The Deepening and Shaping Stages

In this series we’re discussing the seven specific stages you go through from beginning to end with a writing project. There is potential for both growth and failure at each stage.

(First read about the preparation stage, the germination stage, and the working stage.)

Deepening and Shaping

At the beginning of the deepening stage, you’ve already completed a rough draft. You may also have done some fixing on your draft, especially if you zipped through the rough draft at lightning speed, just getting it down as fast as you can. You may need to go back, fill in missing parts, rearrange some things.

If you’re a writer who writes a bit, then revises that bit before going on, your first finished draft was actually revised as you went along. Either way, it’s time to get down to some deeper work now. The deepening stage is more challenging, but very satisfying!

According to Louise de Salvo in Writing as a Way of Healing, in this deepening stage “we revisit, rethink, re-imagine, and revise what we’ve been doing. Often during this stage we learn what our project is really about, even if we’ve been working on it for years.” There is also a shaping stage, according this author, “during which we find the work’s order and form.”

Be Aware: Potential for Growth…and Failure

This is hard work, and these stages require a lot of deep thinking. During these stages, I tend to read books about deepening characters, or books on emotional structure and character arcs. I might study books on voice as I rethink various characters and how they’re coming across. There is potential for much growth during this period.

The dangers during the deepening and shaping stages have to do with maintaining our interest in the writing project. By now, we may be tired of the story, even sick of it, and the thought of going through the novel one or two or more times makes us want to run screaming into the woods.

If your enthusiasm diminishes, you must find ways to reignite it instead of abandoning the work. Read about the writing processes of other writers. You’ll see that you’re not alone by any means with the struggles of this stage. And give yourself credit–even celebrate–each new mini-completion you accomplish. It doesn’t feel like we’re making progress–we aren’t adding new pages now. However, each time you go through the manuscript and shape a bit here, cut a bit there, deepen that character’s motivation, enhance the outdoor scenery, or whatever you feel needs to be done–you are making progress. It is getting closer to the vision you had way back when you started the novel.

It’s a bit like the transition stage of having a baby–you’re sick of the whole process and would like to quit and go home–but you’re so close to holding the baby. Remember that with your book too. The deepening and shaping stages are bringing you ever closer to holding that finished book in your hands.

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