How to Struggle Less with Your Writing
By Christine Carron
Recently, I read an interview of a famous author. The interviewer asked the FA (famous author) about their writing process. The gist of what the FA said was, “There’s a lot of chocolate involved.”
I am sure there is chocolate involved in that writer’s process. It is also a charming answer. Unfortunately, the answer fails to give struggling writers any actionable strategies to help them refine their own writing practice.
I guess writers could experiment endlessly with chocolate, but I feel comfortable asserting that there is more involved to getting your writerly work done than nibbling on a Cadbury Bunny.
The Missing Skill Focus
Most writers make learning craft skills and actually writing—i.e., getting words down on the page—their top priorities. Those are smart priorities. No argument here.
However, if writers do not also learn the basics of managing their creative/writerly process then it is likely they will experience frustration and doubt about their process even after they are undeniable when it comes to craft. One researcher who studied the writing process concluded that process challenges can even “confound the display of competence.”*
Meaning ineffective process chops can make competent writers come across as less competent on the page. Sheesh-o-rama!
Without sound process skills, the entire creative endeavor can feel unnecessarily challenging. A struggle. Can even feed Imposter Syndrome because surely a “real” writer wouldn’t still be struggling like this, right?
All that turmoil when the problem simply could be that a writer has a process-management knowledge gap. That’s it. Totally resolvable. Totally addressable. Nothing to fret over. The writer simply has to start making process-management (and process-management learning) part of their . . . process.
4 Tips to Boost Your Writerly Process Chops
If you are a writer and are here with me reading this, then . . . BOOYAH! You are already on your way to boost your writerly process chops, since my—and Goodjelly’s mission—is to help writers upgrade their creative process know-how.
So, let’s get to it and add some non-chocolate possibilities to your writerly process toolkit today.
Tip #1: Break down your work into smaller steps.
If you’re not setting up your work in a way that gets you small boosts of “got that done!” energy every day, then you’re making your writing adventure harder.
Start breaking your work down into smaller steps and give yourself credit for getting those smaller steps done. The psychological boosts you get when finishing a task builds momentum and confidence. They will help you get your writerly work done.
This is not about creating fake pats on the back. It is about smart and savvy management of your mindset with daily wins. Progress is progress, no matter how small. Claim it, and let the wins work in your momentum favor.
Tip #2: Expand your definition of writerly work.
The almost rabid fixation in the writerly world to generate pages can create a unfortunate tendency to ignore and/or resent a huge swath of the actual work involved in getting writerly work done.
Am I suggesting that getting pages out is not important? No. But I am suggesting that it is helpful to acknowledge and manage the full scope of what is involved in YOU getting your pages out.
The loose definition I use for “writerly work” is whatever helps writers get their writing done. For example, if a writer’s chaotic filing system is making it harder for them to find the files they need to get their writing done, then sorting their filing system out is part of that writer’s writerly work.
If a writer is experiencing an intensive work and home life on top of their writing responsibilities, then slowing down to think through boundaries and scheduling is part of their writerly work.
Writing is always the priority work of a writer, but when you create a more expansive awareness of the full scope of your creative work, then you can manage the work more effectively. When you do that, all that hidden work will stop blindsiding and/or dragging your progress.
Tip 3: Create showable bits.
When I manage a project in the corporate world, the team holds regular demos for the stakeholders. At every stage of the process, we have to be able to show the work we completed in a given time period—often two weeks worth of work. The demo might include designs, requirements, quality assurance plans, and as development starts, functional pieces of the system.
I’ve always thought of what we share in demos as our “showable bits of work.” Basically, it’s the professional equivalent of grade school’s “Show and Tell.”
The point of presenting these showable bits of work is to assure the stakeholders that progress is being made. Or, if progress is not being made as expected, to identify that early so we can figure out what is causing the delay and address the issues.
Most writers are already using the idea of showable bits of work in their writing process. Submitting pages to their critique partners is a showable bit of work. A completed grant or fellowship application is a showable bit of work. Sending out a query letter is a showable bit of work.
There is something particular about the aforementioned showable bits of work. They are all generated for someone else. The critique partners, the grant committee, the agent.
That does not diminish their power in any way, but there is also power in generating showable bits of work for yourself, as in the end the biggest stakeholder when it comes to you getting your writerly work done is you.
You want YOU to have the confidence, the reassurance that you are making progress. Making it a point to create showable bits of work for yourself can help you do that. Which then motivates you to get even more done. Writers who set daily word counts have at least one showable bit built in to their process, but there is so much more to play with here.
If you schedule thinking time in your writing process—say to sort out a plot knot—then make sure you take written notes. The notes are a showable bit of work. If you organize your digital writing files, take a screen shot of your Marie Kondo magic. That photo is a showable bit of work. And if you want to really uplevel your showable bits game, pause every week or two, and give yourself a demo of all your showable bits.
Most often writers are looking forward to what is left to do, which has the potential to generate despair. I’m never going to get this all done. What’s the point?
Not exactly a mindset conducive to you tackling your writerly work with vim and vigor.
When you schedule regular “look-backs” using your showable bits, however, you create an opportunity for a completely different kind of feeling. One that takes credit for the work you got done and boosts your confidence. I did that. And I can do more. Let me at it!
Tip #4 Use friction strategically.
Quick, make two lists:
List #1: Things I do that make it harder to get my writing done.
List #2: Things I do that make it easier to get my writing list done.
Got your lists?
Next, you want to make some strategic friction plans. You are going to increase friction around items on List #1. You are going to decrease friction around the items on List #2. Or, put more directly you are going to make it harder to do the things that get in the way of your writing. You are going to make it easier to do the things that help your writing.
Let’s say you have a habit of checking social media during your scheduled writing time. To help you stop doing that, you could increase friction, using an app like Freedom to block social media access during your writing time.
Of course, if you have more confidence in your resistance skills you could simply turn off your phone and turn off wi-fi access on your computer. The point is you are giving yourself a pattern-interrupt through friction that makes it harder to do the thing(s) that gets in the way of your writing.
You can also decrease friction to help you do the things that help your writing. Perhaps you know a morning walk or run helps you focus better during your writing session. Setting out your workout clothes the night before makes it easier to get the run/walk done.
Every time you use friction strategically, you not only help yourself get your writing done, you also remind yourself that you indeed have agency over your writerly adventure. Which is important to remember.
Process Chops Rock
When you build your writerly process-management skills, you will be more in charge of your writerly adventure. That will make you feel more confident, and there is nothing like solidly earned confidence to help you get your writerly work done. Wahooo!
* Rose, Mike, Writer's Block: The Cognitive Dimension. Studies in Writing & Rhetoric., Conference on College Composition and Communication, 1984. Reissued by Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.