The Outcome Can Terrorize You
If there’s a thousand ways to do something, there’s a thousand ways to do it right. And a thousand ways to muck it up. And the truth is — you’ll never find the process that works for you, without stumbling through a few of those.
In On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, he writes about “the tyranny of the final product.” This “tyranny” is the pressure that reigns over you as you try to create. It’s the expectation that you will produce something, that in the end, after all this effort, you will have a product.
Something marketable. Something worth selling.
Well, that can kind of take some of the fun out of writing, can’t it? And it can certainly raise the stakes. What are you doing all this for, if not to have some product at the end? If not to have produced something of value and use to the world?
But the steps that a writer must go through to produce that product. Ah, therein lies the journey.
It’s said that “Ordinary people focus on the outcome; extraordinary people focus on the process.”
Producing the book is one thing — you can get it done, come hell or high water, no matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you have to pour into it. But, why should it take blood, sweat, and tears? Might there not be an easier way?
The outcome of the book can be achieved, and you can pat yourself on the back once you achieve it, but might you not achieve it more easily? Isn’t there a better process, an easier way?
Well, of course, there probably is. You might have to spend some time finding it.
Improve Your Writing Process
When you want to do something better, you might ask experts and long-time successful people for their advice. Of course, every writer and every process is different, but here are some tips and tricks you might try.
- Write to a soundtrack. While working on a single book, novel, or narrative theme, some writers find it very helpful to have a specific album, playlist, or musical artist to keep them in the same “mood.” This might be specific — such as having different playlists for each character who has a point of view in your novel — or it might be more general, such as “anytime I work on this novel, I’m going to listen to jazz.” You can also try nature sounds to background your writing time. Whatever it is you’re using to fill the silence around you, just don’t let it distract you from putting words on the page.
- Try “scribe” writing. Most people talk faster than they type. While an accomplished typist might put down 80 to 100 words per minute on their screen, your average speaker can throw out 130 words per minute (in English). Easily, when speaking, you might tell a story twice as fast, with more detail, than sitting to write it. … So why are you trying to write with your hands? Do it with your mouth! Thanks to transcription apps like otter.ai and Express Scribe, you can easily use the microphone on your phone or computer to record yourself talking through your book, and then the app will type it all up for you into an easy-to-edit text-based document. No more cramping wrists and tired fingers.(NOTE: You can still use the “soundtrack” idea here as well! One renowned author, whose productivity level is as high as 10K words per day, attributes her success to audio transcriptions of her books. She says instead of music in the background, she will put a movie on mute when she is working on a specific book, and play only that movie when she works on that book until the book is finished. Magnificent!)
- The carrot vs. the stick. Anyone who has ever tried to negotiate with a child understands how useful bribes and incentives can be — both positive and negative ones. So, you have to find what motivates your own inner child. What reward will you work especially hard for? What punishment will you work specifically hard to avoid? Set yourself up for success! Promise yourself that after you finish the writing goal you set for yourself for the day, you will reward yourself with that walk in the park, or that brownie, or that self-care time. Treat yourself when you reach those goals!And, on the other hand, promise someone else that if you don’t finish your writing goal for the day, you’ll be accountable for something unpleasant. You’ll do the dishes, or put a $1 in the “writing not done” jar, or forego your dessert, or whatever the un-fun thing that you’d rather avoid. A little bribery goes a long way.
- Be Flexible. It can be frustrating when you’re still settling into a process and finding what works for you. You might be tempted to shrug off silly-sounding advice from others. You may be tempted to fall back in comfortable habits because they are easy and you already know how to do them. But, if your comfortable habits produced the level of productivity you wanted, you wouldn’t be looking to improve your process, right?Try a few different approaches on for size. And not just for a single day. Some things, you might give three days and then re-evaluate how you feel about it. Some things, you might try for a whole week to see how it works for you. It takes between 14 and 21 days to form or break a habit, so when you find something you like and something that works, stick to it for a whole month. After you’ve made it a part of your routine for a month, you’ll be in a better position to determine if it’s something you should keep around.
No matter what you do to improve your writing process, the trick is to keep writing. You can’t say you’re improving if you’ve got only blank pages to show for it — that is one thing about being what you say you are. If you are a writer, then you must write. You must produce written words, and once you find the right process to help you, nothing should stand in your way.
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