After I offered a client some critical feedback that meant he needed to do some rewriting, he complained, “This feels too hard. I like to write when I’m inspired. How can it be any good if I don’t feel inspired?”
I gave my client the same answer I always give: It doesn’t matter what the writing process feels like to you. It matters what the reader thinks of the end product—your book.
Let’s take things out of the writing context for a moment…
What’s more important—the process, or the result?
In a previous life I worked at a financial services company. When customers would call to make an address change, it could take weeks to get it done correctly on all their accounts (life insurance, annuity, 401(k), and so on). Why? Because the backend mainframe systems were old and required numerous workarounds. Plus, none of the various systems talked to each other, so the change had to be made multiple times. But of course the customer didn’t know that…until one of their statements showed up at the old address.
Think they were frustrated? Yup. They didn’t care what the behind-the-scenes process was or how many workarounds the staff had to do. They just wanted their address changed!
The same principle applies to the writing process. The reader doesn’t care how hard the writing process felt to you. They only care that the book is good.
Doesn’t inspiration make my writing better?
Here’s the thing—feeling inspired during your writing process may or may not improve the quality of your book.
Sometimes the writing process feels inspired, but when you look at your writing in the fresh light of day, you realize it’s utter crap. (Technical term.) That’s what rewriting and revision are for.
Sometimes the writing process feels painful and laborious. That might mean the writing sucks, and yet often the writing quality is just as good as ever.
And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you feel inspired and a piece of writing comes out whole and “perfect.” Treasure those times. I think I’ve had maybe two poems come out that easily. Ever.
But the writing was so difficult—can it really be any good?
How do you know, especially when the writing process is painful, if the writing is any good?
First of all, step away from the page. Get the “work” out of your mind and body. Then read the piece fresh, as though you’ve never seen it before. What do you find?
Judging your own work can be difficult, especially when the writing process felt bumpy, so if you still don’t know if it’s any good, get another reader. A poet friend recently shared what felt like a “throwaway” poem to her—those of us who read it loved it.
Remember, your readers don’t carry the same process-related baggage you do.
Yes, you can make the writing process easier.
There’s no getting around it: writing is work, and at times, it’s hard. If you’re writing a book, almost assuredly part of the writing process will feel difficult. That said, there’s nothing wrong with trying to make the writing process easier and more inspired.
At the top of the list is practice. Exercise your writing muscles. The more you write, the more easeful the process gets.
Finally, cultivate practices that help you achieve a “flow state,” that feeling of being completely immersed in what you’re doing—also known as being “in the zone.”
Wrestling with a manuscript is often physically taxing, emotionally draining, and full of fits and starts, but your finished book is all that matters in the end.
When writing is a slog, sometimes having the support of a coach can help. If you’re interested in exploring that option, get in touch and let’s see if I can help.