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How to Stay Flexible with Your Writing

Last week, I met up with a client for a very important occasion. After about a year of working together, it was time for us to upload his book to Amazon for publication.

It’s always a great day for me when I sit down with an author in person or on Zoom and do the publication thing. We get to upload all the files and details for their Amazon author page, and all of a sudden, this is an actual thing in their life.

Walking them through this momentous experience is one of the best parts of this job.

But for the first time in my career of helping indie authors, things didn’t go as planned.

Amazon rejected the interior file. We assumed it was a glitch and reuploaded it. But then it happened again. And again.

My excitement disintegrated into frustration and even a certain amount of imposter syndrome.

I am beyond pumped about this author’s book. I’ve invested a lot of extra resources into him because I’ve known him for years and have always believed this project could come into being.

So that night, I put on a pot of my favorite chai tea and hunkered down to troubleshoot the document, working through a list of common reasons Amazon uploads fail.

Thankfully, it was only the primary font.

I say only because there are a ton of visual elements in this book, and my worst fear was having to tell my client that the vision we’d worked so hard to bring into being would have to be changed.

The deal is this: sometimes Amazon doesn’t like highly specialized fonts. Their system is trained to flag certain kinds because of possible licensing issues. And the font we used for the chapter headings was one of them.

I also couldn’t just pick a new primary font. We still had to stay within the confines of the brand our cover designer created. And as I said in a recent post about creating professional self-published books, nothing kills an independent author’s work like an incongruent brand.

So I started playing around with it. I won’t get too typesetting-nerdy, but basically, I took the secondary font and manipulated the sizing and kerning so that it subtly looks like a different font even though it isn’t.

I also realized that I needed to change some other typesetting elements so that the page itself looked more balanced.

The result was that despite the troubleshooting and stress, we ended up with a book design that is way stronger than the original, even though we had to cut the super awesome header font.

The interior is more hospitable, cleaner, and reader-friendly.

Our deadline got pushed back . . . but that happens.

Either way, the final product is going to look awesome.

(NOTE: Did you miss my post about typesetting tips? Make sure you check it out here so you can understand the whole dimension of this anecdote.)

The Revision Process is Messy

My point is this . . . sometimes, for whatever reason, your plan isn’t going to work.

The creative process isn’t designed to be a one-size-fits-all execution plan.

No matter how clear your vision seems at the beginning, the final product is rarely exactly how you planned.

I talked about this a little in my New Year’s post about why goal setting is often so hard for writers. Having worked in the marketing world, I have been a creative artist in a sphere that runs on key performance indicators.

You can’t just set a goal of being the best content strategist or copywriter you can be. Instead, you have to test everything to identify what headlines, subject lines, and even specific words convert the most leads.

This rigid, systematic approach is essential for an industry that exists solely to help businesses make more money. Our clients weren’t interested in my creative vision for their email campaigns. More often than not, my work involved taking proven language and templates and putting them into action using the client’s branding.

I know I’m talking about branding a lot. You need to consider your brand when collaborating with a book designer or posting on social media.

But sometimes, that approach stops working. In extreme cases, the only solution is to throw your well-crafted plan out the window and try something else.

Throwing Out the Plan is When the Cool Stuff Happens

My favorite writing teacher, Jonathan Rogers, does a weekly segment on Facebook called Some Writer Needs to Hear This. Last week, he talked about leaving room for grace in your writing. “Something beyond your conscious mind is at work when you sit down to write,” he said in this series installment.

Rogers talks about how while outlining can be a great tool for getting started, he is suspicious of any work he does that resembles his brainstorming too much. “If the end product matches the outline too closely, I may not have done it right,” he says. “I may have missed out on some magic that might have been there. I still write the outline, but I hold it pretty loosely in the hope and the confidence that when I wade into that project, new and better ideas will come to me.”

(You can watch the entire video here, which I highly recommend.)

One of Inkling’s clients, singer/songwriter and author Marc Lee Shannon, has described his songwriting work like this: “The music doesn’t come from you. It comes through you.”

There is a greater force at work when we create than we are aware of. Our best work surprises us because it surfaces when we reach the point of letting go of our own objectives and letting the work do what it wants.

Revision Doesn’t Equal Failure

If you take only one thing away from this week’s blog, let it be this: if you need to rework your project or take it in another direction, it does not mean that you have failed.

It means you’ve dug deep enough to discover that there is something even better available for your writing vision than what you originally started with.

There’s a reason so many authors say that their initial drafts are terrible and that their first ideas for something are rarely the ones they stick with. You have to start somewhere.

Hopefully, you don’t have to troubleshoot your story as extensively as I did my client’s interior files, although if you find this necessary, I have a free tool that can help.

You can also hop on a free 30-minute consultation with me to talk about your current project's hangups or the revision process in general.

What about you? What tactics work best for you when you find that the thing you’re trying to make isn’t working? Feel free to drop them in the comments.

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