Friday, November 6, 2015

Five Easy Pieces

I teach various kinds of writing classes – how to write memoir, how to use historical detail in your writing, how to journal without self-judgment, and how to ghostwrite. I always start off any class with a five-step writing process, which works with any subject and any kind of project, from blog posts to books, memoir to self-help. I call it the Five Easy Pieces Process, partially because I love that movie. If Jack Nicholson were a writer, maybe he would follow these rules.

Here are the bare essentials:

Step One:
Write everything you know, or think you know; everything you feel, or think you feel; everything you've done, or wish you'd done (or wish you hadn't done), everything you imagine, everything that pops into your head —in short, write everything. Basically this means: do not censor as you write. Editing comes later.

Step Two:
Read what you wrote, and look for the recurring themes or threads. I promise they are there. Look until you find them.

Step Three:
Identify one major and one complimentary minor theme.

Step Four:
Remove everything and anything that does not fit or enhance either the major or minor theme. This is difficult. You may feel that your heart has been ripped from your body by a sadistic monkey and eaten by a pack of cold-eyed wolves. Be ruthless and do it anyway. (This is where content editors can help—let them be the sadistic monkeys.)

Step Five:
Organize and expand on whatever is left.

That’s it. Easy-peasy, right?

Self-promotional tidbit: My online class Learn to Ghost is really fun and useful for anyone who wants to make a living as a writer. Check it out:

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 10 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit


  1. Those are excellent tips for everyone. I find knowing where I'm headed to start with limits the amount of pruning needed later, but some really beautiful things come out of freewriting.

  2. I'll have a number five ... but hold whatever is left.

  3. Wow.... Excellent exercise! You should consider presenting this as a workshop at Pikes Peak Writers Conference one of these years.

  4. I find Step 4 more difficult than all the others put together. However painful it may be, it's necessary. Compared to that, all the others are definitely "easy-peasy." No wonder we can apply the phrase (and action) "kill your darlings" to our stories.

  5. I'm bookmarking this for my NaNoWriMo revision. Great advice. Easy peasy. Snort! ;)

  6. Excellent advice. Wish I were more organized when I write, but I'm not. I am getting better at cutting out extraneous "stuff," as soon as I recognize it. :-)

  7. Yes, you do make it sound easy. There has to be a catch somewhere. lol


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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