The Stages of Writing: A Roadmap to Narrative Nonfiction
by Kathryn
the stages of writing begin with reading

As a writer and teacher, it is essential to explain the stages of writing to my students. Too often, students want to sit down at a computer and begin tapping away at the next Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction. Writing is a journey, a creative process that requires dedication, patience, and a deep understanding of the subject matter. And the idea that there is a deeply important generative phase I call “pre-writing” is often not yet understood.

For authors, whether they are crafting a research paper, a memoir, or a work of narrative non-fiction, each stage of the writing process holds its own significance. It is important to understand the different stages to manage expectations and alleviate anxiety over word counts. In this blog post, I set out explore the various stages of writing and offer valuable insights into how to navigate them effectively.

Research and Reading
Before you embark on any writing journey, take time to lay a solid foundation through research and reading. This stage is amorphous but exciting. 
  • Mind-Mapping and Brainstorming. Use mind maps, brainstorming sessions, or free-writing exercises to generate ideas, organize your thoughts, and uncover the connections between different aspects of your topic.
  • Searching for an Angle into Your Subject. Begin by delving into your subject matter, exploring various angles and perspectives. This initial exploration can help you identify a unique perspective or an intriguing aspect of your topic that will captivate your readers.
  • Being an Active, Not Passive, Reader. Reading is not a passive activity during the research stage. Take notes, highlight key points, and engage critically with the material. Being an active reader will help you internalize the information and make it easier to incorporate into your writing later

Once you have a clear direction for your writing, the pre-writing stage involves:

  • Outlining and Organizing Material. Create a detailed outline that serves as the roadmap for your writing. Organize your research materials, ideas, and key points within this structure. This step will help you maintain clarity and coherence in your writing.
  • Therapeutic Writing for Memoirists. For memoirists, this stage may involve therapeutic writing exercises to explore personal experiences and emotions. This can be both cathartic and instrumental in shaping your narrative.
  • Reflecting upon the Kind of Voice Required. Understanding the tone and style of your writing is crucial. Depending on your project, you may need to adopt a voice that is reportage, academic, personal, or a blend of these. Reflect on which voice will best convey your message and connect with your audience.
Outlining and Ordering

Before you dive into the actual writing, consider the structure of your piece:

  • Considering Order. Think about the logical flow of your content. How will you order your ideas to create a compelling narrative or argument? Consider the sequence that will best engage your readers.
  • Thinking of Narrative Arc. Even non-fiction works benefit from a narrative arc. Consider the beginning, middle, and end of your piece. How will you build tension, provide resolution, and keep your readers engaged?


Now, it’s time to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard:

  • Turning to a Keyboard and Churning Out Drafts: In this stage, don’t worry too much about perfection. Focus on getting your ideas down on paper. You can refine and edit later. Embrace the writing process as it unfolds.
  • Creating Scenes of Narrative Non-Fiction: For narrative non-fiction, pay special attention to creating vivid scenes. Develop dialogue, character depth, a strong sense of place, and a distinctive narrative voice. These elements will bring your story to life.


Writing is not a linear process; it’s iterative. In this stage:

  • Re-writing: Be prepared to revise your work. Re-read, rethink, and refine your writing. This is where you polish your prose and make it shine.
  • Revision: Look at the big picture. Does your narrative flow smoothly? Is your argument persuasive? Make necessary changes to improve overall structure and coherence.
  • Editing: Pay attention to the finer details. Edit for grammar, punctuation, clarity, and style. Consistency is key, so ensure your voice remains consistent throughout the piece.
  • Publication: Finally, once you are satisfied with your work and have received feedback from others, it’s time to consider publication. Whether you’re aiming for traditional publishing or self-publishing, this stage requires careful consideration of your audience and market.


The stages of writing are important to understand. Writing is a multi-faceted journey that involves various stages, each with its own challenges and rewards. By embracing these stages, from research and reading to publication, you can craft a piece that is both informative and engaging. Take your time, enjoy the process, and let your words flow. Be aware of your emotions and manage your expectations for each stage.

If you would like to book a 1:1 with Kathryn Aalto to discuss a writing project, consider booking an Inspire Hour. Learn more here.

Happy writing!