The Writing Process - My 4 S Process

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Although there's no magical writing formula, it can be helpful to read about someone else's process to see if there's something we might borrow in order to ease our own creative output.

Writing magic is when the words come out in one beautiful coherent piece, all at once, in one sitting.

Those days are a beautiful blessing from the Creative Muse - but most of the writing process isn't like this. (And if we wait for those days, we won't end up doing much writing.)

A lot of my more complex pieces - where many ideas are interwoven to support one main point - are the intellectual equivalent of trying to hold a beach ball under water. There's struggle, sweat, and I get hit in the face a few times as an untethered idea pops up as if to say "And what are you going to do with me, huh?"

Here's the messy but effective writing process I've developed for myself. I know it works because I'm able to consistently produce in a way that doesn't hurt my brain too much.

To be clear; I'm not saying this is the right way to do it; I'm just saying this is how I do it.

My 4 S Writing Process

The 4 S's of my Writing process are:
  1. Stream of Consciousness
  2. Structuring
  3. Streamlining
  4. Snipping

Step 1 - STREAM of Consciousness

The first step in my writing process is Stream of Consciousness - a.k.a - the brain dump, the idea vomit, the BIG BLEH.

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Expecting ideas to be delivered in a neat and orderly fashion directly from your brain to the page is generally unrealistic. (Asking for it to be so is a direct path to writers block.)

Most people don't think in a linear manner; we think in idea clouds where one idea triggers a bunch of other ideas. (At least that's how my brain works, but I have ADD, so maybe it's different for everyone else.) 

My brain is like Google in that one word is enough to come up with thousands of hits; quotes, references, pictures, song lyrics, TV shows, movies, sights, sounds, smells... you name it.

Because of that, my first step is writing down that stream of consciousness. I take the 'Google' search results my brain's come up with around a topic and I write it all down. All of the thoughts, ideas, jokes, and brain farts get to come out. It's the same concept as brainstorming because there's no editing at this stage.

The result of the brain dump is raw material; it's nothing as it is, but there is gold in there. In order to find the gold though, all the ideas have to come out, so I indiscriminately allow EVERYTHING.

The brain dump is a mess because it's supposed to be. In this step, there's ZERO JUDGMENT. Anything goes.


The second step in my writing process is Structuring.

Structuring is about identifying and arranging the big ideas into a rough outline.

This is where I tackle the heap of ideas that resulted from the brain dump, and pick through the big chunks - and by "chunks" I mean the big ideas.

Structuring is about making something out of the mess of the brain dump. It's about identifying the foundational ideas based on the point I'm trying to make. (And for the love of all that is holy, any time you sit down to write, PLEASE HAVE A POINT.)

This step is about identifying what does and doesn't support the point I'm trying make; keeping what does and getting rid of the rest. That can be hard, the 'getting rid of' part because as writers we get attached to our ideas.

That's what 'draft' is for - I often take ideas that are good, but unrelated to my current subject, and save them into a new draft post. If I like the idea, maybe I can turn it into a post later, or I can tie it in with another idea in a different post. (This is how I end up with between 80-90 draft posts on any given day. As I develop and publish one idea, two or three more pop up; my ideas multiply like feisty rabbits.)

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The only thing that structuring is about is moving the messy chunks into somewhat of an order. I'm not editing at this point, I'm just identifying and arranging the idea chunks.

In this step, I become more discerning; but I only judge the quality and relevance of the big ideas against my main point. Nothing else.


The third step of my writing process is Streamlining.

Streamlining is about smoothing the chunks. I've got these big chunky ideas, still dirty from the stream of consciousness brain dump, and now I need to smooth them out, wipe away the excess so that I get a clearer picture.

This is where the editing and word-smithing begins; the idea chunks have been arranged, and they've been vetted for relevance. Now it's time to really clean them up.

Paragraphs, sentences, words, everything is on the table ready to be scrubbed away if they don't support the main point.

This step involves reading and re-reading. This is where I'm the panning for gold, where the dirty excess needs to fall away to reveal the beauty of the shiny idea nuggets.

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It means a lot of deleting. It means questioning every idea / word / sentence / paragraph and asking if it supports the main points. I've learned to be ruthless with myself in this step; I cannot keep ideas / words / sentences / paragraphs just because I love them if they don't support my main point. I can put them into another draft post to be used later, but I cannot keep them in that piece of writing.

In this step, I become as judgmental as a high-school mean-girl; everything is up for scrutiny. Everything. Often a lot of the content simply doesn't cut it, and that's the point of this step - to get rid of the excess mess that resulted from the brain dump. This step is ruthless. In this step, I'm looking at each of the trees in the forest because it's all about SCRUTINY.


The fourth and final step of my writing process is Snipping.

All of the idea chunks are now clean and neatly lined-up; the only thing left to do is the finessing.

This step is about using a tiny tool (think nail scissors) to snip and adjust. These are the smallest of tweaks; a comma here, a contraction there, finding a different word or removing a word all together.

Snipping is about ensuring flow. It sometimes means reading a word or sentence out loud to verify flow. A stumble indicates lack of flow, so then I need to ask "How do I fix that?"

In this step, I remain as judgmental as that high-school mean-girl; but I do it from the perspective of looking at the overall picture - seeing the forest, not the individual trees. I'm looking at the whole and asking "Does this picture make sense?" To get a yes answer, there has to be flow of thought and flow of word, and a no means that further sacrifices will need to be made.

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BONUS STEP: Walk Away & Circle Back

This step is how you get a piece of writing from GOOD to GREAT.

Walk away from the writing for a while. And then circle back.

You don't have to do this step, but it's a step I always do. I never, EVER, publish a FRESH piece of writing. Like a fine wine, writing is best when it's had a chance to age.

Once I feel that a piece of writing is done, I walk away from it. Not so long that it turns to ice, but long enough for it to cool down from the intense heat that was applied to it in the above dumping, arranging, and cleaning process.


Because when I'm fresh from the creative process around a particular idea, my brain has filled in some of the gaps, repeated words or ideas, or made other blunders that I just can't see in the moment.

When I walk away then circle back, those things jump out in flashing neon lights so they're easy to fix.

This step is the quality step because a first think-through might be GOOD, but a second think-through will be GOLD.

Writing isn't rocket science; it's about sitting down to do it, and finding the process that works for each one of us.

The creative process can be intellectually and emotionally challenging as we struggle to take our nebulous ideas and turn them into a concrete finished product.

Being a visionary is not for the intellectually weak; it takes persistence to produce again and again in an arena where there's no recipe for success. (Bake a 350 for 25 minutes and presto - a perfect piece of writing. If only it were that easy.)

There's no magical formula because everyone has their own way of creating, but it can be helpful to read about someone else's process to see if there's something that we might borrow in order to ease our own process and consequently increase our productivity. 

Because anything that makes the process easier will make it more likely that we'll do it again.

And creative people need to do it again, and again and again if they hope to live a happy existence.

If you bring forth what is within you, 
what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you,
what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

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