Process Not Product


One way to tackle a fear of failure (or, its equally prevalent and powerful cousin – fear of success) is to stop focusing on the outcome of your creative work.

When we think ‘today I’m going to write the next chapter of my book’ or ‘I’m going to finish that short story’ we’re inviting a terror spiral that goes something like this:

I don’t know what happens next in the story and the characters feel kind of flat which means – argh -I’m wasting my time with this piece and I ought to start something new… But that means I’ll never finish anything and be a Real Writer, and if I do finish it what if it doesn’t sell? Or what if it does sell and then people actually READ IT? Uh-oh, I’d better take out all the blasphemy, my mum won’t like that. And, I can’t write that scene I was thinking of because it’s twisted and everyone will think I’m a horrible person. Perhaps, I’ll just go on Twitter…

Instead, try this: Today I’m going to practice writing. I will write 300 words because that’s how you get better at writing, by doing it.

Or: I will write for one hour, because I’ve been managing 50 minutes for a while, now, and it’s good to push myself, to stretch my goals and improve my concentration.

Every time you catch your mind throwing out an end-result-related thought (such as: ‘If I write 1000 words I will be halfway through the book’ or ‘is this YA or Crime Fiction?’) gently push it aside and think something process-related. It takes practice, but I promise you it helps.

Over time, you will naturally focus more on the process of writing which will help you to be more ‘in the moment’ of your creative work and to be more productive.

Here are some more examples of ‘process-thinking’:

  • I will write some sentences today and each and every one will make me a better writer.
  • I will write for at least ten minutes today and will work at extending my focus for longer periods until I can write for thirty minutes at a time.
  • Okay. I’m working on this scene. What are the characters feeling? Where are they? What would happen if I changed the setting? Or the POV? I’ll try it three different ways and see which I like best…
  • I’m stuck. I’ll just do some free-writing on another project because all writing is practice.

What do you think? Do you already focus on process-over-outcome? If not, are you willing to give it a try?




6 thoughts to “Process Not Product”

  1. Sarah, those are wonderful points, and the bit about free writing is something I’ve gone to in the past week. It really does work. I find I can much more easily slide into my “real” work right after it.

  2. Hi Sarah,
    What a wonderful idea – I’m all for it (and of course just LOVED that wonderful old typewriter logo and pic!) so look forward to your next set of ‘hints’ for the Worried Writer. We do seem to get stuck in a sort of ‘rut’ from time to time don’t we? (a bit like when the wheels of our car dig deeper on a muddy road the more we accelerate – but the vehicle is going nowhere!) At the moment I’m ‘stuck’ on a suitable setting for a new character I want to introduce to my six ‘established’ ones – without boring the heads off my readers, and the pile of crumpled balls of paper in the wpb is growing by the hour!

    1. Sorry I’m late in replying, Carl. Had a slight technical hitch… Thank you for reading and commenting, and best of luck with your work-in-progress.

  3. ..and thank you Sarah for managing to find time to respond to me during this ( obviously) very busy time for you. SO delighted that ‘Spells’ is coming out in p.b. as many of my friends can’t us this ‘new’ technology – so ‘long live print’! Hope it flies of the shelves for you, and assume it will get wide coverage? I’ve just returned from Northumberland – and found the perfect location to introduce my new character. Now back on my ‘Fantasy Island’!

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