On Writing,  publishing

Stages of a Fiction Writer: Last Summary

(Last very short summary chapter for this book. Patreon supporters, you will get the full book sent to you when it is all done. Please note: This is advanced reader copy. This has not been proofed. That will be taken care of when I turn in the final book to WMG Publishing.)

Links to first six chapters at the bottom of this short summary.



As I have said a number of times, no writer skips over any of these four stages of a fiction writer. We all go through them starting at the beginning if we ever get to stage four, the top level of fiction writers.

However, along the way, sadly, millions of writers get stopped in chasing their dream of writing sellable fiction at one stage or another.

So this book was my attempt to detail out the road that fiction writers walk.

And maybe for a few writers give some hints as to what is ahead.

And for another few writers, help the realization of what is happening with their writing is normal.

The Four Stages Once Again:

Stage one writers only worry about the typing. The words.

Stage two writers are starting to worry about story and character, but still focus on typing and the words. Stage two writers are still lost in thinking that polishing a story will help it. But they are in transition from the first stage to the third stage.

Stage three writers have expanded out to be aware of story and characters and they notice pacing and so much more. (Remember, stage three is a huge area that takes years to get through and most never do.)

Stage three writers early on start to understand words are tools and by the end of stage three the writers are so focused on story they often no longer see the words. And seldom rewrite. Stage three writers can make a living for a short time, but this stage is where most writers leave for a thousand personal reasons.

Stage four writers could not much care about the words. Words are in the complete control of stage four writers and are only part of the tools the writer uses. What is important to a stage four writer is what the reader is experiencing at any give moment in the story.

So think of the journey in this fashion…

A writer starts by focusing only on the tools, then expands out to learn aspects of telling stories and finally moves to a position of controlling readers’ minds.

Stage one and two writers are typists.

Stage three writers tell stories.

Stage four writers are entertainers.

It really is that simple.

And that hard.

I hope this book helps you with your journey. And can keep you moving forward and learning and having fun.


Links to all the chapters…


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six





  • Dane Tyler

    Holy cow! I might actually be in the beginning of STAGE THREE! Wow!

    I figured myself based on the earlier chapters to be solidly in Stage Two, but based on how I worked through my last novel and what the focus I have for it is, I think I might be in Stage Three! That’s…jaw-dropping to say the least!

    I can’t say I don’t care about the words, but I can say with great confidence the focus is far more on the other elements at this point. It’s so interested to me, because I’ve never seen anyone explain this so concisely and clearly before. I just thought writers got better at craft going forward, but didn’t realize it would have so delineated a progression.

    As an aside, I have a writer friend who’s very good with prose, a strong craftsman. He’s finished nine novels and has sought representation on all of them but struck out every time. He asked if I wanted him to critique the last novel for me, and provide whatever feedback I wanted from him. But he also wrote a blog post about how, while he understood the logic of the Writing into the Dark method, he couldn’t get behind the idea of no rewriting.

    I explained over and over what I was doing publicly for a couple of reasons, one of which was to ensure I didn’t forget it, but to also make clear how freeing it is as a writing method. But he never got it. And I wonder whether my friend, who has been at this much longer (in a serious way) than I have, is stuck in say Stage Two, or isn’t as far along in Stage Three as nine novels might indicate. He’s still buying into all the myths of writing and rewriting, and I feel like I can’t help him.

    Then again, maybe he doesn’t want help from anyone who’s not as experienced, or isn’t in traditional publishing somehow. (He’s editing his word to suit his agent at this point.)

    At any rate, this was very eye-opening, very encouraging. Thank you so much, Dean. It’s been a blessing to me, and I’d wager many others as well. I am in your debt.

    PS – the links all say “Page Not Found” when clicked.

    • dwsmith

      Dane, sadly, let him go. He’s lost and swirling in the myths and no amount of logic or helping him understand how a human creative brain works will get through. Sad.

      Wonder why he’s struck out, huh? You would think that repeating the same thing over and over and failing over and over would finally tell him he might need to listen to how long-term pros do it. But alas… the myth of rewriting is very, very powerful.

  • john zemler

    Hi Dean,
    Thank you for taking the time to consolidate all of this to a single web page with links. That is very useful. Given how busy you are with everything else, am grateful you got this page put together for us all.
    Also, thanks for the plug about the latest Story Bundle..I also scored the graphic novel collection as well as the Women in SF Bundle.
    Semper Pax, John

  • George Donnelly

    I’ve read a lot of your blog posts and some of your books. Apologies if this is answered somewhere obvious that I missed. But:

    What’s the difference between rewriting and polishing?

    I try to kick out a first draft pretty quickly without engaging the critical mind, running mostly from the creative mind.

    Then I go back and work it over in many different ways. I won’t bore you with all of them. But what confuses me is how do I tell the difference between good rewriting that improves the text and bad polishing that kills my voice?

    Thanks for everything you do!

    • dwsmith

      No rewriting from critical voice improves anything. Period, no matter what you call it. Polishing or rewriting.

      My question to you is this: How do you know your “first draft” besides a few typos isn’t great? Your creative mind is a ton better than critical voice (in all us).

      You are still buying into they myth that you can be sloppy in the first draft and rewrite or polish or tweak or whatever name you attach to ruining your story. Learn how to let the creative voice just run and then trust it and besides fixing typos, leave it alone. You might be surprised at what people say about the improvement in your work when you stop ruining it with your critical voice.

      Ahh, blunt Dean is out in the morning. (grin)

  • fred aiken

    Thank you for posting the long awaited final chapter of the Stages of a Fiction Writer. I clicked on the links for the two chapters that I had not read (five and six) and encountered the following messages “Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.” I am looking forward to purchasing this book when it becomes available.

  • Vera Soroka

    I believe I’m entering into stage three. I never have did a lot of rewriting or polishing because I did not know what that was all about. Revision was something that I had no idea how you did. I ended up writing three versions of a story in my attempt. So I gave up. What I write is what I write. When I get to the end that is it, the thing is done. I might add more words when I go over it because maybe I didn’t convey what I meant to say but I’m getting better at that. I never took courses in writing so was never taught any of these things.
    I think the best teachers for me as been other writers. I see that you should study writers that have been in the business for a while. I looked at ones that had not published that many books. And what is interesting is the one I admired who wrote YA who is trad published didn’t get better. I noticed this with her last series. She took a step back instead of forward. I didn’t like it at all so I see where you have to look at someone who had been in the business for a while and has a track record.

    • dwsmith

      Agreed completely, Vera. Study writers who have been around longer than five or ten novels, who have decades of writing behind them, and are still surviving just fine. Amazingly, there are a lot of us out there. All doing our own things.

  • Gnondpom

    Thank you for this whole very well illustrated journey into an author’s career! I did not follow your blog when you wrote the rest of the book, but I’ve been caught on catching up.

    I’ve got one question though: do you think that just about anyone would have the potential to get to stage four (provided of course that they want to and put all the studying, reading, writing, … necessary), or do you think it takes a certain type of skill to start with? I mean, most jobs are not suited to everyone, and some people would make very good surgeons but very bad lawyers for instance – is it the same with writing? I’ve gathered that one important part of becoming a good writer was having fun writing, but if you have fun writing, does it necessarily mean that you would be able to go through all stages (if you don’t stop before, of course)?

    Several times in the book you say that unfortunately many writers quit along the path, e.g. during stage three, but maybe some of them quit because they just didn’t have the potential to go any further, even if they really wanted to and tried really hard studying/reading/practicing like you said?

    Just being curious, and I guess my question just boils down to: Do you believe in genius (or special abilities) in writing (even if it does take time for anyone to get to stage four) or is it mainly a lot of practice?

    • dwsmith

      Anyone with the drive can make it. Talent is a measure of a person’s skill level at specific moment in time. If I had this skill from now and went back forty years, I would be called genius and talented.

      Talent can be learned. Many writers use talent as an excuse to not go forward by letting their critical voice repeat over and over that they are not talented. So fear of talent can stop you cold and make you quit, but never lack of talent.

      I HATED writing when going though school, hated essay questions, and always failed them. If some idiot would have looked at me at that point in time and said, “You have no talent to write, so don’t even try” I might not have ended up here.

      I now HATE what people do to young people on both sides of this coin. “Oh, you are talented” which makes people think they don’t have to work at something or “You have no talent for this” which makes people quit.

      Stupid, flat stupid from both directions.

      How was that for an answer? (grin)

      Talent is a measure of skill and craft at a moment in time. Nothing more.

      • Gnondpom

        That was a fairly clear and direct answer, thank you!

        I guess the emphasis on the drive is what makes the whole difference: not everyone who would like some day to become a writer will, just because not everyone is ready to commit to learn and work hard towards that goal.

        Exactly like not every child who thought they would become a doctor as a grown-up does, because many get discouraged by the years of study.

        • dwsmith

          Yes, drive is another matter completely. Drive on good days, drive on bad days, drive year-after-year. Not a clue where that comes from.