The Stages of Creative Writing (and How to Make the Most of Them)

The idea that creativity flows naturally and effortlessly is one of the biggest, most harmful myths out there — because it can really hurt you if (correction: when), during a creative writing project, you instead find that writing is hard, painful, and boring. You might feel like you’re not really meant to be a creative writer, because if you were, it would all be easier, right? 


You’re not alone. Whether you’re a professional writer, creative writing is a serious hobby of yours, or you are a beginner who is burning to get your story out, you are going to find yourself in the same boat as all other creatives. We might not all experience the same stages in the same order, and we’ll probably discover that each project is different from the last, but all creative writers live through highs, lows, and everything in between. 


You’ll know you’re a creative writer when you recognize all these stages:

  • Inspiration! Not only do you know more or less exactly what you want to write, the perfect words also seem to come to you. Your fingers can hardly keep up with your brain as you frantically type away, and you’re worried that you’ll lose your flow if you step away from your desk even for a short while. You have to write, and you have to do it now. Congratulations, you’ve discovered peak creative flow!
  • Preparation. You’re into your project, and you’re happily researching any background info you need to get your story going — perhaps with the help of a thousand browser tabs, a mind map, or old-fashioned pieces of scribbled-on paper. You’re not ready to actually do any serious writing, but that’s OK, because you’ll get there.
    • Procrastination and boredom. Creative writers can end up in this stage for all sorts of reasons. You might be fatigued because you overdid it last night, unable to find the right words and losing confidence in yourself, or you just can’t get your hands on that one crucial bit of information or inspiration you convinced yourself you need. Even though you committed to writing a certain number of daily words, you’d rather do anything else right now — including the dishes or your taxes. 
  • “I can’t do this!” You’re really not feeling it. Anything you write in this frame of mind is definitely not creative, and will instantly be deleted. One of the fastest ways to get here is worrying that others won’t like your work. At this stage in the creative writing process, you need to step away.
  • Percolation. You might not actively be writing anything creative, but the cogs are definitely turning. You are getting somewhere. In this stage, be on the lookout for a sudden burst of inspiration.
  • “OK, maybe I can do this.” You’re not at your very best, but you feel like a competent writer. Now’s a good time to proofread and edit the work you have already done, and maybe write a little. 
  • This rocks! Being a writer is the best! Yes, you’ll get there! When you’ve gone through all the stages of creative writing and back, and your project is nearly complete, you read back over it and know that there isn’t much that needs to be, or can be, improved. You are happy with and proud of your writing. You’re almost there. 


As creative writers, we all strive for creative flow and wish we had a personal exorcist on hand to banish the miserably unproductive stages. Although there’s something to be said for the idea that the procrastination and percolation stages of the creative writing process are essential, you can sometimes lift yourself out of those and get back into that peak. 


Tick all your self-care boxes — getting a good night’s sleep, eating well, exercising, having a nice conversation or reading a good book — and then return to your core mission. Liberate yourself from the needless distractions that threaten the quality of your creative writing, especially self-doubt and worry. Write what you need to, without awakening your inner critic. If you’re able to do that, you’ll find your inspiration soon enough, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a better writer. Although not everything you write during those bursts of extreme productivity is going to make it into your final version, it will at the very least give you a whole lot to work with during your editing stage. 


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