Doing the same things over and over but expecting a different result is one definition of insanity. In the pursuit of a writing career, it’s also a recipe for giving up in despair. Despite all your “working hard,” your goals never get any closer.
This time you promise yourself that things are going to be different.
In a white-hot blaze of inspiration you pour out 20,000 or 30,000 words and then sputter to a stop as your story falls into a gaping, irreparable plot hole. Scrambling through your notes just reminds you of how far the narrative has drifted from your initial glorious vision. So you consign this one to the fix-it-later file and move on to the next shiny idea.
Or perhaps you’re someone who powers through to “The End,” only to circle back and endlessly “edit” your drafts. You have a computer filled with not-quite-ready manuscripts and won’t let go of them until they’re perfect–whatever that means.
Or perhaps you have your own circle of hell you endlessly cycle through.
If so, you’re certainly not alone.
In the real world, though, we’re graded on output, not potential, not how much we want it, not even on how “hard” we work. So if you want to be a professional writer, you need to dismantle your process and figure out why it’s not working when you get stuck. Just gritting your teeth and repeating the same mistakes won’t get your ship off the reef and back into deep water.
Some Help From an Expert
Seth Godin offers one of the most lucid breakdown of the creative process that I’ve ever seen. I’ve paraphrased it here:
Step One. Become Open. Consider all “what ifs.” Then add more.
Step Two. Close it Down. Prune. Be Relentless. Kill your favorites that serve you instead of the story.
Step Three. Ship it.
I’ve become a huge fan of high level planning since reading this post and a lot more aware of how fear of putting your work out there can keep you editing forever. Now I ask myself where I am in the process of making this the best story I can instead of hoping to be hit by the random wand of the fugue fairy. Now when I run into problems, I have a framework.
Was the brainstorming deep enough, or did I settle?
Have I been truly ruthless enough at closing down options and pruning away the excess to make the story shine?
How good is good enough to ship?
All three phases of the creative process require different skill sets. Figuring out which phase has tripped me up has given me more objectivity about my work. Taking a step back and deciding whether this a creation, pruning, or fear-of-letting-go problem makes it easier to focus on possible solutions.
Maybe it could help you, too.
Of course, as Seth says, simple isn’t the same as easy.
But if you aren’t even aware of the real goal, how in the world are you going to get there?