultimate Guide to Writing Process

Whether you’re an aspiring content writer or you’ve got years of writing and editing experience under your belt, drafting a piece of content on time and with utmost quality is not easy.

Every piece of content is unique. Long-form articles may pose a distinct set of challenges that are different from challenges involved in drafting a press release. Irrespective of the type of content that you’re working on, you probably face a ton of challenges ranging from a whacky deadline to an anxiety-inducing writer’s block.


The problem with the writing process is that you cannot learn all you need to know from a book or a few hours crash course. Everything here is hands-on. You have to practice with patience to flourish as a writer. Years of practice and establishing a writing discipline can help you a long way in bringing your dreams of becoming a writer to life.

Before you get into the wheel of experimentation, you need to set a concrete writing process in place. For, writing was never a single-step process and will never be. All good writers are great editors who have a stellar editing and proofreading process in place. While you don’t have to abide strictly by writing principles, you will have to know what works for your style of writing and what doesn’t. That’s where this guide will come in handy.

1. What do you mean by the writing process?

No, your writing process is not just merely writing and churning out one draft after another. The actual writing phase is only a part of it.


Here, the writing process refers to the end-to-end process from the pre-ideation phase to your proofreading, editing, and revision phase right before you publish or ship your drafts off. Although it is not completely about refining your writing technique, all these phases in your writing process play a huge role in turning a good first draft into a great piece of content.

2. Why is the writing process important?

Most of us believe that the writing process is dusted and done with when we complete the last word of our draft. But in reality, it has only just begun. The process of revising your draft is similar to that of polishing a newly found coal bar, it is up to your writing process to either turn it into a diamond or discard it as a lost cause.

“Instead of teaching finished writing, we should teach unfinished writing, and glory in its unfinishedness."

- Donald Murray

True to Donald Murray’s words, we need to focus on the process here rather than the product itself. For, your finished piece of content stems from a thoroughly vetted editing process rather than random writing sprees.


When your writing process is strong and agile, it will not only reduce your writing time drastically but also improve the quality of your work substantially.

3. What are the important phases involved in the writing process?

The phases involved in the writing process are different tasks, behaviours, and skill sets that are essential to drafting good content. While the writing process may differ from one writer to another, it would be good to explore all these phases and see which one fits into your writing groove.


Listed below are the six major phases of the writing process.

1. Ideation or Brainstorming


Before you take your writing kit out and start writing rapidly, it is important to have a clear idea of what you actually want to write. Until a few years ago, I believed that I had starting trouble in my writing only to find out that my lack of ideation or brainstorming stalled my writing quite a bit.


Earlier, it took me 3-4 weeks to draft a decent piece of content, but once I entered my writing phase with a clear head and a plan in hand, it drastically reduced to 3-4 days. It may seem like I’m pulling your legs, but I am not. My mentor always said a clear head is the first step to create a decent article. I was skeptical too, but when I started making an effort to ideate before I started, it did make a ton of difference.


Here’s how I ideate. Being a content writer who writes for a living, I may have to write about anything from HR software to tips for cleaning businesses. Before I put my pen to paper to begin the actual writing, I tend to sit still and let my brain waves run wild. A ton of ideas ranging from crazy to cocky raze through my mind when I think about the topic I have at hand. I take my time analyzing each one for feasibility and write down everything that seems doable.


While it is not really important to jot down all your ideas, we often tend to forget first thoughts which are not committed to paper. What’s worse is that when you lose a brilliant idea that way, you will spend your time mourning for the lost idea and end up short stringed for your deadline.

If you are not much of an avid notetaker, you can use other techniques like clustering or mind mapping.


Remember those cool thought clouds someone drew on the conference room board? You can try and organize your thoughts and ideas via clustering or mapping. If you’re a tech-savvy person, you can switch to graphic organizers like charts, or story maps, or diagrams to jot down all your ideas.

Another aspect that you need to take into account is that you're not always able to control your ideation phase and conduct it within a designated location. Ideas tend to pop into our heads during unexpected circumstances and especially at inconvenient locations. When that happens, have your mobile phone’s notes app or even use a napkin or scrap paper to jot all good ideas down. And, don’t worry about writing on napkins making you look bad, even well-known writers have used them as writing tools :)

2. Research

This phase is the necessary evil most of us miss out on. We are under the assumption that we already know everything there is to know about a specific topic and feel it is just a waste of precious time that we would rather spend on the writing phase. However, once you do solid research on a specific topic your content will assemble and write itself.

In addition to drawing from your own experiences, if you take a couple of hours to research what other experts have got to say about a specific topic, you can find and hit the sweet spot of user intent and gain SERP rankings like a pro.

When you do an adequate amount of research, you can

  1. Fill blind spots in your memory

  2. Understand what other articles or pieces of content lack

  3. Decide which direction you could steer your content to

  4. Take your second step towards creating an effective piece of content

What’s more, don’t just start your research from Google’s SERP results. Talk to experts in the domain you plan to write about, get to know their journey in the domain, understand their pain points, find out what excites them, and if you still have enough time, go pick up a couple of books about the specific domain and read them, at least skim through important facts.


Once you are done with all that, analyze your competition or samples that you’re provided with. Read it at least 3 times. Identify what you love and what you’re not fond of about that piece of sample that is in front of you. Right then, you will have enough information to determine and draft an outline that will your content a notch above the sample you are tasked with.


3. Outlining and Frankenstein's

While most writers let their pantser (a person who starts writing without an outline and usually just wings content as he/she goes) personality run wild, being a planner comes with its own set of benefits. Drafting an outline before you start the article helps you detail the scope of your article, the time frame you need to get it done, and make you aware of the potential bottlenecks you may phase.

The outlining phase ensures that your drafts are delivered on time, within the word count, and is up to the expectation of your readers.

My fellow freelance writers will agree that the worst possible problem we face with our clients is out-of-the-blue revisions beyond the scope that was initially set. Sometimes, when you finish the entire article the amount of changes you need to do may force you to scrape the existing article and resort to writing one from scratch.




Delivering your client a well-written outline right after you’ve done your research will ensure there are no unpleasant surprises when you deliver your finished article. The keys to a successful article outline are completeness and originality of thought. You need to identify all important subtopics under your chosen topic and create an outline that addresses every one of them when you actually draft your content.


In addition to drafting a killer outline, you can take a step beyond and develop a Frankenstein which is nothing but a detailed outline that lists down all your descriptions aka the actual meat of the content that you intend to cover under every subtopic. These descriptions help your clients or team members get a basic idea of what that content is gonna be about and catch and pitfalls or misdirections early on.

4. Drafting


The most awaited and important phase of the writing process is turning all your thoughts and ideas into a first draft. People who skip the prewriting phases and jump headfirst into drafting your piece of content will find that editing and revision takes a ton of time that it used to and results in a subpar quality,


Sometimes, you will notice that there is a drastic change in the tone and voice of your content from the beginning to the end of a piece. Or, that you have parrotted the same concept over and over again in various sections. The process of reorganizing and revising the entire draft is tedious and time-consuming.

Writing with a plan makes the entire writing phase a breeze. Imagine a famous mystery novel writer starting to write their next bestseller without any idea who did it. It would not only make the experience chaotic but also make the chapters leading to the big reveal a huge challenge. It is the same with our writing process.

When you start writing without a solid plan, the piece of content you’re attempting to write may neither take the right shape nor will you say what you intended to express through that content.

4.1. Revising on-the-go

Some writers tend to edit and revise their drafts as they write. I have a feeling that this is the reason why someone invented pencils with erasers in the first place. Before we get deeper into that conspiracy theory, let’s come back to our revisions on-the-go.

If you’re an old-school writer who prefers pen and paper, then feel free to fill your first draft with arrows, asterisks, and crossed-out words. Do you remember your school days where you did rough work in the margin and left the main draft untouched? You can also do that. Note down problem areas in the margins or use markers to remind you of things that need a thorough edit.

Revising on-the-go in a word document or Google Docs is pretty easy. You can just change the font face of a questionable word or sentence or change its colour to remind you of a potential problem. If you can’t remember a word that would perfectly fit an instance, use a short string of nonsensical symbols like #@$*%! which will definitely catch your eye.


If you are one of those perfectionists who couldn’t push past a word leaving it unsaid, then feel free to type it out. For, it will relieve your tension in the long run and make your struggle with the draft considerably easy. As long as you remember to clean up your draft before you show it to someone like your coworker or client, you should be all right.


5. Proofreading

People often think proofreading is nothing but careful reading. But I beg to disagree. It is something much more than that. It is the art of spotting hidden errors and grammar mishaps (like this one) with a careful eye or a bunch of reading techniques and proofreading symbols (yes, we proofreaders have our own Da Vinci Code :D)




Every day, it is easy to just look around yourself and wonder why so many professional printed brochures and even hoardings are laden with so many errors. Especially when you think about people who put it there and the brand it represents, it gets you to wonder, “If their copy is this sloppy, do I really want to try their coffee”.

Now, don’t take me for a Grammar Nazi. But, really, if this is the care they put into their copy, how much better would their food be? How much care does the business really invest into their other aspects of operation?

While catching an embarrassing typo in a theatre program can give you some cockiness, however being the publicist will only mean that your job security is at risk.

So, when you proofread your articles or copies of any piece of content really, review every word, every sentence, and paragraph. Leave no words unturned.


You can also read your content aloud, this will help you locate errors sooner. Once you locate errors, use proofreading symbols to mark them clearly. This will drastically shorten your editing time. Listed on the left are some proofreading symbols and their meanings with examples.

When you proofread you can catch an array of culprits ranging from misspelled names to alignment issues, listed below are some of six common errors you can see in a brand-new, unedited draft.


  1. Alignment: When you use the scanning technique to proofread a document, the first item you notice is alignment. A quick scan can help you spot whether the margin is of the right size and double-check everything from bulleted and numbered lists if they align with each other as they are supposed to.

  2. Casing issues: We proofreaders have a field day correcting casing errors and it is something like shooting fish in a barrel for us as they are the most common issue in any draft. Some items start with sentence casing and switch to title or capital case screaming inconsistencies in the draft. Irrespective of the number of writers in your team, a simple yet solid style guide can fix this issue once and for all.

  3. Captions: Often, captions on pictures and illustrations are not given a second thought at all. Even though you’re using something from a stock image doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be reviewed.

  4. Dates and timelines: Dates and timelines are renowned for being erroneous. It is better to double-check your facts and dates with a calendar or quick research before you hit the publish or send button.

  5. Blank spots: It is easy for writers to miss a word or punctuation and keep continuing the sentence because we heard it right in our head :) So, whenever you are checking for blank spots or missing words and punctuation, make sure you leave a wide margin of hours before the writing and proofreading phase. Else, your brain which is stuck in the writing phase will not spot even the simplest of errors.

  6. Names: It is always good to be on the safer side and check the spelling of personal and organizational names against their sources before you send a copy out.


6. Editing

Once you are done with your proofreading phase, you will definitely need to restructure and revise your draft, cut down words that don’t make any sense, or add material in some places. This is the right time to look for recurring sentence structures and awkward-sounding paragraphs.

Remember, editing is all about crafting a near-perfect assembly of words, sentences, and paragraphs that convey your idea in the best possible light.

This could be the hardest phase for some people since this is where you are forced to remove large chunks of content out of your work if they deviate from the core subject. But, don’t hold your drafts close to your chest and lose hope when your favourite sentence needs to be cut down. These small sacrifices will go a long way in making your final draft clean and sleek.

If whatever you are drafting is a part of a series, then you need to ensure that this piece of content fits nicely into the existing series of produced information. As you make it easy for your readers to breeze through your content without tripping over spelling errors, punctuation problems, and grammar gargoyles, make sure you smooth the kinks out of words and how they are presented.


One last piece of advice I would like to give to all first-time editors is that “Never enter an editing phase unarmed”. Here are some resources and tools that can make your editing process considerably easy with seven tools namely

  1. Personal or in-house style guide

  2. General manual of style

  3. Personal or in-house glossary

  4. Thesaurus

  5. Domain-specific reference

  6. Reliable online resources

  7. Spell check software

7. Revision

The process of finalizing your draft, reviewing and accepting editorial notes, and hitting the send or publish button is the last phase in a writing process life cycle.



This stage is an ideal setting for both celebration and reflection. Your final draft will not be the only output you will extract out of this phase. The learning you have accrued throughout the writing process can be summarized for future references in the case you work on a similar type of content in the future. What’s more, a finished product, if published and has no NDA can be added to your portfolio (if you have one).

Summary

This brings us to the end of the ultimate guide to the writing process. Now that you have acquired a lot more new insights about the writing process, some of you may feel a tad bit overwhelmed. Rest assured, that is natural.

Take a deep breath and keep up the momentum you had to finish reading this article and channel the energy into drafting your first piece of content using some of these concepts. Take a deep breath and look back at unfinished drafts in your folder and pick one of them up and get to work. Do let us know the challenges you have faced in your writing process and how you overcome them.

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