Process vs Product

Do you know the secret to good, compelling writing? Yes, it’s clever syntax, clear messaging and audience alignment. More than all of that, it’s giving a flying you-know-what about the way you’re crafting a message, ie the act of writing, as well as actually writing for a purpose that goes way beyond the end product.

‘Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren.’

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

I’d like to add one more adjective to foolish or barren, and that’s mercenary. Let me explain.

People write for a number of reasons:

  • To showcase their hard earned expertise and experience
  • To share their story in a way that makes a difference
  • To influence their positioning as a go-to in their space; and
  • For sheer, unadulterated, fork yeah bragging rights.

None of these reasons are any less valid than the others- who, for example, doesn’t love a good FIGJAM session? What I do take to task, however, is writing without giving a shit, and writing without giving due attention to the full process.

Fancy a story?

An author delivered a guest lecture for my Creative Non-Fiction class during my Master of Writing and Literature. Their process for writing a book was to choose a social justice issue (ie corruption, missing child, murder framed as suicide) and write against that. Their reasoning- it would sell. Full stop. And their writing showed that. Clearly. Abundantly. When you don’t care about your content, it shows. When you bang it out quickly and don’t care enough to bother going back to edit and rework it, it shows.

The thing about writing, and writing well, is that except for those rare AF moments when the angels sing and the glitter flies, it’s really fucking hard. There’s an adage amongst writers- ‘I hate writing but I love having written’- this has been regurgitated in different ways by writers diverse as George RR Martin (Mr Game of Thrones) through to Dorothy Parker. I love how it conveys that battle between the euphoria of creating and accomplishment and the gut-churning stress of facing the page.

So, what is writing well, and the process? Writing only happens with writing (funny that), and people can only fully step into the motivations I shared above when their writing embraces the full life cycle of writing. I had someone recently tell me that they hate their book, to the point of not promoting it at all in their communications plan. They cringe when they think of it, believing they rushed its publication, and that it’s not even close to a reflection of their best work. This is devastating!

Good work takes time and space and immersion in the process and in the actual subject matter itself. It doesn’t happen with writing that’s banged out quickly, that scrapes the surface. Good writing needs considered thought, as well as depth of thought. It involves scribbles, staring out the window, more scribble when lightbulbs go off, testing and teasing of ideas, of manhandling and manipulating information. I’m talking quality over quantity. I’m talking showing up fully.

That’s not to say a first draft can’t be knocked up quickly- of course it can, but what I find frustrating is when people blithely disregard the fact that the first draft is just the beginning. Some may argue (myself included) that the first draft is simply the launchpad for the real writing. It’s the starting point. The revision and rewrite is where the magic happens and a first draft, a collection of words, sentences and paragraphs, becomes good writing. In fact, each year, on the 1 December, after 30 days of writing insanity, NANOWRIMO starts their ‘Now What’ campaign. Their number one piece of advice after finishing a first draft? Under no circumstances send it to an editor or publisher. Why? Because if you’ve done it right, it should be a huge, steaming pile of crap.

After the crap comes the good stuff- writers get to pull things apart, kill their darlings, mess things up, stick their conclusion at the beginning, or if necessary, where the sun don’t shine. It’s where you might challenge the assumptions you wrote as your first draft- often your beliefs shift and evolve as you explore them via writing.

This is critical thinking brought to life.

It’s extending, questioning and finessing. It’s a chance to craft something you’re really, truly proud of, an accurate and powerful representation of you, and your smarts. This can’t happen in a hurry. It simply can’t.

This isn’t an argument against productivity- of course, it’s important to be productive, efficient and effective in our writing habits. But just as important as getting it done (which is the whole premise behind my batch writing program and events) is to go deep rather than shallow, to prioritise robust thinking rather than quick thinking. This means creating an outline to stop you going rogue with your content or from missing an integral piece of information, but includes thinking, deep thinking before, during and after the first draft. We’ve all experienced that delicious explosion of ideas, long after our fingers have left the pen or keyboard. This is your subconscious bubbling away. When you write in a hurry, for the sheer sake of getting something done, then you’re focused on the end product rather than the process, which will come at the detriment of your work.

Yes, you can write anything in a day, a weekend, a week, a month- but know clearly, intimately and irrevocably that what you’ve written is a first draft. Focusing on the product rather than the process risks settling for whatever comes out in the first sitting, which guess what? Isn’t going to be your best work. Not even close. Is it hard, approaching writing as a process? Oh hell yes, it can be, to the point of screaming. But is it worth it? Double hell yes. It means you’re fully showing up and you’re going for quality, not just ticking something off. And spoiler alert- if you work with me, you don’t get a choice. We’re going for deep, not shallow, but I’m by your (writing) side the whole way.

Tell me, what’s your favourite part of the writing process?

I love writing about communications, writing, life in business and life in general! If there’s something specific you’d like me to cover in my writing, please shoot me an email or give me a buzz, and I’ll do my best to help, or address it in an upcoming blog post or on my social media platforms.