The Creative Process is Not Solitary

By Sue Campbell

I’m going to be blunt here. If you’re sitting alone in a room day after day putting words on the page but never showing anyone because you don’t think the work is “ready,” you’re doing it wrong.

You’re hurting yourself creatively and you’re definitely hurting your chances of ever benefiting from your writing financially.

Of course, there’s no precise “right” way to do things. There’s no magic formula for how to sequence your creative process. Each writer will have their own method of drafting, getting feedback and putting work out into the world. But if you aren’t willing to take the feedback step, you’re never going to achieve professional status.

Asking for and accepting feedback, while scary as hell, is a requirement of being a professional writer. I’ve been earning my living through writing (both journalism and copywriting) for almost ten years. I have to be willing to accept and incorporate feedback from clients and editors or my bills will not get paid.

But far from doing it begrudgingly, I happily accept feedback from clients and guidance from editors. Not just because my paycheck depends on it, but because it makes me a better writer.

This is even truer for writing books. I’ve been writing fiction for five years and have yet to make a dime on it (my first novel will be out later this year), but I know how horrible my fiction would be if I hadn’t had help — early and often — throughout my writing process.

Frequency is key. You want to know as soon as you can whether what your writing works. Our brains can play tricks on us — we’re too close to our own work to really see it as a reader will see it. It’s really hard to get what’s in your head to land on the page. We must have feedback to make sure we’re conveying what we think we’re conveying.

But, I’ll warn you, feedback is also tricky as hell. I love this quote by Neil Gaiman:

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Almost anyone can tell you if your story isn’t working. (Even if they’re too nice to say it in so many words. When I shared early drafts of my novel, I could tell it wasn’t working when people who loved me couldn’t get to the end.) That alone is really helpful. Then you must do the hard work of putting it right. (Sometimes, it takes a professional level editor, and one who goes on more than instinct, to really help you see a problem and brainstorm with you on ways to fix it. We happen to have two such editors right here at Pages & Platforms!)

Really, you want to think of the writing process as collaborative. It’s a back and forth until you get to something that works.

Here’s one approach you can try to start getting the feedback you need to make you a better writer. (If you’re new to writing, start with a short story or essay so you can speed up your learning curve with a shorter work.)

  1. Choose a masterwork you’d love to emulate and study the heck out of it. What’s the genre? What’s the theme? What are the major plot points? What’s the narrative device?

  2. Create a foolscap outline of your story, using the masterwork as a guide.

  3. Share your outline with some fellow writers and ask for feedback.

  4. Write a first draft as fast as you can. (Yes, it will be shitty.)

  5. Now, get a few knowledgeable writers or an editor to do a read-through and tell you if your story is “working” at a fundamental level or not.

  6. Plug your work into the Story Grid spreadsheet to find any structural problems and make sure every scene is doing its job. You’re creating a way to give yourself feedback here by using a methodology designed to flush out problems.

  7. Revise to address what you found.

  8. Get more feedback and revise again.

  9. Continue getting input and revising until you have consistent, overwhelmingly positive feedback from people you respect.

Happily, you can follow pretty much the same process for your marketing efforts:

  1. Choose a proven marketing model to emulate. Here at Pages & Platforms, we use the Connection System developed by Tim Grahl.

  2. Create an outline of your campaign using your model as a guide.

  3. Start executing your plan and get feedback from your peers, from data, or from a professional to see whether or not your efforts are working.

  4. Adjust one thing at a time and see if you get better feedback and results until your audience is eager for more. (As Seth Godin says, “Would they miss you if you were gone?”)

And yes, you can do both writing and platform building at the same time. I’m a big proponent of making your marketing an extension of your creative process. It’s more fun and less icky that way.

The important thing to remember is that other people see things in your own work that you can’t see. You have to be willing to look through other eyes. It’s the way we grow as writers — and even as people. Making ourselves vulnerable makes us stronger.

To this end, on the marketing side, we’re launching a group coaching program for writers who want help building their author platform in 2019. Read this page to find out how you can use a proven marketing methodology and get feedback on your execution so you can build your audience in the new year. We start January 12.

Sue Campbell