I was disappointed this week, and it really stung. I thought I was going to improve my writing process, and I didn’t. Instead, I had a really tough time. If your writing process isn’t working, if you feel stuck in a rut, like you’ll never get your book done, I feel you. This was me this week. Miraculously (and no thanks to my own brain), I didn’t stay stuck. Here’s what I did when my writing process wasn’t working, and what you can do too.
This little story starts in February 2019, when I signed on as a freelancer for a brilliant agency who helps people write and publish their books. As a lifelong learner, I wanted to develop my skills by seeing how other ghostwriters and book coaches work. This agency would teach me their way of writing non-fiction books.
It wasn’t easy to get in with them. They’re a big player in my industry and had over eight hundred applicants for five positions. After a lengthy interview and testing process, I was one of the lucky five. Woohoo!
Once I was in, I discovered something fascinating. They ask writers to follow a well-defined process which is very different from that which I’ve developed with my private clients. I knew they’d spent of lot of time fine-tuning this process, and I couldn’t wait to try it out. I imagined it would revolutionize my own process, writing faster and better, and with more enthusiasm.
I was wrong.
Right now, I’m deep in the writing weeds on my first project with this agency, and it is hard work. I mean, the project itself is fantastic, and the author I’m working with is awesome. He has an incredible message to share with an audience who desperately needs to hear it.
The problem is the process.
They ask for a book outline which is wildly different from what I’m used to working with. It’s not “bad” or “wrong” by any means, and I can understand the logic behind its use.
But it just doesn’t work for my brain. I won’t bore you with the psychology of outlining and the theories behind various methodologies. I’ll just skip to the punchline:
Writing to their style of outline slows me down.
I struggled to get the words on the page as fast as I usually do. It felt more laborious and less fun than when I do my own thing.
I felt like hitting my head against a brick wall of words. And that’s not conducive to creativity. I was so disappointed that this process wasn’t the writing revolution I’d expected.
One of the many brilliant things about this agency is that they provide each writer with a dedicated editor. Writers and editors collaborate to improve themselves and the work. I love that.
I finally admitted my struggles to my editor. And he said something so simple: “If the process doesn’t work for you, change it. Do whatever you need to make this book great.”
We went on to discuss how I could incorporate my preferred outlining style into the agency’s process. Then, I did something very unusual (and painful) for me. I asked for a deadline extension. I admitted that I’d been slower than usual because I’d been wrestling with a process that didn’t work for me, and now I needed more time to get the work to a standard I was proud of.
It turns out that I needn’t have been so shy to speak up. My project manager was thrilled when I requested five extra days. She thanked me for asking for what I needed and for taking the time to make the book the best it could be. She was friggin’ delightful about the whole thing. It was mind-blowing.
I learned that when I work with like-minded people, they care just as much as I do about quality work. More importantly, I was reminded that there is no need to struggle so much.
If something’s not working, change it.
Don’t keep wrestling with an unproductive process just because someone said it’s the way things should be done. We are individuals with unique hearts and minds, and sometimes we need unique approaches to our work.
Passing on the permission slip
We all, on occasion, need reminding that we can choose our own path. My editor was generous enough to do this for me, and now I’m paying it forward. If, like me, you feel you need permission to pursue a different way of doing things, here it is:
You have permission to do things differently.
If things aren’t working for you—in writing, parenting, business, friendship, family, or anything else—take a different path. Switch things up. Find another way. Don’t drive yourself crazy, trying to make the “proper” process work for you.
I see this all the time with wanna-be authors who think they should be able to write their book on their own. They should be able to sit down at their computer and put words on the screen. They should be able to figure out their own story.
But they struggle.
They make no progress.
And they beat up on themselves for not doing the thing they so badly want. They think they’re broken, or that something’s wrong with them, or that they’re not good enough to write a book.
That’s simply not true.
The truth is that they’re wrestling with a process that doesn’t work for them. There is no universal writing process that works for all people. That’s why there are so many writing books and blogs and courses all suggesting different methods.
This agency has a prescribed writing process because they’re trying to ensure the highest quality for every book they produce. I have so much respect for that difficult endeavor, and I love that they’re proactively guiding writers through the arduous process of creating an impactful book.
As a grown-ass adult, it’s my responsibility to honor their process and make the necessary adaptations so I can work my best within it.
You are also a grown-ass adult. (Unless you’re not, in which case, please don’t copy my cursing.)
You are responsible for finding a way to fulfill your own goals. You don’t have to do it alone, but it is up to you to peruse a new path when needed.
A new approach
I am taking a new approach to writing with this agency. I’m following their process and adding an extra step to outline each chapter my way before I write. I want to continue working with them, as they serve clients wonderfully, provide excellent editorial support, and encourage my professional growth. So I’m making writing for them work for me.
And since making the change, the words have come so much easier! I’ve rediscovered the joy of being at the page. I’m sleeping sounder because I’m no longer wrestling with the mental anguish of feeling inadequate. My disappointment has disappeared.
If your writing process isn’t working, how will you change it? What will you do to find a new process that works for you? Whatever you decide, please do something. Life is better when you make it work for you.