By Christine Carron
How can I make it easy? This question is my current obsession in relation to my writing—both novels and blog posts. And since I also love pie, I'm going for full cliché easy-as-pie easy.
Years ago, I read a book by Marshall Goldsmith called What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There. I never forgot that title. It’s a powerful koan in and of itself. While Marshall focuses on leaders who want to up their influence, who might be at cross-purposes with that goal due to transactional flaws—subtle actions “performed by one person against another (as simple as not saying thank you enough), which lead to negative perceptions that can hold any executive back.”—I always found that his title was applicable to so many other areas, including process improvement.
In the past few weeks, it became really clear that I’ve maxed out the utility of my current writing processes. What is the data for this clarity? In the case of my stories, I’ve now had three different novels that got close to publishing deals. “Close” in the sense they were agented submissions to publishers that were ultimately rejected across the board.
The process-effectiveness-feedback on my novels took years to gather and digest. Not only because writing a novel is a longer process, but because I kept getting so close. Which made it harder to see that I had a fundamental process flaw in the way that I was generating stories. But on the third close, but not quite hit, the message landed. With a thud. But what was wild is that fairly quickly I felt more relief than disappointment. Clarity is so freeing.
The feedback loop on the blog post generation process was blessedly faster since I have a once-a-week production schedule. Here is what my general process was for most of the first year of generating content for the blog: just-in-time writing, i.e., editing, posting, and Dollop prepping, often getting everything done hours (or in a couple cases minutes) before it was due.
That caused me a lot of unnecessary stress, and often resulted in me getting to bed on Sunday nights way past my bedtime. In addition, the process kept me from getting to actions that are key to helping me serve more writers through Goodjelly’s mission to be a source of nourishment and encouragement for the writerly soul.
Once I fully metabolized the feedback on both fronts, a flash of clarity landed. A hard truth. In both cases, the processes I used to achieve initial goals (e.g., get an agent, post weekly for a year) were now keeping me from achieving the next set of goals (e.g., land a publishing deal, expand Goodjelly’s reach.)
Clearly, what got me here, was not going to get me there.
An even more sobering truth landed a millisecond later. What got me here was not only going to not get me there, it was also making it harder for me to maintain the “here.” As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And doing the same thing once you really know it is not working also becomes acutely demoralizing and demotivating. In a word, harder.
So, yeah, the flip switched, and for the past few weeks I’ve been wholeheartedly in “gotta find the pie” mode. In the case of my storytelling, the core change I am making relates to the prep work I do before I start drafting. I am using John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story as my guide. I have resisted such structure in the past; now it is thrilling me. And encouraging me.
With the blog posts, I am similarly focused on tweaking my pre-drafting process. I now have blocks of time designated for generating multiple post outlines at once. Then I have larger blocks of time to batch write the posts. Goodbye just-in-time stress posting, hello post backlog, and . . . time to create extra bonuses and offerings for the Goodjelly community. (Stay tuned for those!)
In case you are in a place where you recognize some changes to your writing process are in order and like this notion of making it easy, I wanted to share some tips that will make it easier to find the easy.
To find the new “make it easy as pie” adjustments for both writing processes, I had to metabolize really tough data. On the book front, that a revision I struggled with for over a year did not pass muster. Ouch! On the blog front: that there was no way I could get to actions that I knew would support Goodjelly’s mission if I kept creating blog posts in panic mode. Ugh!
Were there tears, especially with the news on the revision? Yes. And allowing all those feelings was important and critical to getting to the “something’s gotta change” clarity. But what I didn’t do is let the disappointment and frustration turn into a torrential inner critic storm. There was no, “I am a terrible writer; I will never make it.” Nor any, “Goodjelly was a pipe dream; Why didn't I get ahead sooner?” drama.
If you want to revise established processes, you want to change what is not working and keep what is working. That takes razor sharp clarity. Clarity that gets clouded if you catastrophize.
When we identify a process or pattern in our behavior that used to work but is no longer getting the results we wanted, it could be because we’ve over-optimized one of our strengths. For example, I can write fast against a deadline, and I can clearly consistently deliver at the last minute. That does not mean it serves me or my goals to deliver that way. I’ve over-optimized that ability and underutilized a more steady and strategic approach.
In the case of integrating Truby’s structural approach to my novel writing process, I admit to major resistance to his method. Major. I was convinced it would suck all the joy and creativity out of the writing process. And even though I read his work before, and had a niggling sense it would help me, I shut that little voice down.
I was so attached to what I thought was going to help me (which was just another over-optimization of my strengths approach), that I couldn’t take in what Truby was proposing.
Now, reading his work with a more balanced and open mindset, (which of course I got from the humbling realization that what I was doing was not working,) his approach is blowing my mind. It is nurturing both my joy and creativity in ways that my old way of doing things never did. Total about face!
For years, I studied with psychologists Hal and Sidra Stone. What I learned from them changed my life for the better. They created a Jungian-based intrapersonal growth process, and whenever I write about inner selves, I am drawing upon their work. That life is a dance of opposites, and it is often when we consciously embrace what we previously resisted that new possibilities open to us.
If the paragraph above feels a little esoteric and woo-woo, simply ask yourself this: What is a writing process or tip I’ve heard that I would never do? And I mean you are feeling arms-crossed-never-ever-can’t-make me-do-it! energy. The answer to that question may contain the key to a little (or a lot) more ease in your writing.
(Perhaps hard to believe, but play with me on this one!)
The J Curve is an economic theory having to do with deficits and depreciation. I know, eyes glazing over. Me, too. But economic origins aside, the J-Curve has a useful message for anyone on a mission to make change: Things will get worse before they get better.
In fact, even though you are trying to get to easy-as-pie, and may be taking all the right actions, you are going to have to hold steady through the early J-curve trough that will make it feel like what you are doing is actually making everything worse. Your writing will feel harder. Possibly even going backwards.
A part of you will want to give up.
Do not do that.
Breathe. Trust the J Curve. It will get better. Getting to your new easy as pie will get easier.
Sure, I could be churning out some opening pages of a novel. And that would make a part of me feel better. See! Pages! That’s what writers are supposed to do, right? But I must resist that. I don’t want pages. I want a story that sells.
Diving in to write pages is the old way that still feels easier at the moment. But easier toward what end? Another rash of rejections on a new project? No thank you. I’m sliding myself right into the trough of the J Curve, ditching the Whaaaaaa! and letting loose a riotous Wheeeeee!
The writing adventure is chock full of challenges, upsets, and trials that will both be and feel hard. But they also provide us an opportunity to grow both as writers and as human beings. Especially if we solve for pie—find ways to move forward with greater ease, grace and joy.
So hold steady and don’t catastrophize. Look for new possibilities hidden in your resistance. And trust with full heart abandon the truth of the J curve.
You have got this!
The Goodjelly Prompts of the Week