The Five Stages of Great Writing: A Manifesto for the Budding Writer

During my brief eternity on this planet (20 years, to be exact), I have concluded that great writing is comprised of five distinct stages. What follows is my personal manifesto on the art of successfully mastering the blank page and coming out a better writer on the other side. This is legit, you guys! I should know; I experienced all five in order to write this.


A butterfly cannot become a butterfly without isolation. Similarly, a writer cannot metamorphose without spending time alone. Make no mistake, this will be difficult at first, but to be truly great, one must be willing to do hard things.

During your time in solitude, you will be tempted to engage in several activities that are not writing. These include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Putting on music in the background because it “helps your creative process,” only to spend all your time curating the perfect Spotify playlist entitled “Writing!”
  • Reorganizing your entire room
  • Wondering how the hell Stephen King has written 65 novels, and proceeding to venture down a Stephen King internet rabbit hole that culminates in a spontaneous viewing of The Shawshank Redemption (yes! he also wrote that!)
  • Taking personality quizzes on the internet to determine which pasta shape best represents you (apparently I am a tortellini girl because “there's more to [me] than what people see on the outside” - the more you know)

…among many others.

In spite of the overwhelming urge to engage in the aforementioned activities, you must maintain a sense of discipline. For best results, permit yourself to do one of two things: write… or nothing. Absolutely nothing. When you’re not permitted to do anything until you write – not call a friend, not make dinner, not take a walk – writing suddenly becomes a rather appealing choice. What tends to follow, though, is…


The milky abyss of a fresh document has incited fear in the hearts of many. What separates the good writers from the great ones is knowing how to use that fear as a tool. We are taught to fear fear, but I posit that this F-word doesn’t always have to be thought of as a bad thing. You can fear unfulfilled potential, for instance, and use that as a motivator to live an incredibly full life. Alternatively, you can fear imperfection and never begin at all. We choose which side of fear to live on.

Oftentimes, aspiring writers are afraid to begin because they expect instant results. To that I say, the day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit. Another reason why one might fear the blank page is that they do not want to discover that they are actually terrible at writing. If you are one of these folks, I have some good news for you: it’s impossible to get worse at something you do every day.


Okay, so you’re alone (1) and you’ve tackled your terror of the blank page (2). But what to do if the ideas simply aren’t flowing? When you are feeling inspired, write. When you are seeking inspiration, read. A book is a present you can open again and again, a portal to another world. Reading also encourages you to ask questions: How would an author describe me in a book? How would I end this particular story? What do I like about it? What would I change about it? Doing so enables you to know yourself better. Knowing yourself is key to writing from a place of honesty, which is where all the best stuff comes from.

With each new question you ask and solitary moment you spend, you are undergoing the process of becoming - becoming vulnerable, becoming a writer, becoming yourself. Just because it’s taking time doesn’t mean it’s not happening. When you decide to return to the page, you will begin stage four:


Hemingway once postulated that “there is nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Sanguinary metaphor aside, my man Ernest was onto something here: writing is undoubtedly a process of wringing out blood. Not literal blood, of course, but your essence as a human being. Your hopes, dreams, fears… everything vulnerable that flows through your veins. To bleed is to let all of this out onto the page, until it turns a glorious shade of scarlet.

As soon as your fingers grace the keyboard or your pen hits the page, you have entered the arena. You are a gladiator, armed with nothing but your mind and twenty-six characters. The arena can be a rather scary place. Critics will undoubtedly size you up from the comfort of their seats, waiting for you to stumble. In spite of this, you mustn’t turn back. Your only opponent is yourself; to succeed, you must be willing to bleed.


The final stage of great writing is what I like to call “the great leap into the dark.” Writing is simply the act of casting a stone into a deep well. You may not be able to see what lies beyond the darkness, but the *PLOP!* will eventually sound. It always does. A well cannot go on forever.

Similarly, you must be willing to write even if you don’t know where you’re going. Eventually, you will arrive at something truthful, something real, something worth writing about, and it will all have been worth it.