The Secret to Purposeful Writing Progress
No. 114 | By Christine Carron
You have to get words down on the page to make progress as a writer. That said, words on a page do not guarantee you are making meaningful progress toward your ultimate writing goals. In short, activity does not necessarily equal productivity.
So how does a writer guarantee purposeful progress? The secret to that is to regularly align output to outcomes. This simple process check is also the secret to smart project management of your writing goals. It will also give you momentum and motivation boosts.
One simple process. Lots of benefits . . .
When you check in to ensure your output is serving your outcomes, you give yourself important reflection pauses. Such pauses can be quick touch points that allow you to confirm that your current set of activities are truly serving your desired goals. These quick check-ins will help you avoid getting stuck in dead ends, e.g., trying to create a “perfect” plot before you start drafting and never actually getting to the drafting.
They will also help you avoid spending too long in your creative comfort zones. Those zones will vary by writer, but could include early character development, or research, or plotting, or drafting, or revising, etc. Basically, any aspect of the creative process you might have a tendency to extend longer than necessary to avoid dealing with the activities that are in your zone(s) of creative discomfort.
Aligning output to outcomes may at times require longer reflection pauses. I had to take one of those longer pauses after a revision I worked on during the pandemic didn’t pan out in the way I’d hoped. As the feedback I received on that revision was similar to other projects that had failed to make it, I decided that my larger creative process, as it had been up to that point, was not passing muster. To get the outcomes I wanted, I was going to have to make some significant changes.
That was not a fun period of my writing adventure thus far—but without it I would have continued down a path that was not working. Less fun, not useful, and also not . . .
Smart Project Management
Aligning output to outcomes may seem pretty basic. It is basic. So basic that we convince ourselves that we don’t have to pay attention to such a simple process check-in, because, duh, why would we spend time on things that aren’t serving our ultimate goals?
That kind of thinking is how I made my living for years as a rescue project manager. I would be called into projects that had gone completely off the rails, often because basic short term productivity—i.e., output—was being elevated above long term goals—i.e., outcomes.
Focusing only on activity (no matter if it’s a perfectly outlined plot, or endless research, or the holy grail of words on the page)—can feel good. Even give you writerly bragging rights. Look at all I generated!
But only for a while.
If all that activity is not meaningfully moving you toward your goal over time, then it starts to feel like a hollow win and will actually start to drag on your progress. You’ll feel like you are working hard but getting nowhere.
That’s why you have to have the courage (and it does take courage) to do the “obvious” check-ins. You have to be willing to look honestly at your efforts and make clear-eyed assessment of what is—and is not—serving you, while not allowing your inner critic to take over when you see places where an adjustment is needed. No haranguing allowed.
Instead, focus on calm, courageous, and compassionate check-ins that allow you again and again to adjust so that you are aligning output to outcomes. That is smart project management of your writing work, which also leads to . . .
Momentum and Motivation
Yes, sometimes aligning output to outcomes will show clear places where you need to make adjustment. But these process checks also show you where you are on track. That feels great, and feeling great about your progress is motivational. It gives you the happiness advantage.
Aligning output to outcomes also boosts momentum by building your confidence. That happens even when you find an aspect of your progress and/or process that could use some improvement. Why? Because you are proving to yourself that you have the smarts and savvy to reflect on where you are spending your precious creative time. You are not in avoidance or denial, or in massive criticism. You are simply in a state of observing, learning, and adjusting. Momentum, here you come.
Meaningful Progress Magic
Earlier, I mentioned the larger output to outcome adjustment I had to make (and am still making) to my creative process after the feedback on the pandemic revision. Was it easy to get so very real about where and how my process was failing to get me the outcome I want—a publishing deal? No. But as soon as I got clear on the issue, I was again motivated.
To find a solution. To keep going. To conquer this new challenge.
In the end, that is why this simple process of consistently aligning output to outcomes is a bit magical. Whether you are doing the regular quick reflection pauses or the less frequent, more big-picture ones to assess your journey overall, aligning output to outcomes allows you to reconnect to your power. To your purpose. To your inner “I’ve got this.”
And for all the “You’ve got this” cheering on you get here on the Goodjelly Blog from me, there is nothing—nothing—like your own inner confidence to keep you going on your writing adventure. No matter what.
P.S. You’ve got this!