At my job we do this thing called The 5 Dynamics for every new employee. You answer a series of questions and you get a chart telling you where you are most and least comfortable in the different stages of a process. Those stages are: Explore, Excite, Examine, Execute, and Evaluate. For example, I was big on Explore and Excite and less so on the other three, meaning that thinking of new ideas and solutions and creating motivation around them are my arenas. Other people might be all about, okay, what’s the decision so we can go forward with the plan? Or they might only be interesting in evaluating a process for better future implementation. It depends on the person.
If you think about it, this can be very similar to how different authors take to the writing process. You might find ideas easy to come up with but the writing part gives you grief. Or writing prose is a piece of cake, but getting to the point where you have a story worth telling can have a few bumps in the road. Of course, it’s not always as cut and dry as this.
Simple enough idea, right? Ok, then, what are the stages of writing? Here’s my interpretation of the process. This is for someone eventually seeking publication.
1) The Idea – Simply put: the beginning. The great thing about The Idea is that it can happen anywhere, anytime, even in your sleep! Some people let The Idea come to them, while others seek it rigorously. For those who have trouble coming up with ideas, try taking examples from your everyday life. If you have too many ideas, continue to write them down but pick the one you care most about to work on. You can come back to the others later. A million ideas don’t mean anything if nothing ever comes out of them.
2) The Outline – This is the only step here which is optional. If you are striving to be published, I can’t see how you wouldn’t cross any of these bridges at some point, except for the outline (though one could argue a situation where editing is not necessary, and that person would be an imbecile). It’s the stage where you take ideas and flesh them out into plot, characters, settings, and themes. If you have ideas but have trouble outlining, try writing some of the story first and seeing where the different characters and events go as you do. Then come back to the beginning for a second go. For those who create long, meticulous outlines that never become anything else, try committing to a simpler model and, once that is done, letting the rest of the details come out in the writing.
3) The Writing – This is the meat of it all. You have your ideas, you (may) have your outline, and this is where you try your best to get all that to manifest itself in other people through words. It can be hard for some to find the motivation to write, even if they have their stories all figured out. Setting goals helps. For those who write story after story, try taking a month ‘break’ where you focus on editing those stories. Your writing will improve because of it.
4) The Editing – It’s time to make your story shine. Give it a fresh new set of clothes, trim its hair, shave its face, and teach it some manners. Some recommend you edit only after finishing a first draft. Really, though, this is mainly so that you don’t get so caught up in being perfect along the way that you never finish the story. The key is knowing what works best for you. If you can definitely produce a finished product even though your process is to write one publishable paragraph a day and that works for you, then by all means….
5) The Submission – Researching agents/magazines/publications/weird little green men who buy literature. It’s a whole different part of being an author. It requires different skills (organization, diligence, the ability to follow directions, etc, etc), a different kind of patience, and an even thicker skin than needed for feedback. Also, I’m afraid, it’s not guaranteed to be the final stage. You see, this list can be cyclic. Rejection could put you right back up at #3, or even at #1. Be careful not to become so obsessed with one project that you don’t realize when it’s time to count your losses, lick your wounds, and start on something new.
Note: feedback is an important part of writing, and I think it can be incorporated in all stages listed here.
One important takeaway of the Five Dynamics is that being aware of your natural inclination to a certain part of the process can help you check yourself, so to speak. I urge you to do the same with writing.
Which stage is easiest for you? Which gives you the most trouble?