Ten Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

mindset writing process Aug 21, 2020

A Great Start to a Never Ending

How many writing projects have you started? Now ask yourself how many you've completed? If you are willing to admit that you have abandoned projects hiding in your desk drawer or in a folder on your desktop, the real question is why

I don't know about you, but a lack of good ideas is generally not the problem and after all, who doesn't feel excited by a newly minted notion for improving our business, decorating our house, making money for that dream vacation or writing the next book?

Often the problem isn't in the idea but in the execution. I know I've been guilty of excitedly starting a project, then getting frustrated (or bored) and setting it aside, only to start another project and do the same. Again, why? Well, on some level the problems I'm facing must feel too overwhelming or unsolvable for me to overcome or perhaps self-doubt sneaks in like a thief and steals away my resolve, leaving me to wander off to other parts of my life, vowing to return. Except then I don't.

But here's the funny part. In the words of Roy Peter Clark, the actual problems that writers face are not that big or that scary. His Theory of Writer Redemption goes like this:

"The big problems of writers are few in number and lend themselves to reliable solutions" (Help! for Writers, pg. 4).

I had to laugh when I read that, but he makes the point that writers across disciplines and genres share a similar writing process. If we approach this process with patience and grace for our individuality -- meaning that how we approach it or how long we take or in what order we manage it is unique to each of us -- then perhaps the process won't feel so binding or arduous. According to his theory, rather than the process being all that difficult, it is our own expectations that get in the way of executing the process.

If you've read any of my other blogs, you should start to get a sense that I am as concerned with the mental and emotional process of writing (the psychologist in me!) as I am the writing craft because craft can be learned and improved over time with sufficient practice and feedback. In contrast to craft, our self-limiting beliefs are what create an impenetrable barrier.

Ten Steps Forward

In the next few weeks, we'll focus on ten steps in the writing process as a means of emphasizing that the way forward is doable. As I said before, these steps aren't magical or new...but simply serve as a reminder that if we take one step at a time we will reach our destination. Finishing that first draft is a HUGE and necessary step toward revision, polishing, editing and then shopping our work to agents and publishers. But if we never finish the draft...

Here's what we'll cover:

  • Step #1: Have a Little Faith 
  • Step #2: Make a Plan 
  • Step #3: Narrow Your Focus
  • Step #4: Dig Into the Details
  • Step #5: Put Words on the Page 
  • Step #6: Finish Your Draft
  • Step #7: Profile Your Progress
  • Step #8: Ask for Feedback
  • Step #9: Make Your Revisions
  • Step #10: Take Three Steps Back

Three Steps Back

In my meaning of "three steps back," this is not going backwards but is actually moving forward in that our stories will likely require multiple revisions and feedback rounds (or Beta Readers) to solve all the story problems. Hint: everyone has story problems and it takes outside eyes to help us find them all!

The "three steps back" simply means repeating steps #7 through #9 until our story is ready for the editor (based on multiple feedback and revision rounds). This is how we polish!

Get Ready for Resistance

If you've never read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, it's a good idea to take a look at it. This book is an easy read and deceptively simple. What it will do, however, is seed the very important idea that every creative or life-changing endeavor is met with some form of resistance.

Just one example will give you the general idea. When it is time to sit your butt in the chair and write, what do you do instead? Do you pay bills, do laundry, go shopping, or reorganize the closet? Any task you dreaded and avoided before suddenly seems like a brilliant idea rather than writing.

And all this when we actually want to write? You bet! That's the ugly face of resistance.

As soon as you make a commitment to write regardless of how hard it is or how long it takes or what tries to get in the way, Mr. Resistance will meet you at the front door, ready to block your entrance into the halls of productivity and creative progress.

No matter. This is a battle you can win.

Up Next: Have a Little Faith

Writing is hard work, but you already know this. The decision to start and finish a book is just that: a decision. The next blog digs into making and keeping this commitment to our writing projects and giving Mr. Resistance a powerful kick in the shins.

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