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What’s This About Process?

One of my best friends can sit down and write a post from start to finish in one sitting. It’ll need some editing, but the ideas are there, the voice strong, and the argument mostly formed. I hate her.

Another friend of mine writes poetry. He calls them blogs, but they’re poems. Each day he shares his poems with the world and they circulate around the globe creating tiny ideaviruses that affect the culture around them.

I hate him too.

Ok, fine, I don’t hate them, I’m jealous of them. In my experience, there is no “linear” version of creativity where the work comes out whole. Where the novel is born in one fell swoop, the song comes out complete from start to finish, and the dance arrives choreographed and finished.

Lin Manuel said it best when he told reporters that moments like these are once in a lifetime, twice if you’re lucky. The rest is sheer hard work. Isabelle Allende, Margaret Atwood, Liz Gilbert, Julia Cameron, Neil Gaimon, Maya Angelou, Hemmingway, and other prolific writers have shared a similar perspective (and experience), that “the good stuff” is a labor of, well, labor.

(I’ve spoken more about this here).

Then there is the issue of honoring your specific process for getting your work out of your head and into the world. My guess is it doesn’t look like the linear version my friends espouse, but appears as a windy confusing path that has its own agenda irrespective of your expectations of it.

[My “process” includes coming up with an idea, journaling about feelings, a seemingly irrelevant foray into memoir and self-indulgent writing, negating my original argument with better arguments, and then re-discovering the point, which invariably turns out to be a completely different point from my original premise. GOOD TIMES. ]

I can’t remember which podcast it was, but I think it was Cheryl Strayed interviewing a novelist in Sugar Calling. I think. Anyway, I remember this novelist sharing that she’d spend a day or two going down what-appear-to-be-irrelevant rabbit holes before finding her point. And how that is part of the writing process, not a digression.

I felt that in my bones.

[Sidebar: The only way to know the difference between procrastination and process is through insight into your specific process. You know when you’re procrastinating because it’s motivated by avoidance. You know when you’re following the bouncing ball of creativity because it’s motivated by curiosity.]

I’ve heard people call their process “messy” because of this and it always rubbed the wrong way. Messy has a negative connotation that suggests that the person and their process is confused or lost; and this implication seems to be an effect of framing.

We live in a world that rewards what’s linear and visible. We value output, results, and movement forward. From that frame, anything that isn’t linear and results-driven is regarded with contempt (“messy”). It relegates creativity to the sidelines, a “cute” thing you can do when you’re not working for results.

But that’s not how creativity works. It doesn’t work on that timeline, it’s not even playing in that game. It’s in a different stratosphere.

It can’t be rushed. It can’t be templatized. It can’t be measured.

It can be felt. It can be followed. It can be listened to. And best of all, it can be fun.

Felt. Followed. And fun.

I can’t think of anything more terrifying to our modern (American/Western) sensibilities than that.

The reason, I think, my friends who appear to have linear creative output can produce the way they do is because they feel, follow, listen, and have fun. They deign to write from a place that’s true and real and don’t view the “digressions” and inevitable left turns as “irrelevant.”

They are the point.

My friend Caelin and I were talking about this in the context of scientific publishing. If, as a culture, we valued null results or small or seemingly insignificant contributions to research, we might not feel like our research funds were “wasted.”

Same with creativity.

If we stop devaluing the digressions and see them as part of the process, then it’s not messy.

Maybe it’s the point.


PS: If embracing your process is something you’re struggling with (or you suspect you are getting in the way of your own work), I’ll be opening up a few spots for Voice Lessons in December. Click here to check out the program and apply.

PPS: I’ll have updates on The Copy Workshop soon. Keep your eyes peeled for dates to enroll.

PPSS: Hillary and I had the privilege of YELLING AT NEWSLETTERS with Ashley Guttuso for Curated/Opt-in Weekly, you can find the recording here. Check it out to learn:

  • The difference between length and quality
  • The importance of being consistent
  • Why you should enjoy the creative process
  • And why it’s important to earn (and keep earning) subscribers’ attention

PPPSS: These are too many CTAs. Do as I say, not as I do. 🙈