Photo by Bruce Guenter

9 Things We Really Do When We Say We’re Writing

I often get the question, “How is the writing going?”

If I were to answer this strictly, meaning am I actually engaging in the act of writing down words, the answer would often be, “Ummmmm, I’ll get back to you on that.” I don’t write daily and when I do write it’s usually quickly. Because I do a lot of pre-work, untangling knots before I get to the writing.

You see, when we say “writing” what we really mean is…


Idea generation is a crucial part of the process. It’s no wonder that “Where do you get your ideas?” is such a common question: people undervalue time spent daydreaming and exploring. Writers need this time to weigh ideas and ultimately choose one to pursue. Sometimes the most valuable work you can do is just to think.


This happens throughout the process, and it covers the gamut from “Is this feasible?” to “What was that really like in 1590?” to identifying sensitivity readers. Writers’ search engine histories are the best to snoop through. I’ve spent hours quadruple-checking that I have the times right for a journey from New Jersey to Canada.

Pre-Work: Map making, character bios, face claims, etc.

This is where you start making things, or identifying things you want to incorporate. Maybe you sketch a rough map, or start a Pinterest board for fashion inspiration. All that hunting and creating helps you narrow down what you do and don’t want in your work.

Beat Sheets & Outlining

It’s time to take those amorphous ideas for scenes and start putting them in some kind of order. Maybe you use a beat sheet for structure, or maybe you wing it and identify turning points after you’ve ‘told’ the story in outline form. Note that some people do this after they pants a draft or two.

Writing: Draft One

Why yes, once in a while we do write! Some writers lean heavily on their planning, and others feel their way as they go, letting things develop in real time. It’s often recommended that you push through a complete first draft before you start in on…


Whole chunks of that first draft may need to go out the window. Others will be tweaked until they’re unrecognizable. Some things may remain the same. Somewhere in here you’ll get feedback from your alpha and beta readers and maybe have to go back to the drawing board yet again.


This is the polishing part. Examining sentences for clarity and verve, hunting down typos, making sure what’s on the page communicates what you intended.

Market Research & Reading

When you do this is debatable, but at some point you’re going to have to see where your book fits into the market. That means prowling GoodReads and Amazon for comparable material, keeping up with best sellers in your genre, and reading anything that looks like it might have similar themes, elements or appeal as your own work. Being knowledgeable about your niche is good business, and agents and editors are impressed when a writer knows it.

Submission Prep

Whether you’re submitting to a literary magazine, querying an agent, or waiting anxiously while your agent pitches to publishers, there’s work that has to be done first. Develop your pitch, know your audience and comps, and polish your materials until they gleam.

Are you exhausted yet? This doesn’t even touch on what happens after you’re selected for traditional publishing or make the decision to go it alone. I think it’s important to acknowledge that “writing” encompasses many different tasks. So they next time someone asks, you can tell them definitively that yes, you are working toward your writing.

Photo by Bruce Guenter

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