The Writing Process: A Visual Guide

One of the most baffling responses I can get from a test reader is, “I didn’t really get this part.”

How could she not pick up on what I very clearly spelled out in that scene or story? I read it a thousand times myself. It’s all there! Right… there…? No?

The problem is that authors tend to fill in missing pieces without realizing it. Which great insight I pondered a lot over the past two days as I put together a surprisingly challenging puzzle.

The job of a writer is to write your ideas so that your readers see them the same way you do.

Allow me to illustrate.

Your Story Concept:

What you see:


What they see:

I put the puzzle together on an old plotboard, hence the “Act 2” part. And my 6-year-old was an enthusiastic helper (for about ten minutes).

You start piecing ideas together. The writing is bad, but you know not to let that stop you. Soon, a shape begins to emerge.

Initial draft

What you see:


What they see:


“I think it needs a little more,” they say.

You pour in hours of more thought and revision.

Second through fourth drafts

What you see:


What they see:


“I like it!” they say. “I didn’t quite get the middle part, though. I think you need to work on that.”

“Darn, does it show that much?”

(It does.)

You take back your story and get to work again. Eventually you heave a tired, satisfied sigh. It’s pretty much done.

You give it to your faithful readers again.

Final Draft:

What you see:


What they see:


“What do you mean it’s not finished?” you exclaim. “What more can I do?

“It’s way smoother. I love the details you added!” they assure you.

“But all those details were already in there!”

If they’re good friends, they insist that part of it still isn’t working, so you take it back and look more closely. Oh, now you see where you didn’t really spell out the setting or a character’s reaction. OH! There’s a BIG hole there! How did you not see that?

More hours. More thought. More writing. And eventually you give it back. You admit that this is what it is:

The Story:


But no story is perfect. You’ve done such a beautiful job on the rest of it that your readers are willing to see it as:


And you think, “Hey, that was totally worth it!”

Because writers are inspired, passionate, and slightly insane.

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