So, I'm likely finished with my idea in form of a novel, but now comes the difficult part with the rewriting.

That's when I thought: What are the general Stages of writing?

Of course I know the Outline and the Draft. This is where the story takes form. The outline is the basic structure of the story (the skeleton) and the draft is the very first version of the whole story.

And now there is the question of mine:

Are there other stages of writing?

I want to know if I missed some stages, that could be essential for my writing process. Or if there are some stages, that could be useful to take.


8 Answers 8


Different writers do things differently. There are writers who don't outline, don't revise, but sit down and write their book and publish it. What works best for you is something you will have to find out through experimentation.

Here are my steps:

  1. Idea
  2. Character development
  3. Worldbuilidng
  4. Plot (maybe outline)
  5. First Draft
  6. Revise character development, worldbuilding, plot
  7. Revise novel = 2nd draft (can be revision of first draft or complete rewrite, depending on extent of necessary changes)
  8. Repeat 6 and 7 until done
  9. Submit (and meanwhile begin work on the next novel)
  10. Work in demanded changes and publish (or file away for later use, e.g. as "quarry")
  • Never throw away! That would be a waste even if it is not published. Aug 6, 2018 at 8:06
  • 1
    @TotumusMaximus Well, "throw away" was figuratively speaking. Maybe what I should have written is: file away.
    – user32282
    Aug 6, 2018 at 9:17
  • 1
    Hm, that sounds like a really good approach on a novel. I take your answer in
    – Pawana
    Aug 6, 2018 at 9:21

In general I work through the following:

  • High Concept, what are the big changes, magic, technology and/or history.
  • Consequences, what are the knock on effects of the big changes that separate the setting from the world we know.
  • Worldbuilding, geology, geography, ethnogenesis, politics, economy, character archetypes.
  • Writing, test pieces and development notes are written during worldbuilding to help cement certain concepts and aspects, now I can start telling actual stories from the setting. Usually these are new stories but sometimes they're old stories that were started as stand alone pieces without a defined setting but hit a brick wall and can only now be finished because I know where they fit. Always write like the world is ending and you must finish the work yesterday, fix it later but get the ideas on the page now.
  • Editing, the most aggravating part of any work, going back and fixing everything you didn't do while rushing to get ideas down.

There are many steps that you can take or choose not to take and no true order in which to do them. For most people, it's just the order in which they think of things. There are a few major parts of writing, however, which can be considered as "steps":


  • Worldbuilding.
    Create your world and its contents. Put down ideas about the people who live in your world. If it's set in our world you can put down notes about the setting you've chosen.
  • Character creation.
    You can base your characters on people you know, or just generate them straight from your imagination. What attitudes/opinions would they have in the setting you have chosen?
  • Plan your plot.
    Put together plot points, locations, characters.


  • Write the thing!
    Some people like to write start to finish. Others like to do specific plot points and then fill the space between them later.


  • Check your work.
    Not just for spelling and grammar, but continuity and cohesiveness. Double check for any dead space where the writing isn't really going anywhere. Check for any parts where too much is happening and slow it down.

To add to other's answers, my own writing can be described by two loops:

A. Creative loop:

  1. Excitement
  2. Exhaustion
  3. Writer's block

B. Editing loop:

  1. Sensing flaws in my writing
  2. Revising

While loop "A" eventually results in a roughly finished product, loop "B" can be infinite.


I might differ from others, and maybe it is me who is wrong, but I really only have three stages:

  • idea (when it's just in my head)
  • writing (when I put it down on paper/digital)
  • editing (when I go over already written things)

However, these stages are not clearly separated. I usually jot down some notes during the idea stage and often those notes evolve into text. I often go over previous parts while writing and edit them, because often while you write one thing you realize that the scene before doesn't work with this continuation, but you like the continuation so you edit the previous scene.

It's like stages of a relationship. Sure you can split it into flirting, dating, relationship, serious relationship - but in reality the transition is fluid.

Note that this is me. Many writers do, in fact, have very clearly structured stages and never do any editing until the first draft writing is done, for example. It works better for them, and that is fine. Figure out what works for you, then try to find stages and names for them.


Personally, I start with nothing more than an interesting character and an overarching story concept. Those are the only two things I have in mind when I sit down to write. I seem to have three main phases.

  1. Write / Develop
  2. Summarize
  3. Review


This is pretty simple. Busy hands, pages of text.

Most of my time is spent in this phase, but it's not very complicated so the "Develop" phase gets more explanation.

As I write, I take frequent breaks to "branch out"; this is where I flesh out the world and any new characters I've introduced.


If the plot needs something, I make a note so I remember to edit or supplement what I've already written. I also write notes on what each character/faction wants or needs to do within the story. To this end, I use Scrivener since it makes it very easy to take notes and manage the document in sections---tasks which many word processors cannot do very well at all.

This can redirect the plot---sometimes slightly, sometimes significantly. I find I'm usually done with major changes once I've identified 2-3 main characters.


At the end, I'll outline the plot. I try the built-in tool; sometimes it works with minor tweaking, and sometimes I just do it by hand.

I will also make a final inventory of the goals, actions, and histories of the characters/factions.


I check the outline against my notes, and I generally make subtle changes to ensure consistency or deepen characterization.

Basically, I'm removing potential friction points for the reader.

At this point, I'll contemplate a major rewrite if the story becomes more intriguing by resolving the friction points in another direction.

Wait... rewrite when?!

I find that putting off consideration of a rewrite until the end is a huge benefit. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it has worked out very well in practice. Instead of agonizing over every decision, I get into the flow and enjoy the process more.

My process is unconventional if you've primarily written essays or technical papers. It is largely undirected. I start with no defined thesis, endpoint, or goal. The endpoint evolves as the characters bring the world around them into focus.

This only works if you accept one core principle: Always be flexible and willing to pursue an alternative. You're only wasting time if you don't enjoy the process.


Cognitively, there is none!

On the surface, there are stages that other answers have provided, and by all mean stick to them as a checklist to know where you are, and to be confident when others ask you "how is your work?". But ideas just come and go. Today you will be so exciting for figuring out a perfect connection between two previous ideas, and next week you will feel stuck again. And when you finish and ask for feedback, you will realize that you have to work again. And another feedback, and work again. Of course you will finish one day, but it's almost impossible to anticipate how long it will be actually finished. And when you do it, you definitely need to multiple that number several times (the Cone of Uncertainty). In software development the actual duration is 4 times or 1/4 of the first estimates.


After The First Draft,

I do several things. I often have ten drafts (of novels that run over 120,000 words). Make sure you have a separate backup of your work before you begin changing it, every time. My backups have the date & time of the backup in the name.

Second Draft, Identify and fix non-creative errors.

My first time through I am looking for obvious errors, in grammar, in confusing pronoun usage (usually with two of the same gender interacting; "She didn't think she was right". Is that Alice didn't think Betty was right, or vice versa, or Alice didn't think Alice was right, or Betty didn't think Betty was right?

Also errors like attributing a line of dialogue to the wrong character, or I've found unfinished lines, or formatting errors like failing to indent or quote dialogue, italicize thought, failing to page break between chapters, and so on.

During this first read through, I will also leave myself notes in the text. I don't use square brackets in my fiction writing, so my notes are for creative tasks or errors I notice. For example, [Too much exposition], or [you said 'breathless' 3 times in two pages], or [Repeating yourself, you explained this just a while ago]. I will leave notes like [Shorten, maybe Delete].

A similar note is [Why?]; short for "consequences?", which I put on passages that I am not sure are necessary to the story at all. Perhaps they can be cut. Particularly if what I wrote has no real consequences later in the story, it doesn't illustrate a character trait, or isn't important to a plot point. This stuff may have been pointless wandering when I was writing, or world building that isn't necessary (describing how flax is turned into fine linen, fascinating and completely irrelevant).

I don't want to get lost in a creative mode in this second draft; not even the surgery of deleting stuff and ensuring the narrative still flows. I want to correct non-creative errors.

Third Draft, Characters.

This is for character consistency and voice. This is focused on character actions, attitudes, expressions and dialogue. For me (a discovery writer), my characters at the end of the story are not exactly the same characters I began with. For example, just due to opportunities along the way in developing my stories, my main character (a girl with a deadly serious job) became quite funny, and I realized she was doing that as a kind of pressure relief valve from her job. On the Second draft I made that part of her personality from the beginning. The same thing goes for the speaking quirks I give my characters. I don't use accents (I hate them!) but all my main characters do get some kind of quirk. They sometimes interrupt themselves, they use a common expression nobody else uses, or one we've heard but too often, like their default. I once knew a fellow student that used "Sweet!" so often it made me have to suppress laughing out loud. I know a professor that, even talking to himself, uses "What?" once or twice a minute. ("So I go to the grocery then what? I go to the bank, then what? ... That's it, I go home.") A speaking quirk may be a tendency to think before answering; or a tendency to answer vaguely or cautiously. Highly logical people can have a tendency toward pedantism, to use weakening qualifiers, e.g. they can't just say "Everybody wants to live!", they feel forced to qualify because obviously some people commit suicide so NOT everybody wants to live, and they think, "The vast majority of people want to live!", but how can they be sure of that? They can't, so better say, "To my knowledge, the vast majority of people want to live."

Other quirks are using some word incorrectly, or 'rewriters' that like to give somebody a better word than whatever they are using. I don't want to hammer these quirks too hard, it becomes comical. But I do want to use them every once in a while, often enough to make the voices different.

In any case, even though the incidents of the book may change the characters significantly, I don't expect them to change their speech, reflexive gestures, expressions or humor, or their courage, or to whom they are sexually attracted, etc.

There is some "soul" of the character that should stay the same, and I don't know what it is until the end of the book! So go back and do whatever soul repair must be done in the beginning.

Fourth Draft. Sensory: Smells, Colors, Touch.

Non-emotional senses. What are my characters seeing, hearing, feeling on their skin, feeling in their gut? What is the temperature? Are they sweating? Are they chilled to shivering or numbness? (Would that make them clumsy?) Does their head ache? Do their joints or muscles ache? Are they sleep deprived, hungry, feeling weak or ill?

Coloring: Am I presenting a world in shades of gray, or do the things we see have actual colors? Is it a tree, or a tree with blond bark, speckled black? Are the leaves green, or the fresh new green of early spring, or the deep dark green of late summer?

What are the best colors to focus on for the mood of the scene? They should be different if we are arguing over finances, or literally trying to kill somebody, or if we snuck away from the campground for a tryst in the woods by the river.

How about smells? The world can stink, people and breath can stink. We can smell perfume, too strong or pleasant. Unlike the movies, in a novel we can show smells, and sometimes how something or somebody smells can set the mood for a scene. Like speech quirks, I don't want to hammer every sense in every scene, complete coverage is not the goal. But sounds, smells, and colors can be useful IF they resonate with the mood of the scene and emotions of the POV character(s).

Fifth Draft, Address Notes, and Map to the Three Act Structure (3AS).

I go through to address my notes (and delete them of course), just "find" a "[" or whatever marker you used to make your notes. Here is where I may delete text, or rewrite things, based on the notes.

At the same time, I keep notes on paper for the 3AS milestone points.

Here is a link, How To Plan Your Novel Using The Three Act Structure.

Although I don't plan my novel using the 3AS, this link does a good job of breaking a novel down into 27 equal length "chapters", nine blocks of three chapters. So each block is 11.1% of the story. You don't have to follow this religiously; but, within 2-3% (2000 to 3000 words in a 100,000 word novel), these are good milestone markers for how commercially successful fiction really does happen to turn out.

For example, the first block is about the Normal World of the MC, and they say it occupies 11.1% of the story (by word count), and the "inciting incident" that sets things off for the MC will occur around halfway through that. I personally use 10% and 5% as my milestones. There are many descriptions of the 3AS and I am used to using multiples of 5%.

So now, as I add and delete stuff to arrive at my near-final text, I can also see how well my story maps to the 3AS, just by these word count percentages. My story already has the plot elements, the 3AS just tells me roughly where those plot points should fall in a good story. The 3AS is a distillation of averages for most stories, and to me, like most averages, my story can be a reasonable amount more or less than the average, depending on circumstances. Likewise, I don't necessarily have to abide by the number of obstacles or conflicts that occur; but as far as the purpose of the nine big blocks in that description, the 3AS is a good guideline.

The real point of this exercise is to identify where my story is too flabby, and where it is too skinny. Any large deviation over the 3AS average percentages is too flabby, any large deviation under the 3AS average is too skinny. This is how I choose where to cut and add. If I do change the length, (as adding sensory information does in a minor way) I go ahead and do that from front-to-back, "finalizing" the first block, then the second, and so on.

Sixth Draft: Repeat Until Clean.

I read it through again, trying hard to not change a thing, not perfect anything, not add anything. I have to guard against OCD. If I fail because something is still just too bad, then I try to address those things with as non-invasive a surgery as possible, adding or subtracting as few words as possible, so I don't change my block counts.

That's my process, tailored for me, how I write, and specifically for the types of things I often forget to do in the first draft. You should personalize it, you can do these in different orders, add your own stages for things you forget to do in the first draft, break them up into different passes if you like.

I do recommend you do something like this for what is important to you in the writing. Stephen King says he does three full-book passes after the first draft; Perhaps he combines some of these steps, or doesn't forget them like I do.

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