Jumping into writing a book is so much fun. But when we start writing a book without enough knowledge on the process, we can end up stalled in our progress.
That’s why it’s so important to learn about the six phases of writing a book. Knowing what they are and when it’s time to move into each one will not only make the act of writing easier for you, but it will also teach you what a realistic book-writing process looks like.
[02:13] We have some mistaken ideas about books and they get in the way because they create ideas in our head that foster a sense of perfectionism.
[03:53] Your book is never going to be out into the world if you don't at least complete that first draft. So many people get stuck here
[6:08] We don't know how to do that work, and so we end up paralyzed.
[06:46] It's where you ask yourself, what am I really intending with this book? What do I intend to include and what can be excluded?
[10:02] Phase four is editing, often revision and editing get conflated, and that's really problematic when that happens.
[11:28] You are not doing it wrong just because what you see on Instagram and what you see in the movies doesn't look like that, doesn't mean that this isn't the reality.
[16:55] You want to be associated with the best possible work that you can put out into the world, and that's why these phases matter.
Well, hey there, writer. Welcome to The Resilient Writers Radio Show. I'm your host, Rhonda Douglas, and this is the podcast for writers who want to create and sustain a writing life they love.
Because—let's face it—the writing life has its ups and downs, and we wanna not just write, but also to be able to enjoy the process so that we'll spend more time with our butt-in-chair getting those words on the page.
This podcast is for writers who love books, and everything that goes into the making of them. For writers who wanna learn and grow in their craft, and improve their writing skills. Writers who want to finish their books, and get them out into the world so their ideal readers can enjoy them, writers who wanna spend more time in that flow state, writers who want to connect with other writers to celebrate and be in community in this crazy roller coaster ride we call “the writing life.”
We are resilient writers. We're writing for the rest of our lives, and we're having a good time doing it. So welcome, writer, I'm so glad you're here. Let's jump right into today's show.
Hey there, writer. Welcome back to another episode of The Resilient Writers Radio Show. This is part of a little series that I'm doing about finishing books. If you listen to the other episodes in this series, you'll know that I had an event, and at that event, it turned out that 98% of writers who were there to set goals for the year had finishing a book on their goal list for 2024. So I began to think about what are some of the ways that I can offer some support to give that a boost as you move into your year and start working on finishing your book.
In this episode, I want to talk about the six phases of a book, and I want to talk about this because I find that the writers that I meet and work with, whether it's in first book finish or just in any of the work that I do with writers, we have some mistaken ideas about books and they get in the way because they create ideas in our head that foster a sense of perfectionism.
That's the worst of it, but also kind of imposter syndrome because we think that the way that we are doing it is somehow wrong and other people are doing it more quickly and more easily, and it's because we have a mistaken idea of how books work.
I want to walk you through the six phases of a book. I actually think I'm going to talk about an extra phase at the end because I think this also does matter. There is something there around what happens after you finish the book that I want to also add.
So, let's talk about the six phases of a book. Phase one is what I think of as the start. This is where you have that “aha” moment. You have the idea for a book and you begin doing some notes, little bits of text, some character sketches, maybe an outline.
You start writing a scene here and there, a few sections. If you're working on a collection, maybe you do some stories, maybe you've got a couple chapters going. Maybe you're just noodling around about the setting. Maybe you're doing some research. It's the start. That's phase one.
Phase two is the first draft. I meet a lot of writers when they are at this phase of finishing that first draft. And let me just say, I think this is possibly the most important phase because you cannot do anything without a completed first draft, right? Your book is never going to get out into the world if you don't at least complete that first draft. So many people get stuck here. They have a partially finished draft that they give up on for all kinds of reasons.
Basically, I'm talking about completing a first draft of the full manuscript. This is a more or less complete narrative arc of your story. Look, you're still going to have some plot holes. My current draft, I'm working on a historical mystery novel. There are plot holes big enough to drive a tractor through in that sucker, right? There are some character inconsistencies, some plot inconsistencies.
Maybe there's still some more research needed so that you can fill out different parts of the novel. I need to research, for example, surgical instruments in the 1880s, England. I'm going to need to do that before I can finish this book. The structure might not yet be final. For collections, whether it's essays or stories, maybe you have the individual pieces complete in their first drafts, but you haven't yet curated what the overall collection looks like in terms of the content.
So, that's a full first draft. Some people refer to it as the shitty first draft, the sketchy first draft, the skeleton draft, the developmental draft. I love that phrase from Sir Terry Pratchett—may he rest in peace—that says the first draft is just you telling yourself the story. So for me, a completed first draft is, you've got the beginning, the middle, and the end down. You roughly know what you intend the story to be, even though you know might change it and fix it up in revision.
But for now, this is the beginning, middle, and end of your story. You're at roughly the word count that you need for whatever genre you're writing in, whether that's 50,000 or 80,000 or a hundred thousand if you're writing kind of the epic fantasy YA novel, right? So that's the first draft. That is phase two.
Phase one is the start. Phase two is the completed first draft. Phase three is revision, and phase three is another place where writers often get stuck.
We come out of a draft, we look at it, we know it's full of holes and inconsistencies, that it needs more work. We don't know how to do that work, and so we end up paralyzed. We go into it, we start page one, chapter one, and we try to fix everything all at once. And let me tell you that that does not work.
I've developed a whole revision method that is step-by-step that I use in First Book Finish because of this issue. But let me just walk you through what revision looks like. I think of revision as revisioning the story, okay? It's a way of rethinking the story. You're going to reconsider your story, your theme, the concept of the book, the structure. It's where you ask yourself, what am I really intending with this book? What do I intend to include and what can be excluded?
Yes, you'll be editing the text, but you'll also be deleting, adding and moving elements of it, the entire book, around. It's large scale editing for clarity, for story clarity or for message clarity. And I think of this as, basically, this first revision is preparing it for beta reader feedback. And so the first revision is a story clarity revision.
I was just texting with Vivian, shoutout to Vivienne this morning, who's right in that revision process, and we were talking back and forth. She's in First Book Finish with me, and we were talking back and forth about where she is in her current revision because it's so easy to fall into perfectionism here, where you're trying to make every page, every line, every paragraph, every scene, perfect. That is the wrong way to approach this stage of revision. The first phase of revision is about story clarity, and we get a clear comprehensive story with a completed narrative arc, closed off character arcs, and we send that sucker off to beta readers for feedback.
They're called beta readers, not omega readers, people. You don't need to send a perfect book to your beta readers. They know that you're going to do further work. You're going to do a story clarity revision. You're going to get it off to beta readers. They're going to tell you what's working and what's not working for them as readers with your story, with your book.
Then you are going to do further revision work. You're going to do a pass of your manuscript that responds to the beta reader feedback, integrates the feedback that you've received so far. Then maybe you'll do a pass that's about your description and your setting. Maybe you do a pass that's about your dialogue.
You'll definitely do line edits. You'll do edits where you're trying to figure out, what's the best way to say this? What is the most effective way to transition in and out of different spaces in the novel? How do I make my verbs more active? How do I improve the first 10 pages, the first 20 pages of my novel to really hook the reader? You'll do all of that, but you won't do it all at once.
That's the thing. It's a much more iterative process. It can be broken down into something that’s step-by-step, and I've done that. But what I want you to know today is that you can release the perfectionism because you're going to do it in stages, okay? Revision often takes longer than the draft. With the draft, you're just getting down the story, but here you are making and remaking your story and your book with each new pass. Okay?
So we have phase one, the start. Phase two, the first draft. Phase three is revision, and you're going to do a couple versions in here. I know writers who've done 10 passes of revision, and I know writers who've done three.
Revision is the revisioning of your book in order to reconsider and clarify the story, the theme, the concept and structure.
After we revise, we edit. Hello, these are different things. Phase four is editing, often revision and editing get conflated, and that's really problematic when that happens because, as I mentioned before, you can't go into chapter one and expect to do 15, 20 things all at once in that chapter. You revise first for story clarity and then you edit.
Editing has to do with rewriting sections, chapters, entire pieces. You might still be doing some editing at this stage where you're moving things around, but you're definitely doing page, scene editing, paragraph line level editing, and you'll probably do multiple editing rounds here. Phase three is revision for story clarity and scene clarity, that kind of thing. Large scale clarity of your story.
Phase four is editing. It's line level, it's paragraph level, it's maybe scene level. And you're going to do multiple passes here as well. So that thing that we sometimes see in the movie where people are, particularly if they're on a typewriter and they're just typing away, and then they pull that last page down to the typewriter and they put it on the stack and they're done, that's not a thing.
Writing a book is a very iterative process and it builds step by step, and sometimes you're going back to the previous step to fix something or change something, and that is fine. That is how it's supposed to be. You are not doing it wrong just because what you see on Instagram and what you see in the movies doesn't look like that, doesn't mean that this isn't the reality.
Phase one, the start. Phase two, the first draft. Phase three, revision, revisioning the story. Phase four, editing. Phase five is submission.
So in phase five, you need to make decisions. You need to decide, “am I going the traditional publishing route or am I going to go the indie publishing, the self-publishing route?”
If it's traditional publication, you need to decide, “am I going with literary presses, smaller presses, medium-sized presses where I can submit myself, or am I looking for an agent to represent me and my work and sell it to publishers of whatever size?” You're going to prepare your queries and the manuscript to get that out to potential agents and publishers.
If you're self-publishing, you're going to replace all of that work with research into the best self-publishing option for you. Some people end up going hybrid where they hire a company who helps them with editing, proofing, laying out, cover, getting it up on IngramSpark, getting it up on Amazon, whatever you want to do.
But there's a lot to this, and you have to make sure you're making the right decisions. So sometimes going with a hybrid option is the best option, if you are a little bit afraid of making the wrong steps here. There are some mistakes you can make in self-publishing that will limit what's possible for you. Sometimes hybrid is a great option and there are definitely some more affordable, legitimate options under the hybrid piece, but you can also just do pure self-publishing, whether you create your own imprint and kind of create a logo and decide you have your own publishing company, or whether you just get it up yourself under your own name, that's all fine.
But you need to know what all your options are and make the right choice for you and prepare all the material you're going to need. Meta descriptions, back cover material, all of that stuff.
So whether you are traditionally publishing or indie publishing, I think of this as the submission stage because it's basically preparation for publication, phase five.
Phase six is publication. Once you're accepted for publication, in the traditional world, there typically is at least one more round of editing, but sometimes more. Maybe your agent wants to suggest some edits, maybe you get under contract with a publisher and they have some edits they want to do. There'll also be fact checking, copy editing, page proofs.
There's a whole process here. You'll plan out the book launch and promotion with your publisher. Publication in the traditional world includes several more steps and publication in the indie world, the self-publishing world, includes more steps as well.
And I think the thing I wanted to add here—so, these are the main six phases. At the end of phase six publication, your book is out into the world. Someone could buy it and read it, okay? Phase one, the start. Phase two, first draft. Phase three, revisioning. Phase four, edit. Phase five, submission or preparation for publication, and phase six, publication.
And if you've been around in the publishing world for any amount of time, you'll know that the piece that I've just left out here is the marketing, the building of an author platform, so that you can find the readers who are going to love your book, and that's sometimes different. I know there are authors who say, “look, I don't want to be doing any social media or anything. I just want to be writing. I want to focus on my writing,” and I get that. But know that even if you are in the traditional publishing world, there is now expectation from agents and from publishers that you are doing something to help promote your own books.
You will need an author platform. I like to think of this as a minimalist marketing approach where you are very strategically selecting how you're going to do this in order to make the most of the time that you have, so that it doesn't take over your writing life. There definitely is a way to do that, but one way or another, you're going to need an author platform. I think that you can wrap it into stage six, the publication phase, which is all about getting the book out into the world, but you will need to do it.
So those are the six phases of a book, and I like to go through those in detail with you because I think that sometimes we have really been fed a load of bumf by movies, by authors on social media who make it look so easy, by folks involved in, maybe, the hybrid publishing industry or trying to sell you programs on how to finish your book in 30 days, that kind of thing.
It doesn't work like that. There's a lot of work that goes into getting a book out into the world that you would be proud to call yours. No one wants to put a book out into the world and have it get one-star reviews on Amazon because it's riddled with plot inconsistencies, errors, historical inaccuracies, and spelling and grammar mistakes. Nobody wants that. You don't want that for yourself.
You want to be associated with the best possible work that you can put out into the world, and that's why these phases matter. But they matter for another reason. They matter because we get up in our heads with perfectionism and imposter syndrome and it stops us from finishing books. A big, big, big piece, possibly 80% of the work that I see writers doing, needing to do in order to finish a book and get it out into the world, is related to what's going on between their ears as they finish the book.
Thoughts of when you go to sit down to write and you think that you have to make this scene perfect right now because you will never get another chance, that is a form of perfectionism. It is going to get in your way. It is going to stop you from finishing rather than knowing that, hey, there's six phases to this thing, and that means that there's six different places where I can come back to this book and iterate it and make it progressively better until it's ready to go out into the world.
To me, the idea that there's six phases to a book is liberating, like hallelujah, because I don't have to get it all right in phase one. When I'm sitting down to draft this thing. I can know that it doesn't have to be perfect right now. I have all these chances to make it progressively better and better in the phases and all the steps that are in them.
I hope that leaves you feeling liberated today so that you can sit down at your desk and draft and revise and edit knowing that you don't have to fix everything and make it perfect in every single writing session. You've got lots of chances. There's six phases to this. There will be other people involved with your book and lots of opportunities for you to make it the best that it can be. I hope this was helpful. I will see you soon in another episode of The Resilient Writers Radio Show. Take care.
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