“C’mon, little guy, you can do it! Go ahead, sweetie, you can let go of my hand. Mommy’s right here if you need me. Ahhhhhh, there he goes! Yayyyyyy!”
Oh, the lovely sounds of a parent coaxing along a baby’s attempt to take their first steps. It’s such an exciting moment in a parent’s life. It seems like it takes forever for babies to get from doing little movements while lying on their belly (or tummy time), to rocking back and forth and bouncing on all fours, to crawling, to walking while holding your hands, to cautiously taking those first adorable steps.
The path that writers follow during their writing process is just like a baby’s development. The process of writing an article or a book is very similar to how a baby learns how to walk and talk.
You can’t skip any steps in the process (well, maybe you can, because some babies skip crawling, but they at least have to pull themselves up and go “cruising”), because your content won’t be crafted as well as it should be.
It is crucial to follow the writing process fully. As long as the end result is the same, it doesn’t matter how quickly you complete the work at each stage.
Writing can seem so difficult at times, just as a baby gets frustrated while learning new things during each stage of their development. But if writers focus on their process and don’t skip any steps, their writing will be better and stronger in the long run.
Let’s take a look at each step in the writing process and find out how similar it is to a baby’s development.
The prewriting stage is the beginning of the writing process; this is where you take baby steps.
You stare at your computer screen or blank notepad trying to come up with brilliant ideas for your next article, blog post, or book.
The prewriting part of the writing process is like when a baby is lying in the bassinet. They don’t do much at this stage.
Cry. Eat. Poop. Sleep. Repeat.
But they’re doing more and more each day.
It’s time to generate an idea for your next piece. Get your creative juices flowing to come up with content topics through brainstorming.
This step is when you come up with ideas to start preparing to draft your piece. Brainstorming can be done in a few different ways.
Free writing can be done at this stage of the process. It’s a good method to quickly get your ideas down on paper as they come into your mind. It’s like free association, but for writing instead of psychoanalysis. You capture random ideas without thinking too much about the quality of the text you’re producing.
Free writing is similar to a baby cooing their first sounds. In free writing, nothing concrete is produced, but thoughts and ideas are created. Babies making their first sounds are trying out some new things and learning the ideas that will eventually become talking.
Mind mapping is another method of brainstorming. It’s a way of getting ideas out of your brain and onto paper. You start with a central idea and then branch out related topics from there.
Mind mapping is similar to a baby learning how to do tummy time. The first idea you generate is like when the baby is lying flat on their back, not moving much other than their hands and feet, until mommy or daddy moves them to their belly. But just as the ideas start to flow and topics begin to branch out for the writer, the baby is learning to strengthen their head and neck by reaching out and stretching for toys.
Effective brainstorming will help you come up with enough ideas to develop a proper outline.
Now that you have all those fab ideas down on paper or on your computer screen, create an outline of what your piece will look like. You can point out the main topics you will discuss and any anecdotes you might want to include (“Ooh, that story about the guy with the weird orange hat might work here …”).
Outlining is like a baby becoming a pro at rolling over and babbling. All their previous hard work is coming together to allow them to move on to their next level of development.
Just like rolling over and babbling is vital for a baby to start walking and talking, outlining is also a very important step in the writing process. A good outline could save you several hours of writing time because all your thoughts will be delineated clearly. The following steps will help you develop an outline:
Now, all you have to do is go section by section and fill in the gaps. Easy-peasy, right?
Preparing for the first draft is like the baby starting to sit up on their own. This is uber cute, especially the part when they sit up and then get wobbly and clumsily fall over to one side — kind of like writing your first draft.
Now that you’ve gathered all your ideas and have a structured outline of what you want to include in the piece, it’s time to start writing that first draft.
Following a clearly defined outline makes drafting an article much easier. You won’t forget which points to hit because they’re all laid out for you. It’s like following a treasure map, except instead of pirate’s booty, you get a published article. (Tomayto, tomahto.)
Keep in mind that the first draft is a rough draft and does not have to be perfect. The most important thing to do is to write and keep writing until the end. Then, you can go back and make revisions.
This stage of the process is like the baby saying their first words. Babbling is their way of conversing with mommy and daddy. It might not seem like the best way to communicate at first, but that’s how babies learn to move to the next level of speech.
The baby is sitting up on their own, but they still might tumble over from time to time. This process is similar to writers stumbling over their words while trying to create that first draft, but it’s alright because going through the process is what will get you to your end goal.
Try not to edit yourself while you’re writing the first draft. I know it’s super hard to do, particularly for people who are editors or proofreaders by trade, but it’s important to let your ideas flow freely and to not overthink things.
Make sure to do some research and cite sources that help you prove your points. For example, if you write an article about how the sky is purple and you don’t back it up with relevant sources, your argument won’t hold water.
The baby is crawling! They can roll to their tummy and back again, and can sit up without help. They know their name and turn to look at you when you say it. Writers are on more of a roll once they get into their writing groove. While they’re pounding out the last few sections of their draft, they’re like babies crawling at warp speed across the room. Nothing can stop them!
You’re now ready for the revision phase.
An important aspect of writing is rewriting. Once you have your first draft, you are at the point where you want to make revisions to develop a second draft.
This is the point where you polish your content to make it shine. It’s already great, but you want it to stand out from other published pieces.
You may want to take some time away from your content, even a few days, and then come back to it with a fresh perspective. Doing so might make it easier for you to notice things you may have missed the first few hundred times around.
In this stage, the baby’s newfound confidence is allowing them to express themselves more verbally. They start to repeat everything you say, and even if they aren’t putting together full thoughts or sentences, they are working hard to come up with their own language and move on to the next step in developing their speech. The baby is also getting ready to move from crawling to pulling themselves up and “cruising” by holding onto the couch.
Here are some things to look out for during the revising stage:
During this step, you can add text if you need a piece to be longer or make it shorter if you have a word limit.
Okay, now it’s time to perfect this article. After revising your document to this point, you should now have a clear understanding of how the document is structured and what might need to be improved upon. That knowledge will prepare you for receiving feedback on your writing during the editing and proofreading stage.
Now that you have a clean, revised draft, it’s time to edit and proofread your piece to make it an even better version of what it already is.
The editing process is where the writer finds out if their piece hits or misses the mark. This is where they figure out if the content is structurally sound.
Having an editor review your content at this point in the process (instead of self-editing) could be very helpful. You can gain a lot of insight by asking for someone else’s outside perspective on your work.
Editing your second draft is like a baby taking their first steps and holding their parents’ hands while walking. They’re still too afraid to walk on their own, but they’re getting braver every day. They trust that their parents won’t let them fall down and get hurt, but they also know they can let go of the hands when they’re ready.
If you have external editors review your writing, think of them as the parents. You might be afraid to accept their feedback, but don’t worry, because they’ll hold your hands and won’t let you fall on your face.
How does the text of your content flow? Is it organized well? Does the order of the sections make sense? (This is a double-check, as it should also be done during the revising stage.)
Are you repeating yourself?
Are you repeating yourself?
This is the stage at which you should check for style and voice consistency in the piece.
Is the piece written for the right audience? (This point is important, particularly if you write for different companies with varying audiences.)
Are the verb tenses consistent?
The baby has become an expert cruiser, and they might take a few steps on their own soon.
At this point, the writer feels more confident in the quality of their content and is ready to start proofreading the article to get it to the final steps in the process.
In the proofreading process, check for errors in grammar and punctuation. Check for typographical errors, like misspelled words, extra spaces, or extra periods. Check for inconsistencies. Was an abbreviation used early on but that same word was spelled out in full later in the piece?
Look for style inconsistencies, such as using a space on either side of an em dash in some instances and using no space in others. If you are publishing an article that needs to follow AP Style, make sure you are following the right stylebook. Or if you are writing for a particular company, follow their style guide; if they don’t have one, ask if they have a preferred style.
Verify facts and sources. Check for the correct spelling of proper nouns, like the names of cities. If references are included, those should be verified. Are monetary figures included in the piece? Check the math before moving it along to publication to avoid any embarrassing errors.
The baby’s babbling transforms into saying their first words like “mama” or “dada.” (Such a wonderful feeling, by the way, to hear your baby refer to you as “mama” or “dada” in that itty-bitty baby voice.)
Now your writing is ready for final revision.
This stage of the process is your last chance to incorporate changes before preparing your content for publication.
The baby is walking on their own and using their vocabulary more.
Just as separation anxiety can come into play at certain stages of a baby’s development, if you don’t do your own editing and proofreading, you probably feel the same way when your draft is in the hands of an editor or a proofreader before the final revision stage.
“What will they think of my paper? Will they make a lot of changes? When will I get it back?”
“Why did mommy leave the room? Why did she leave me with grandma? Is she ever coming back?”
This questioning ends once you receive your draft back from the reviewers. You don’t necessarily have to accept every suggestion or change provided by the external editor or proofreader, but don’t be stubborn and keep the text as is just because you think your piece was great the way it was before their review.
It can be difficult to accept people’s feedback on your writing, but it is extremely helpful. Having outside reviewers provide feedback can help improve your work exponentially. They will notice things you can’t because you’re too close to your content to be objective about your work. Editors might have great suggestions about sections to add or extraneous text to remove.
Just treat the editorial review like part of your process instead of getting defensive when reviewing changes. Not only will the edits help improve your current content, but you can keep those suggestions in mind when developing future pieces.
After you have incorporated all the editing and proofreading changes, now is the time to read through your draft a couple more times to see if anything catches your eye and make sure you didn’t miss anything. Also, read the piece out loud, as you can find more errors after hearing the way the article reads.
You can also read your piece backward, sentence by sentence. You can actually catch more errors that way because it fights the urge of your brain to read something the way it should sound as opposed to the way it actually reads.
Once you feel comfortable with the condition of your piece, it’s time to release your content for publication.
“Aw, they grow up so fast!”
When you publish a piece of content, you look back at the original draft and probably think, “Wow, that sure has come a long way since the beginning!” Even though it’s a cumbersome process, it’s worth going through all the steps to make sure the content is as rich as possible.
The same concept applies to babies. You feel nostalgic thinking back to when they were infants. “Remember when we could hold his little head in our hands and he would fit on our arm? He’s gotten so big!”
At this point, the baby can walk on their own, climb up and down steps, stand on their tiptoes (totes adorbs!), and kick and throw a ball. They climb onto sofas and chairs, and they can follow directions like “Bring me that book.”
They know colors (even if they say “inge” for “orange” and “bue” for “blue,” like my toddler does). The baby’s running quickly with their parents chasing behind them, and the baby’s able to say two- or three-word sentences.
Just like you’ll be saying, “Article published!”
It’s a painstaking process, but it’s so worth it to see the final product after all the stages of development. A published, high-quality article is a beautiful thing.
Just as it’s important for babies to learn how to crawl first before they walk, it’s imperative for writers to follow each step in the writing process to ensure they produce high-quality content.
If you do the brainstorming step but don’t outline the piece sufficiently, it might be harder for you to draft your article.
If you write your draft but don’t edit or proofread it, the piece will not be acceptable for publication. If you don’t want to edit or proofread the copy yourself, or don’t feel confident in your ability, hire someone to help you, or have a trusted friend or colleague review your content.
Doing final reviews of your piece before publication is a great way to catch any inconsistencies or notice a section that doesn’t read well.
Just as parents shouldn’t compare their babies’ development to that of other babies, writers should not compare themselves to other writers. It’s okay if it takes you longer than someone else to work through certain stages of the writing process. It might take you forever to brainstorm to find ideas for content, but it could take you less time to complete your first draft of a piece.
During the writing process, there might be some stumbling along the way, just as a baby tumbles over and gets a few bumps and bruises while learning how to walk. But you’ll get there as long as you follow all the steps in the process. Now start crawling so you can walk your way to a published article!
Melissa Lewis Grimm, ELS, graduated from Millersville University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. She has worked as an editor and a marketing manager for a laboratory standards–developing organization, a proofreader for a nursing continuing education provider, and a journal manager for a scientific and medical publishing company. Despite Melissa’s work history, one of her lofty goals is to become a world-famous voiceover talent. Yes, you read that correctly! She loves spending time with her wonderful husband and adorable toddler. She is currently Senior Copy Editor at Craft Your Content.