In between “start” and “ship” there are five indistinct stages. The stage of “Ideation & Research” takes place both before and after you start writing. It is observation, wondering, the collection of evidence, the generation and assimilation of ideas. It is the asking of questions and the exploration of potential answers, and it can last for days, or for decades. The “Outlining” stage is where ideas are aligned and begin to take on a shape, flow or form. It involves the creation of a certain order from seeming chaos. The “Drafting” stage is where the work begins. It is where you take an abstract entity and bring it into concrete reality. Alchemy is performed; ideas become words, sentences and paragraphs. The “Macro-Editing” stage is the domain of major structural and content changes. It is this stage in which things are cut, added, expanded, minimised, re-organised and experimented with. At this point nothing is sacred and everything is liable to be re-worked. The “Micro-Editing” stage is where minor structural and content changes take place. You’re happy with the overall structure and you’ve made peace with what’s included and what’s not. All that remains is to take a magnifying glass and examine the piece at a sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word level. This is where you look at the nuts and bolts of the writing: punctuation, word choice, rhythm, style, tone, tense, all that fun stuff.
Now, there remains only two things to say about the writing process, and they are perhaps the most important. The first is an explanation of what “thrashing” is. It’s a word I picked up from Seth Godin’s Linchpin. He describes it as so:
“Thrashing is essential. The question is: when to thrash?
In the typical amateur project, all the thrashing is near the end. The closer we get to shipping, the more people get involved, the more meetings we have, the more likely the CEO wants to be involved. And why not? What’s the point of getting involved early when you can’t see what’s already done and your work will probably be redone anyway?
The point of getting everyone involved early is simple: thrash late and you won’t ship. Thrash late and you introduce bugs. Professional creators thrash early. The closer the project gets to completion, the fewer people see it and the fewer changes are permitted.”