Last week I had a delightful discussion with a colleague about our individual writing processes. As we talked between sips of coffee, it became clear that we had a mutual tendency to make things more complex than they have to be. I hastily narrowed my suggested process down to a five-phase plan.
- Capture it.
- Write it.
- Edit it.
- Polish it.
- Publish it.
Capture it – Have a way of capturing your ideas. Carry a notebook you feel good about scribbling in when a flash of brilliance shines before you. Jot down key words or phrases, make a rough outline or a mind map. Anything to not let the little morsels escape back into the ether.
Write it – Set up a time and give yourself permission to write a horrible first draft. You have to get something down in a relatively cogent fashion, but don’t censor yourself. Get your first blush of an idea onto the page or screen. Now it’s real. You have something to work with. Until you have something, you have nothing.
Edit it – Edit what you have. Many people get hung up here. They share their early draft with a group of friends, or strangers in a workshop, pre-apologizing for the purist draft of their heart on the page. Then these, often well-meaning but seldom useful advisors, bleed all over your work with contradictory instructions. The result falls somewhere between a piece written by committee with all the soul burned out of it, or you rocking in a corner, questioning your skills as a writer and your choices in life. Let up on yourself. Find the nuggets you like, and either rewrite your work for better clarity, or shelf it and try again. No big deal. Breathe easy.
Polish it – I like to give my writing a chance to breathe. Sometimes I feel like my ideas need a gestational period on the page before further committing to them publicly. However, I do not always have that luxury, and more accurately, the patience. When it is time to polish your writing, go after the grammatical errors and make choices as to whether you will ignore the stringent rules or not. Sometimes you have to live dangerously. Read the piece aloud and make sure you believe it will resonate with your intended audience.
Publish it – This next step can be the difficult, scary, and fraught with uncertainty. You need to publish it, or post it or submit it. Wherever you intend it to be read, you need to send your piece there, and then you need to let go. It is now out of your hands. You have done what you could, and you are relatively confident it was enough.
I am convinced if you keep to these steps you will become a better, more prolific and confident writer.
As I reflected on the earlier coffee meeting it dawned on me, there were a similar corresponding set of steps required to cultivate virtually everything. Whether it be growing crops, relationships, business ventures, career management, or leading change, there are five common actions required for success.
1. Till the Soil – You have to prepare the field in the most beneficial way possible for what you want to grow. New parents know this as nesting. It is the mental and physical prep work that has to occur, to lay the groundwork, usually before anyone else even notices.
2. Plant the Seed – The seed may be something concrete, but in your world, it is more likely an idea, notion, or initiative. Regardless, it has to take root. Otherwise, you’ve got nothing.
3. Feed and Weed – You have to nurture the item or idea you are cultivating. You give it the care and attention it requires, and you remove all the things that could choke it off, compete for its survival, or otherwise inhibit its growth.
4. Harvest – Eventually, seldom as soon as you would like but often faster than you would expect, you have to reap what you have sown. Success in this step is about timing and the right resources. Picking things that are still underripe might be okay in some instances. Leaving what you have grown to languish and rot on the vine is not.
5. Bring to Market – Whatever market means to you; it’s show time. This is when you share, sell, tell, or perform in front of your intended audience. You will get a reaction, and hopefully profitable praise for your work. Either way, use all the feedback you get to repeat or improve your process.
Each of these five steps calls on you to exert effort. However, there’s only so much you can do, before you have to rely on nature, or faith, or God, or science, or some other force that is beyond your current control. You’ll notice what happens in the period between each of your actions is out of your hands. This is where the growth occurs.
Sometimes the result will be unexpected, and you will have to make adjustments to get back on track or adapt to the outcome. It is important to recognize, those quiet spaces between the efforts you exhibit is where you have to allow the magic to happen. You can influence these periods, but you cannot control them, and that is what makes the whole thing exhilarating.