The steps in James Clear’s writing process enabled him to build a large audience and sell over 1 million copies of his book Atomic Habits. It’s a basic writing process that anyone can use, regardless of your writing goals.
The Prewriting Stage- Everything That Comes Before the Steps in the Writing Process
There are four habits in the pre-writing strategy that come before the actual writing. You’ll notice that all great writers have these habits in common.
1. Read a lot
Writing without reading is like trying to cook without ingredients. Good writers read a lot because you have to read good writing to be a great writer. Ryan Holiday’s reading habits have made him one of the most prolific writers of our generation.
2. Take Notes on the Books You Read
When you take notes on the books you read, you will gain a deeper understanding of what you have read. You’ll also have insights from various sources that you can apply to the later steps in the writing process.
3. Develop a Writing Habit
James Clear says that habits are the compound interest of self-improvement and creative habits are the compound interest of a successful creative career. By developing a writing habit, it will be much easier for you to consistently follow the steps in the writing process.
4. Everything you Learn About the Writing Process in School is Bullshit
The writing process for a book or blog post is different than the writing process for five-paragraph essays and academic writing. In school, you write to pass tests, not so someone will want to read your writing. There’s a reason there’s nobody has ever written the great American five-paragraph essay or why successful writers don’t always emerge from college writing courses.
5 Steps in Writing Process
1. Capture Your Ideas in a Central Repository
If you don’t capture your ideas, you’ll never make them happen. Capturing good and bad ideas is essential to the prewriting phase of the process.
Always carry a notebook with you
Notebooks are fertile ground for creative ideas, are distraction-free by default, and help us capture ideas when we’re not in front of a computer. Putting pen to paper and writing things down in a notebook forces you to slow down, reflect, and find connections between ideas. This is why you should always carry a notebook.
Build a Second Brain
Your brain is a terrible place to store information. As David Allen says, you want to use your brain to have ideas, not to store them. Your second brain is a library of insights, notes, thoughts, and ideas that you have at your fingertips as you begin the steps in the writing process.
Create a Mind Map
Mind Mapping can also be a useful tool for the brainstorming phase of your writing process. If you’re a visual thinker, it can help you see how all of your ideas fit together.
If you make a habit of capturing your ideas, you will rarely have to spend time brainstorming and never have a shortage of ideas to write about. Having a central repository for your ideas is essential to building a system to maximize your creative output and produce a good piece of writing.
2 . Write a Rough Draft
Anne Lamott says that all good writing starts with terrible first efforts. When you write a rough draft, you’re shoveling a mountain of shit to find an ounce of gold. That’s why Anne Lamott calls it a shitty first draft. If you’re lucky, you end up with a good paragraph or page. Other times, you don’t write more than a sentence.
Strive for Progress, not Perfection
Your first draft will probably suck. That’s okay because your goal is progress, not perfection. Put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and write whatever comes to mind. Don’t judge your work until you’ve finished it. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to revise it when you get to other steps in the writing process.
Start with a Quote
When you start with another person’s words, you overcome the initial resistance that many writers feel when faced with a blank page. According to Shawn Achor, your brain makes progress toward a goal based on perceived distance. When you start with another person’s words, your brain thinks the distance is smaller,
Use the Macgyver method When You Get Stuck On Any of the Steps in the Writing Process
When you’re stuck, one of the best things you can do is walk away. The Macgyver Method forces you to do something that appeals to a different part of your brain. Play with Legos, spend time in nature, or just go for a walk.
The Steps in the Writing Process are not Linear
You may create an initial outline for something you want to write. But that doesn’t mean you have to write it in the order of the outline. Your structure has to be linear, but your process doesn’t. This is the key to tackling more ambitious writing projects like books in manageable chunks.
Because they’ve been trained to write five-paragraph essays, people think the steps in the writing process are linear. But what you’re really doing is creating the pieces of a puzzle and putting them together in an order that makes sense.
How James Clear Writes his First Draft
Below is a verbatim description of the first step in James Clear’s writing process he shared on the Unmistakable Creative. You’ll notice many of the things I mentioned above.
I typically write either early in the morning or before lunch., start writing in chunks, break it down into five sections, and get started:
Make this point,
Make the next point.
The main takeaway.
And it’s not always five pieces. Then I try to figure out where they fit. When I get to that point, I usually put them into WordPress so I can see what it actually looks like on the page when it’s published.
3: Content Editing, Refinement, and Revision
“An editor isn’t just someone who says no to things. Even a three-year-old can do that. An editor also doesn’t just eliminate; in some ways, an editor actually adds. What I mean is that a good editor is someone who uses deliberate subtraction to actually bring ideas, setting, plot, and characters to life,” says Greg Mckeown in his book Essentialism.
The Difference Between Editing and Proofreading.
I don’t really think of myself as a great writer. I think I’m a better editor. — James Clear
You proofread for grammar but edit for content. But you also edit for grammatical errors, punctuation errors, and spelling errors. As one of our former team members used to say, “It’s better to have imperfect grammar that has something interesting to say than perfect grammar that has nothing interesting to say.”
How James Edits a Blog Post
I start at the beginning and read the first sentence. If it sounds good, I read the second, and then the third.
At some point, I come to a sentence that doesn’t sound good or doesn’t work well. And then I revise that sentence. And when that’s done, I go back to the beginning and start over and read it all again. By the time I’m done with that, I’ve probably read the article 50 or 100 times.
4: Publish Your Finished Work on a Schedule.
Professionals create on a schedule. Amateurs wait until they’re inspired. If you’re a writer who wants to build an audience for your work, one of the most important steps in the writing process is to publish on a schedule.
Television shows are a perfect example of this. For more than a decade, we all knew that Friends and Seinfeld aired on Thursdays at 8 pm. If there were only new episodes when writers felt inspired, they would never have built an audience.
When you publish your work on a consistent schedule, consuming your content becomes a habit, not an interruption.
6: Master your Craft — The Most Important of The Steps in the Writing Process
Anyone who has ever published a book will tell you that success comes from focusing on mastery instead metrics. If you’re serious about becoming a good writer, you need to continually develop your writing skills. There are no shortcuts or life hacks to mastering your craft.
Do you want to Build an Audience or Learn More About how to Apply the Steps in the Writing Process?
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