A Peek at My Writing Process

How do you know when your story is ready? I know that my story is ready when I’ve gone through my writing process. It’s really like what your teacher taught you in English class.

What’s my process? Let’s take a look at the writing process I used when I wrote Facing Cancer as a Friend. While I’m using the example of a nonfiction book for this writing process, it works as well for fiction.

Kick off the writing process with a brainstorm

No matter what you’re writing, whether fiction, non-fiction, or a blog, always begin by brainstorming. This is also known as a brain dump or a mind map. Write down every idea that comes to mind about your topic. You can do this as a list, but sometimes it’s more effective to make a web of ideas. You can use paper, a whiteboard or an app. Free Mind is a great free option for mind mapping software.

When brainstorming for Facing Cancer as a Friend, I thought of all of the things we wished people knew about being a friend to someone who had cancer. Then I thought of things I’d learned from living with Dan’s cancer that I wished I had known before, In able to be more supportive of others who’d been in our situation. I wrote down positive things as well as negative things. What were some of the things that people did that really made a difference?

I came up with categories and brainstormed some more. Once I’d emptied my mind of all the thoughts I had on how to be a friend to someone who had cancer, I came to step 2…


This is where you organize all of those thoughts. You ditch the ideas that really shouldn’t be there, and put all of the like ideas into groups. Decide on your main categories and subheadings, or supporting ideas. Ultimately, these are going to become your chapters and sections.


Follow your outline and write your content. At this point, forget about grammar and punctuation. Sometimes those things can get in the way of the process and stifle your creativity. You will be editing it later, but for now, get all of your thoughts down on paper.

Set it aside

Believe it or not, this can be tough. You’ve just experienced the rush of writing. It can become addicting. But, right now the best thing to do is to set the work aside so that you can gain some perspective. If you were to continue working on it at this point, the ideas that are still swimming around in your mind will be harder to sort through. Give it about 3 weeks. Any longer and you may begin to lose the vision.


This is when the magic happens. You need to go through a writing process which takes your raw thoughts and ideas and turns them into something that people will enjoy reading.

Structural/Substantive Editing

Now comes the fun part. You are going to go over your project and make sure that it’s structurally sound. Is everything where it should be? Are there parts that should be cut? Are there areas that need clarification? Does everything make sense? Is it compelling? I love using Scrivener software for this. It enables you to easily move the various parts of a large manuscript around. There are a lot of other great features with this software, making it my go-to tool for writing. If you’d like to try it, you can get a free trial of Scrivener.

Stylistic/Line Editing

At this point, you’ll want to read what you’ve written out loud. Does it sound natural? Is it in your voice? Is it too formal? Not formal enough? Check your contractions. I often write without contractions, because that’s how my thoughts come out on the page. But, that’s not my voice, so I make sure to make any changes needed for the words to sound like I do when I speak. My favorite tool for this is the Hemmingway app. You can use the free online version, or buy a copy for offline use.

Copy Editing

This is the part of the writing process that people often think of when they think of editing, grammar, and punctuation. At this point, you’re done making big changes and you’re focusing on the details. If you don’t have a gift for this, it’s worth paying a professional. These are the mistakes that can distract your readers and give them the impression that you’re not a professional, undermining your authority. If you do go it alone, always use an editing tool such as the Grammarly app to help with anything you might miss. Don’t rely solely on the tool, but it will be very helpful.

Proofreading and Design

This is where you put together all of the visual elements. What fonts are you going to use? Are your page breaks and layout right? Do you have all of your references properly cited? Is everything in order for the front matter of your book? Once you have all of these things checked, it’s time to…

Have someone else read it

Make sure this is someone you can trust to be honest with their opinion about the book. If the reader is detail oriented, all the better, since they may catch small flaws that can be easily missed. Better that one reader is a few. It will be helpful to see if there is a consensus on any changes that are being recommended. If only one person doesn’t like something you wrote but four others love it, you can rule that opinion out.

The Writing Process


Now, you’ll make any final changes that were recommended by your readers. The first chapter of Facing Cancer as a Friend actually came about at this late point in the writing process. The book needed it. Since it was a whole extra chapter, I went through the entire editing portion of the writing process again (just on this part of the book).

Proof/Final Read

After you’ve ordered the proof, be sure to give it a final read through at least once. Make sure that everything is just as it should be in your final product.

Happy? It’s done!

Now you can celebrate. Share your news on Facebook and Twitter and take a good long nap. You’ve earned it.

Sometimes it’s good to take a “digital break.”

That’s what I’m going to be doing in the month of January. I’ve noticed that I’m not getting as much writing done as I should be, so rather than spending time on email, social media, and other online activities; I will be writing and reconnecting with my goals for 2018. You will still see weekly blog posts on Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, because I have already written them and will post them automatically, using a scheduler. Even though I may not respond to your comments right away, I will read them and appreciate them greatly. Since I won’t be sharing my posts to social media in January I would appreciate it if those of you who use social media would share my posts. Thank you!

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

My Family
The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

6 thoughts on “A Peek at My Writing Process”

  1. This is a really useful article Heather, thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. Thank you for the tips, Heather. I really enjoyed reading through what steps you take in writing your blog posts. I always try to improve my writing abilities and your process helped out a lot.

    • Hi Regex. it is very often helpful to learn from other writer’s processes. I think this is why books like Stephen King’s “On Writing,” are so popular. We can learn from other’s mistakes and triumphs. Have a great week!

  3. I just finished copy-pasting (is this a thing my monster article into way too many different tools. How do you optimize your content? My writer friend suggested this download link for INK: http://bit.ly/2ZIT8ht, anyone tried it out?
    What do you think?

    • Hi Priya. I use Yoast and love it. For one thing, it teaches me what search engines like Google want in their algorithms. This makes optimizing my content a natural process because I know what is needed while I’m writing, rather than trying to fix things later.

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