How To Solve the Mystery of the Writing Process

By Harris Levon McRae

The main point of all writing is to communicate a clear message to the reader. Words are able to take you places that may seem as exhilarating as breathing in the frosty morning air at the top of Kilimanjaro.  Writing can give you an adrenaline rush as electrifying as whooshing in your raft down the Colorado River taking in all of the magnificence of the Grand Canyon.  Words can transport you to other times, other dimensions, other worlds.  Good writing may seem mysterious but some of the mystery is removed by breaking down the writing process step-by-step. 


"Easy reading is damn hard writing." 

— Nathaniel Hawthorne

The best writers are voracious readers--you should be too.  Take advantage of being able to learn how to create narrative structures and characters from the greatest writers in history.  Read and learn how they develop tension and write 

dialogue.   Notice how they establish mood, images, and meaning while also delivering a strong message.

Just as musicians get inspired by other musicians, and artists get inspired by other artists, writers inspire other writers. If you want to become a better writer read everything that you can get your hands on.  Not just novels and nonfiction, but magazines and graphic novels as well.


“The most difficult and complicated part of the writing process is the beginning.”  

— A. B. Yehoshua

Good writers plan carefully how they will develop a message before they start to compose.  You do the prep work for your piece in prewriting.  The main purpose of prewriting is to find the focus of what you will ultimately write about.  This is where you choose a topic, gather ideas, and do any research that you may need to help back up your knowledge of the topic.  Although it is called “prewriting”, you will probably wind up doing a lot of writing during this stage.  Writing an outline, for example or listing all of your ideas.  Now you have your plan and you're ready to start writing.


“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

— Ernest Hemingway

Rough drafts are where writers get to write in a way that is the most comfortable for them.  This is where your writing style starts to poke through.  Writers use this time to add a little personality to help to communicate the message.  Let it all pour out--the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And there will be bad and ugly.  All writers can attest to this.  Take some risks.  Write.  Write.  Write.  Much of the mystery of the writing process will slowly unveil during the composing stage.


"You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke." 

— Arthur Plotnik

This is where writers pick apart what they have written in order to examine it and fine tune it.   In this step, you go over your rough draft with a fine-tooth comb and make changes to pinpoint your message.  Some writers scrap all of the writing done up to this point altogether and start over.  Do not be discouraged.  The best writers are brutal editors.  

Words can transport you to other times, other dimensions, other worlds.  When combined, reading, prewriting, writing, and editing serve as powerful tools to help take some of the mystery out of the writing process.  

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