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The Writing Process & Why the End Product Doesn’t Matter

After a couple of weeks off, the blog is finally back! Thanks for hanging in there.

I had a great time last weekend traveling to Nashville for the summer retreat of my online writing community, The Habit. For two days, fifty of us gathered at North Wind Manor in Nashville, home of the Rabbit Room, to learn about creativity, writing, and faith.

We read our original stories and poems to each other, participated in brainstorming and critique groups, ate delicious food, and were even treated to a special recording of The Habit Podcast featuring Andrew Peterson as a guest.

So many great lessons came out of the teaching and discussion, and I’m sure I’ll be sharing a lot of them for the weeks to come. But what I keep thinking about the most is what we discussed about the writing process.

In his presentation, Peterson shared that for writers and all other artists, the process of creating is more important than just producing a final product. It’s where the real work happens—not just on the project itself, but on ourselves.

The process of making something is one of discovery. Your job isn’t just to tell readers a story—it’s to let it unveil itself to you as you work and reflect who you are personally as this happens.

It’s been said that if creating the work doesn’t affect you emotionally, it won’t affect the reader either.

I want to take this a step further. If you expect your writing to change the reader, it must first change you.

The Writing Process Isn’t Linear

A lot of us probably have thought that it would be nice if it were. Wouldn’t it be great to sit down with a fresh idea, roll up your sleeves, and start plowing through all the drafting and revision stages to end up with something awesome?

Every once in a while, this might happen. But we all know that most of the time, that’s not how it works.

Usually, the writing process is pretty messy. There are a lot of false starts, do-overs, and moments of wondering if the project is even worth your time.

There’s a lot of imposter syndrome and self-doubt (although, as one of my Habit friends said, you might argue that imposter syndrome is a requirement for being an artist).

All of this is totally normal. Having to revise or even toss out huge portions of your project doesn’t make you a bad writer. You’re looking ahead to what experience you want to create for readers and considering what elements of your craft will best accomplish it.

So, if you find yourself with a piece you thought was done but end up having to go back and do more revision, that’s fine.

If you keep having to start over, that’s cool, too.

If there were a structured roadmap for the writing process that worked every time, what we produce wouldn’t be as meaningful.

The Writing Process is Surprising

Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I don’t know about you, but I express ideas much differently in writing than out loud. Sometimes I feel like another person wrote it altogether.

It’s one of the reasons I keep a prayer journal. Praying silently makes it easy for me to lose my focus in certain situations and not be able to clearly outline what I want to say to the Lord. Something about writing it down makes it much clearer.

I think the same thing happens when we do creative writing projects. The more we work, the more we understand what we’re creating and why it matters to us.

This is why it’s essential to let stories develop organically rather than superimposing our plans or “message” onto them. If you write fiction, you should walk away from your work understanding the characters better than when you sat down.

If you write nonfiction, you should understand yourself or your experiences more and be surprised by what comes out on the page as you work through what happened.

I don’t write much poetry, but I’ve found that when I do, it almost always surprises me.

I’ve also found that a big part of the writing process happens at the subconscious level. Inkling client Marc Lee Shannon writes that when we create, what we make comes not from us but through us.

That’s what happens when we let go of our own intentions and allow the work to be what it’s supposed to be.

The Writing Process Lets Us Understand Ourselves Better

Another aspect of the writing process that Andrew Peterson discussed was the advent of AI. For AI programs, the end product is the sole goal—and that’s why attempts at AI-generated creative writing have fallen short.

When we create, we change as people, and the momentum of that growth propels us toward a finished piece.

Yes, publication is great, and any scenario where you get to share your work with an audience carries great rewards. But the ultimate reward is understanding how your art and you as an individual will now be different as a result of going through the writing process.

Are you ready to start writing?

If so, there are a couple of things you can do to get the process moving for yourself, whether you have a project in motion already or want to start something new.

First, check out my FREE Ultimate Writing Project workbooks.

These books contain writing prompts, worksheets, tools, and templates to help you get a new project off the ground or dig deeper into one you are working on.

With different versions for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, you can take your pick of genres.

You can also schedule a complimentary 30-minute Virtual Meetup on Zoom with me to talk about your project one-on-one, including any questions you have about the writing process or particular challenges you’re facing.

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