Skip to Main Content

The writing process

Learn more about aspects of the writing process to help you stay motivated and on track with your writing.

Start with a plan, and plan on where to start

Have you ever set aside some time to start writing out your assignment, only to find yourself staring at empty space, not knowing where to start?

One of the most obvious reasons this can happen is that you may not have a clear idea of what, exactly, you will have to do to write your paper. It sounds simple, but making progress on your writing is difficult without first deciding what progress will look like. The good news is that since you are in control of your writing process, the goals you set for yourself and the criteria you use to keep yourself on track and measure progress are ultimately up to you. In fact, even your method of creating and following a to-do list depends on your preferences. Whatever your preferred approach to starting and following a plan for your writing, the tips below identify some useful considerations to keep in mind as you set goals that work for your writing process.

Create a to-do list

However you decide to write them down, listing the things you have to do to finish your project can be a strategic way to stay productive and focussed, especially when you feel stuck and don't know what to do next (Flower & Hayes, 1977, p. 453). After all, you will usually have to set aside some time for research-related tasks, summarizing or paraphrasing specific sources, planning your argument, writing out specific sections or paragraphs, editing and proofreading, and of course, formatting different aspects of your paper to APA Style rules. Creating a list of these tasks reminds you to address each of these things, especially when you think you've run out of things to work on and aren't sure what to do next. Although any list in any format can serve this purpose, using a basic timetable or daily planner to schedule tasks specifically for writing can also help you hold yourself accountable to specific goals in your schedule as you work on your project. 

Often, ideas of what you will still have to write about or work on will occur to you in the middle of working on something else, so make sure your digital or print copy of your to-do list is easily accessible so you can modify and develop it as you make progress on your writing. Best of all, the satisfaction of crossing things off that you no longer need to do or have finally accomplished can keep you motivated at times where progress may be slow. (Hint: the more detailed your list, the more opportunities there are to find this sense of accomplishment!)

Image credit: Paico Oficial via Unsplash


Flower, L., & Hayes, J. (1977). Problem-solving strategies and the writing process. College English. 39(4), 449-461.

Keep your goals time-bound, realistic, and open to revision

As you write down and plan goals for yourself, keep the goals as specific, focussed, and manageable as possible. Plan to work on these goals individually as often as possible over a long period of time, rather than expecting to tackle them all in a single day. 

One final note about lists: allow yourself some flexibility to work on any item at the list at any time, and to revise or change your goals as your ideas about your project evolve (Berkenkotter, 1982, p. 35). For example, if you are finding it difficult to work on an introduction, move on to something that might be more appealing and productive in the moment that is also a task related to completing your project. You can come back to the introduction when inspiration strikes, and in the meantime, you'll still be able to check things off your list. 


Berkenkotter, C. (1982). Writing and problem solving. In T. Fulwiler & A. Young (Eds.), Language connections: Writing and reading across the curriculum (pp. 33-44). National Council of Teachers of English.