Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Five Stages of Writing a Book

Writing a book is a process.  Sometimes it's a joyous process.  Sometimes it's a painful one.  Sometimes it makes you fat.

Here are the five stages of writing a book as stated by me.

1.  Euphoria - Your idea is shiny and new.  Nothing can touch it.  In fact, it's the best idea in the whole universe of ideas.  You want to call everyone you know and tell them about your brilliant idea and force them to tell you how absolutely amazing your idea is.  No, you haven't got a single word written yet.  In fact, you don't know characters names, setting, or even the plot.  It's okay!  Your idea is brilliant!  Sadly, many writers become addicted to the euphoria and never ever leave this stage.  They sit in coffee shops with their moleskine notebooks coming up with brilliant idea after brilliant idea, never concerned with the fact that their longest work to date is their grocery list.

2.  Denial - Much like euphoria, denial is a powerful thing.  This is the phase where a writer, armed with their idea, will ignore all the doubters, will ignore their own good sense and nagging insecurities, and sit down to write.  Congratulations if you've gotten to Denial.  Denial can last anywhere from 10k to 50k words.  You're sitting there, typing away.  Your chapters are flowing, your characters are awesome.  Everything they say is gold.  Outlines?  Who needs 'em?  Your idea is coming to life and that's all that matters.  Also during this stage, your family will forget what you look like and your friends will begin to believe you've been kidnapped by pirates.  This is the most productive stage of all because you're writing and you haven't yet decided that God made you a writer as some kind of sadistic punishment for something you did in a past life.

3. Depression - Depression is the stage during which 99% of all books die.  It is also the stage during which many pints of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food and packages of Double Stuff Oreos are sacrificed to the writing muses.  Depression sets in when you get to that point--sometimes 20k words, sometimes 80k--and all the doubts that you ignored in Denial resurface.  No one's going to want to read this drivel.  It's crap, I'm crap, and books are for sissies.  You frequently find time to look up odd facts on Wikipedia.  Did you know that there's a theory about Quantum immortality which means a person could possibly live forever?  Oh, that'd make a great new story.  Better than the drivel I'm writing.  Plus the one I'm writing isn't going well at all. My characters are boring, my dialog is trite, someone else probably wrote something similar and without as many lame fart jokes.  But this new idea.  It's Brilliant!  Yeah, that's how it usually goes.  Ask any writer and they'll likely show you a drawer--a graveyard if you will--of half-completed novels, many of which are titled, "Why Do I Suck So Bad?"  Writers at this stage are writers at their lowest.  They're looking for the next big idea, the next high.  Many never recover and wind up prostituting themselves in the stacks at local libraries and Barnes and Noble's for ideas.   Any idea will do, they're not picky.

4.  Resolution - Escaping depression isn't easy.  The first thing you have to do is realize that your book does in fact suck ass.  All first drafts suck ass.  Yes, your dialog is clunky, your characters are two dimensional, your brilliant plot probably wasn't that great to begin with, and chances are that your book will probably never see the light of day.  Once you make that realization, you can begin the trek toward the end.  The resolution means committing to finish that book, no matter what.  You're in the third act and you don't know how to get Mary Sue to the prom on time?  Toss in some aliens.  They can pick her up and take her in their ship.  Or better yet, blow up the prom.  Problem solved.  However you do it, finish.  Set an end scene and work toward that.  Writers in this stage are things of beauty...smelly, stinky, unshaven beauty.  Late nights turn into early mornings.  Coffee becomes the new water.  Their friends and family and spouses become so used to seeing them in their pajamas and hearing the words, "Just let me finish this one scene," that they're not even sure who that person in the chair is anymore.  But the closer that writer gets to writing "The End" the more beautiful they become.

5.  Euphoria (again) - Yes!  The book is done.  Sure, you have dinosaurs coming out of a magic mirror in the middle of your pivotal football game, but it doesn't matter because you're DONE...with the first draft.  You can't wait to show it to anyone and everyone who will read it.  Any writer who reaches this stage should feel an immense sense of accomplishment...and desire to shower and shave.  They should also avoid immediately going back and reading said first draft to avoid seeing lines like, "She fingered her wavy hair with her long, pointy fingers, and stared at the majestic sunrise while thinking thoughts about things that made her sad with depression."  Simply bask in the glory of finishing the manuscript.  Visit with your friends--don't be offended if they've forgotten your name--get reacquainted with your family and marvel at how much your children have grown.  When you began with your brilliant idea, they were barely walking and now they're in college.  Everyone loves you and the world is right, for you have written a book.

Euphoria (again) ends when you realize your book really does suck and you have to start the revision process....which is a whole different set of steps and requires more comfort than mere ice cream can provide.


  1. Love it! So true. It's always good to hear that other people go through the exact same torture that I do ;D

  2. This is great! Love the dinosaurs coming out of mirror part. So easy to ignore those kinds of things when you are at that just-finished-first-draft-moment. :-)

  3. Lol, I'm in the depression phase right now. :) Ben & Jerry, here I come.

  4. So awesome.

    "You frequently find time to look up odd facts on Wikipedia."


  5. This is just what I needed to hear, thank you!

  6. Myla: But it's such great torture, isn't it?

  7. Margie: I know, right? I always look back at first drafts and try to remember what I was thinking when I put something totally crazy in.

    B.J.: Ha! Me too. I'm trying to fend off the ice cream with grapes. It's not working well.

    Stephanie: OMG! I totally spend half my writing time looking up stuff on Wikipedia. It's how I actually found the idea for the story I'm working on now. When it gets really bad, I use this program called Freedom, that shuts off my wifi for a set amount of time. Total lifesaver.

    Lynsey: No, thank you!

  8. I'm with Margie - the dinosaurs coming out of the magic mirror had me rolling.

    Looking forward to the 5 Stages of Revision!

  9. LOL! This is SOOO Great!!! Love it! :D

  10. This is my favorite post of yours. The picture tops it off like a bow on a Christmas gift.

  11. This is FANTASTIC!

    I'm totally stuck in depression (word count has been steadily decreasing over the last 2 months as I delete more than I write), but your post makes me want to jump headlong into resolution.

    So much so that I'm leaving work early and whipping my WIP into shape.

    Well, that and eating ice cream. Can't move too quickly after all.


    word verification: cride. Some combination of pride and crying? Seems fitting.


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