How do your children respond when faced with a writing assignment? Do they joyfully grab their notebooks and head off to enthusiastically ponder the topic? Or do they start with frustration and end with full-on panic?

Some writers ooze well-constructed prose and poetry that’s imaginative and insightful with seemingly little effort. For the rest of us, writing is a learned skill that is honed through careful instruction and practice. Over the years, I have found that the key turning point in my students’ confidence and ability comes when they finally embrace the 5-Step Writing Process.

This turning point usually doesn’t come easily. Students struggle against the process because they just don’t want to do it that way. It’s too much work. It requires time and effort and entirely too much thinking. But good writing comes through practicing each step. There’s just no way around it. When teaching my students to embrace the process, I often compare it to a construction project. This analogy has helped them visualize the importance of each step.

The 5-Step Writing Process

1. Prewriting: Lay the foundation

For builders, this step begins with block and concrete. For writers, it begins with notebooks, whiteboards, and recording apps. The foundation of good writing is thorough idea development. Lists, graphic organizers, and freewriting are all effective means of prewriting. A recording app is perfect for learners with physical writing struggles. It removes that creative block and allows ideas to flow. For some learners, even if writing is not laborious, simply speaking and recording ideas is a liberating method of prewriting. Somehow, those same ideas get stuck between the brain and the hand. This leads to frustration and blocks creativity. Experiment with what method works best for your unique writer. You will find that their preferences usually follow their personalities and learning styles.

2. Drafting: Frame the structure

Framing gives a building its shape and leaves space for essential utilities like electricity and plumbing. In drafting, the writer’s ideas take shape in sentences and paragraphs. It’s important to remember that this is the time to create a stable framework. Trying to add extra elements at this point will actually be detrimental to the finished product. In building, this would be a silly time to install hardwood floors or bathroom fixtures. In writing, students often want to “fix” their work (revise and edit) while they’re drafting in order to save time.  However, this is actually counterproductive. Writers who continually revise and edit during the drafting step never get to the end of their projects. Happy writers understand that honoring the process actually SAVES TIME.

3. Revising: Adapt the plan

Every builder knows that construction projects rarely go according to plan. Revising requires a willingness to make serious changes to the original draft. Revising focuses on content: WHAT I said. Students often feel that this part is painful and resist it. They worked hard to formulate and write out all those ideas. Making changes feels like they wasted their time. Like a good builder, happy writers understand that revising plans is essential to the overall success of the project. Sometimes, content has to be added. Other times, content has to be deleted. This is hard. But necessary. The finished project will be so much better for it.

4. Editing: Add finishing touches

It’s time to paint the walls, finish the floors, and install the fixtures that make a house a comfortable home. In writing, this is the time to correct grammar: spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. This is the mechanics of writing: HOW I said it. Happy writers wait for this step because they understand that content comes before mechanics. Mechanics is the finishing touch that makes content polished and readable.

5. Publishing: Share your work

When the house is finished, it’s time to hand the keys over to the homeowner. Creative projects are meant to be shared. Happy writers love to share their work with others because they are satisfied in the knowledge of a job well done. Embracing the 5-Step Writing Process is often a struggle. Helping students understand the purpose of each step allows them to begin. With careful guidance, we can encourage even the most reluctant learners to become happy writers.