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Point of View: The Eight Phases of Writing

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In a little over a week, I’ll be releasing my book about indie writing, sharing everything I’ve learned over the last seven years. You can preorder Suck a Little Happy Juice here. I’ll be sharing some of my most popular columns that are now in the book to whet your appetite…

Almost every author goes through phases when writing a new work, especially a longer one. Although the details may vary a bit from author to author, the broad strokes are probably very similar.

Here are mine:

Phase One—The New Journey: This is the honeymoon phase. The story is fresh, and you just know you’re going to knock it out of the park. Surely you can get this thing done in a few weeks—a month at most. And you don’t need no stinking second draft.

Phase Two—The Slog: This is when you really start to get into the meat of the story. You realize that your characters can be really boring sometimes, and this may take more than a couple weeks. So you try to spice things up a bit—a surprise attack here, some breathtaking scenery there. But sooner or later, it hits you that you’re just going to have to slog through the boring parts, and hope your readers will be willing to also.

Phase Three—The Great Idea: This is the part, usually about halfway though, when you are struck by The Great Idea—the twist that will give your story new life and redirect it to an ending that even a fortune teller with a time machine wouldn’t be able to predict. Sometimes it’s a paradigm shift. Sometimes one of your characters gets ornery and decides he’d rather be a barista. Or a space pilot. Or a tree. But you charge ahead, full of new energy.

Phase Four—My Writing Sucks: This is the worst phase of all. It’s the point you reach, especially when you are on a deadline, when it suddenly dawns on you that you may not be able to finish it on time. That your whole story is basically just two guys walking through a forest. That The Great Idea you had in Phase Three didn’t work out (it turns out trees can be quite boring as characters) and has totally screwed up half the things you said in the first part of the story. It’s going to need editing. Like, a shit ton of editing. It’s been two long months already, and the bloody thing still isn’t finished. This is usually followed by Phase Four-B—crawl back into bed with a couple pints of ice cream.

Phase Five—I Totally Got This: This is when your natural writer’s ego starts to reassert itself. “I’m almost there. I can do this.” You get back to your desk and assess the damage, and (hopefully) it’s not as bad as you feared. You dig back in and start to steer this unwieldy oil tanker of a novel into port. Then, just like that, you’re done.

Phase Six—The Rewrite (AKA The Second Slog): This is the oh-my-gawd-don’t-make-me-do-this part that most writers dread. You’ve already written the story. It’s done. And now you have to read it all over again. Only slower. And you have to make changes. If you’re like me, you rewrite almost everything, smoothing out the text, adding details, fleshing out scenes. And by the time you are halfway through, you start to wish you were dead. Or a firefighter. Or maybe a DMV worker. Anything but a writer. And if you are a perfectionist, there may even be a third slog in your future. Lucky you!

Phase Seven: The Submission: And finally, the-book-that-ate-your-life is out of your hands and off into the world. You breathe a huge sigh of relief. Once again, you have conquered the writing gods and channeled, if not a masterpiece, then at least a half-decent piece of fiction. You’re done!

At least, until first edits come back.

And finally, one more phase:

Phase Eight—I Can Write!: This is the best one, the part where you go back and read your own stuff much later—maybe even months or years later. And it hits you that it’s actually pretty damned good. It doesn’t always happen—I’ve written a few stinkers. But when it does, it’s almost as great as Phase One.

And all is right in the world again.

Author friends: any phases you would add?

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