Finding your way by understanding the life cycle of a piece.

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By Alissa Johnson

Do you ever find yourself thinking something like the following? My first draft isn't very good, and it's nothing like the story I imagined. Getting feedback to my writing, even thoughtful input, is hard to take. And what the heck am I doing, given the way I have no idea how to finish what I've started?

You're not alone. Every writer has to face what Anne Lamott calls the "shitty first draft." No editor or early reader sends a manuscript back without marking a thing. And most writers who know how their story will end change their minds by the time they write that part.

The truth is that every piece of writing, from a blog post to a novel, goes through a similar process from idea to final draft. And no one gets a free pass to skip it! 

I like to think of it as the Life Cycle of a Piece, and it looks something like this:

  • Idea strikes. It's power is not that it arrives fully formed, but that it gets you to the page.
  • Exploration commences. Before you write the actual piece, it's helpful to get to know your idea through free-writing or brainstorming.
  • First draft lives up to its name: rough. This isn't about good writing. It's about getting the story out of your head and experiencing it yourself.
  • Early revisions look like rewrites. We're not talking adding a word here, taking one away there. We're talking wholesale changes to make sure your story has all the right pieces. 
  • Later revisions fine tune the story. Do you have the right details in place? A sense of place, of character, of meaning? Does the ending measure up?
  • Final edits. Punctuation. Word choice. Line breaks. All the nitty gritty.

Why does this matter?

When you understand where your piece is in this process, you can stop feeling so frustrated.

A rough draft is supposed to be bad! Revisions don't mean you made mistakes; you're just honing in on the story! You don't need to know the ending right away.

I find tremendous relief in that, and the writers I work with do too. 

What about you? Where are you in this cycle right now? Does understanding that help you adjust your expectations? 

If it helps, use these questions as writing prompts and let us know what you discover over in the comments below or on the Facebook page.

P.S. Wish writing could be easier? Learn how it can be with my FREE three-part series, Inside the Writer's Mind. You can learn how to end the struggle and work with yourself today.