One Simple Secret for Success as a Writer

Chad AllenGuest Blogger: Chad R. Allen (@ChadRAllen)

“Sometimes it feels like nobody’s listening,” my writer friend groaned.

Can you relate? Have you ever poured your heart and soul into an article or proposal only to hear the cruel sound of silence? It’s frustrating.

So we just keep slogging away, right?

Well, yes, but there is a way of thinking about your writing that just might make all the difference in the world.

To illustrate, let me tell you about my inventor friends Al and Andy.

Al and Andy invented a device they call the “Nothin’ But Net Free Throw Trainer.” The purpose of this invention is to help basketball players become better free throw shooters, and it works. Nationally known coaches now use the device.

The product is simple. It’s a four-inch piece of yellow plastic that stands vertically on the front of a basketball hoop.

Picture

It’s the principle behind the device that’s so remarkable.

The idea is to focus on this little piece of plastic rather than making the shot. The Free Throw Trainer teaches the shooter to focus on the process of making the shot instead of the outcome.

Focusing on the process helps the shooter relax. Suddenly it’s not about adding points to the scoreboard. It’s about hitting that little piece of plastic.

Writers: it’s not about watching copies fly off the shelves or filling seats at a reading. It’s about filling your own seat.

The best writers focus on the process of writing rather than on the audience they hope to have.

Relax and keep hitting that yellow piece of plastic. If you keep doing that, the outcome will take care of itself.

What does the process actually look like? 

What’s the writing equivalent to the Free Throw Trainer? You know the fundamentals already: writing and reading. To become great writers, we have to spend significant time doing both. But to be honest, from there it varies. The particulars of your process are less important than thinking about and deciding on a process that makes sense to you. Stick to it for a period of time and see how it goes, then reevaluate and make tweaks.

Do your best to fall in love with your process.

I don’t mean you’re always going to enjoy what you’re doing. It’s hard work. But if you trust that your writing is improving as you engage the process, you can push through. If you can keep doing that over time, you will build an audience.

Process over outcome. It’s not easy, but you can do it. And we need you to do it.

What’s your writing process?

Comment below or by clicking: HERE.

 

Chad R. Allen serves as editorial director for Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. You can connect with him via his blog, where he is giving away a free e-copy of his first book, DO YOUR ART: A Manifesto on Rejecting Apathy to Bring Your Best to the World

 

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Here’s a simple secret to improve your success as a writer. @ChadRAllen posts for @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.

The best writers focus on the process, not the audience. @ChadRAllen posts for @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.

How the “Nothin’ But Net Free Throw Trainer” can improve your writing. Click to Tweet.

 

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  • Lisa Van Engen

    Great example. It is incredibly hard work, much like the basketball players that shot free throws for hours. I’m beginning to feel the effects of sticking with the process. The results seem almost natural as time goes on. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Chad R. Allen

      I think that’s right. If we stick to it, we really do get better at the craft. When I read things I wrote five years ago, I see the difference between then and now.

  • http://forthisisthetime.com/ Esther Aspling

    Getting alone long enough to actually hear my own thoughts, not easily achievable with 6 kids, but totally worth it. :-)

    http://forthisisthetime.com/

    • cindyfinley

      Totally with you, Esther! I’m a mom of 7! And you’re right, getting alone to write is a CHALLENGE, but SO worth it!

  • Dean Sault

    Rachelle, I always enjoy your posts. You are doing a service for the writing community. Thank you…Author Dean Sault.

  • Gabrielle Meyer

    My process is having a word count goal for each day. Some days I go above and beyond, and some days I just make the goal. I’ve found I need a goal to shoot for because it’s far too easy to let other things sneak in and take away my writing time.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Good one! I like the idea of a word count goal. It forces you to just. get. writing!

  • Ty Strange

    Nice followup to the last post, “Developing Resilience”–learning to separate the effort from the results to stick with it. Enjoy what you do and get better at it. Besides, getting there is half the fun!

    • Chad R. Allen

      Ty, well said. We need to learn to enjoy the trip because, honestly, it’s all trip.

  • Charles R Stubbs

    What works for me is to build the story in my head and keep working at it until I can’t wait to write it down. About six months thinking, four months writing, two months revising/editing. Result: one new book a year! :-)

    • Chad R. Allen

      Wow, sounds golden. But I forget what i thought about yesterday if I don’t write it down!

  • Christina Banks

    I’m still learning what the best process is for me, especially learning how to write with a toddler in the house. I needed the reminder that this is about the process – sitting down and creating.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Christina, it can be a juggling act for sure. Hang in there!

  • Michelle McGill Vargas

    I’m still learning the process as well. I read up on what successful authors do, attend workshops, and from what I learned, use what works for me. The trick is understanding that what works and makes one author successful may not work for another.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Excellent point, Michelle, and I couldn’t agree more. I work with a lot of different writers in my role at Baker, and each one has his or her own way of creating a manuscript. It’s fascinating how different their processes are.

      One person blocks out 4 to 6 weeks, and jams out a whole manuscript. Another works every day for a couple hours at a time. Still others use just one day a week to write. It goes on and on…

  • http://lmbartelt.wordpress.com/ Lisa Bartelt

    I think I’m still learning what it is as well. And what it isn’t. This is great advice, though. Thanks for sharing and encouraging.

    • Chad R. Allen

      My pleasure. Keep trying different things and assessing how it went. And remember that whatever process you’re using today may not work 3 months from now. Improvise, work, assess, improvise, work, assess.

  • LadyJevonnahEllison

    Thank you for this reminder. With a family full of basketball players, I understand the “process”. It’s all about hard work, dedication and enjoying the journey.

  • John Hanson

    I’m turning desktop objects into visual cues. My fountain pen is now a yellow plastic strip. My coffee cups are now basketballs. My waste basket is a net. Hmmm, I should be careful about this. My key tappings are shoes on a court. My army of computer fans are my basketball fans. Constant reminders of process. Yes, I can do this.

  • Tom Bender

    I put myself to sleep thinking about what I am working on and what I might do. This does help me sleep. What does this say about my writing?

  • http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com/ Cynthia Herron

    Chad, my process: Write. Revise. Repeat. There IS a method to all the madness! I don’t always enjoy the process or the work to “get there,” but I LOVE words, stories, and almost always the writing.
    Thanks so much for your insights!

  • sue

    Love this post, Chad! I’m amazed that a small device can make such a huge difference in outcome just by encouraging a “rethink.”

    Probably one of the best things that has happened to me with my writing is that my life continues to be so busy that my writing time is small and precious. Like that little piece of plastic, that lack of time has forced me to think about the process and treasure it! It’s no longer about big bucks or good reviews or even living up to the artificial standards I’ve place upon myself in order to meet the expectations of others. It’s all about, “Oh thank you, Lord! Today I get to write all day long.” Such a treasure!

  • Rachelle Christensen

    Thanks for this great advice! Love the visual the free-throw example brings–it’s an excellent reminder to keep my focus!

    • Chad R. Allen

      Keep hitting that yellow piece of plastic, Rachelle!

      • Rachelle Christensen

        I can’t get any of the links to work for your website. I also tried typing them in and googling and they all say that there is an error. Help?

        • Chad R. Allen

          Rachelle, this is so unspeakably unacceptable I’m not sure what to say. I’m terribly sorry. But give it a shot one more time. I think everything is working now. If not email me at chad at chadrallen dot come, let me know what you’re after and I’ll send it to you!

          • http://www.rachellewrites.blogspot.com/ Rachelle Christensen

            Got it! Great website. Thanks for sharing your passion. I’m excited to read your book!

          • Chad R. Allen

            Awesome! I really would love to know what you think of it. Sorry about the blog bog…(Hey, did I just coin something?) :-)

        • Chad R. Allen

          Sorry for the inconvenience, Rachelle. I think everything is back up now. My apologies.

        • Chad R. Allen

          Sorry, Rachelle. Everything seems to be working now. If not, email me at chad at chadrallen dot com, and I’ll help you.

  • cindyfinley

    Excellent post! I particularly like the reminder to focus on and enjoy the process rather than stressing about the numbers, the contract, etc. But, I do think it’s beneficial to think about your audience, though. Not necessarily in trying to drag them or drive them to my writing, but in thinking about how to serve them. Thoughts? I’m learning that I’ve got to fuel my mind and heart, give time to prayer, and journaling, and processing. And, even with a blog post, writing and then letting it sit for a day works best for me. While I’m writing, I don’t put in pictures or links, but do that when I come back through on the second day, or even the third. Thanks again!

    • Chad R. Allen

      Cindy, you’re absolutely right. The whole “don’t worry about your audience” thing can be taken way too far. Of course we need to be in touch, by whatever means we can, with what our readers need. Writing is all about serving. What I’m encouraging us to let go is obsessing over how many people are listening to or buying our stuff. And believe me, I’m telling myself this as much as anybody!

      • cindyfinley

        Thanks, Chad! Equating impact with numbers of people is a challenge not only for writers, but for ministry leaders as well. My husband is a pastor and he is constantly working to help people see that the number of people in the “pews” is not the sole indicator of how effectively the ministry truly is.

        • Chad R. Allen

          Amen to that!

  • Amber Schamel

    Great advice! I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Success really is about the journey more than the destination. Like Sue, my writing time is few and precious and I enjoy writing so much that I would continue to write even if my writing was never published.

    My writing process is pray, research, pray, plot, pray, start writing, pray some more, ask for prayer from friends/fans, keep writing, pray, rewrite…I guess you get the idea. :)

    • Chad R. Allen

      Love the emphasis on prayer and community–must haves!

  • Nicola Smith

    I try to do something every evening. Before I decided to get serious about finishing my book, there would be days, weeks, and months when I didn’t write. I can’t let myself do that anymore, now it needs to be a routine. I’ve started a bit of beta reading now too, so I set aside time in the evening and designate some of it to that and the rest to me. Sometimes I don’t get much done at all – maybe a bit of editing or a few lines corrected. But so long as something happens and the process is going forward, I’ll get there.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Yes, this is SO SO SO important. Little steps are what get us where we want to be. Thank you!

  • Dale Day

    Did I ever need this!

    Just got my 2d Quarter sales results and made me want to cry. I’ve done everything I think is possible to spread the word – and it isn’t working.

    But, I have no choice but to continue conducting my research and writing the best possible historical novels I can. That seems to be the secret – keep writing.

    Again, thanks.

    • Chad R. Allen

      You’re not alone, Dale. Remember that this is about staying true to one’s calling; it’s about internal motivations (as much as we’d like to see external impacts as well). You keep on keeping on!

  • Kathy Nickerson

    Well, this is brilliant. The little piece of plastic over the net. And getting myself in the seat being the most important thing. Thanks.

    The process for my novel coming out this fall was twenty-minutes in my seat every morning before work for one year. (Plus extra on the weekends.)

    • Chad R. Allen

      Thanks, Kathy! Wow, twenty-minute writing sessions! That’s amazing.

  • Ibidun Layi-Ojo

    This is a very insightful blog post! Thank you! My favorite line is “Process over outcome. It’s not easy, but you can do it” (I will be tweeting that!)
    My writing process keeps evolving, because I am constantly reviewing my process to increase my efficiency.
    My current process for a new book is to write down the idea as soon as it “strikes”, then I keep jotting down related ideas and keep hacking at it till it crystalizes into something concrete and I begin to see the flow. The amount of content I can generate on the topic determines if it would be a book, an article, or a devotional.
    Once I start the book, I make sure I work on it every day. Some days, I totally get in the “zone” and write for hours! Some other days, I review the big picture, or focus on research in preparation for a new chapter.
    It is usually a thrilling process, and I have to constantly discipline myself to stick with it and not get distracted by another book idea. I simply write down the new idea and all my initial thoughts, then store it in my ideas folder to be developed at another time. That helps me to stick to the book writing process and finish the first draft of the manuscript. Then the rewrites, revisions, and fine-tuning begin!

    • Chad R. Allen

      Thanks, Ibidun. I love the idea of having a way to store the rabbit-trail ideas for later so that you can keep after the work at hand. That makes all kinds of sense. I’m building quite a library of used notebooks that are filled with ideas I jot down here and there… I used the technique Todd Henry commends in his book The Accidental Creative. Brilliant book. It sounds like you have both an efficient and an effective process!

      • Ibidun Layi-Ojo

        Chad – Thanks for mentioning Todd Henry’s book – The Accidental Creative. I am digging into it!

        • Chad R. Allen

          Terrific! I hope you find it as useful as I have. Todd does a podcast too. Great content.

  • Julie Moore
  • yakinamac

    Love this! I’ve just got lots more time to write as a result of taking some unpaid leave from work and I’ve found inventing a process absolutely essential to make sure I’m using those precious hours productively. Sadly, it appears the TV schedulers in the UK don’t appreciate the importance of one particular quiz show to my writing schedule – if my novel doesn’t ever see the light of day, I know who to blame..! My rant on this very topic is here: http://www.mrsholderslegacy.wordpress.com

    • Chad R. Allen

      Ha! You remind me that having LOTS of time to write can sometimes be as much of a struggle as having severely limited time. I needed to hear that. Thank you.

  • Gary Neal Hansen

    Thanks, Chad, for another really helpful post!

    I find my writing process evolving. For a long while, whatever the project, the key was daily pages of free writing. I held back from editing it and just poured out what came into my mind on the topic of the project. Sometimes that was problem solving, as I worked over the same issue for days. Sometimes it was drafting (very drafty drafting). Transcribing these journal pages into the computer gave me a jump start, with material to edit and add to.

    Today the helpful thing is blogging. I’m blogging weekly on the topic of my next big project, and it is helping in lots of ways. Not least is a sense that some people are actually listening!

    • Chad R. Allen

      Yes, and not only are they listening, I’ll bet they’re helping you refine your content. I’m so glad to hear blogging is helping you with your book writing. Love it.

  • Neil Larkins

    This is a great post, Chad. Very helpful. Nice to hear from someone in your position…who, as it turns out is oh so like the rest of us. Bless you and hope you continue to have success.

    • Chad R. Allen

      You bet, Neil. I’m just fellow beggar looking for bread…

  • Jackie M. Johnson

    Excellent post! I agree. We need to fall in love with the PROCESS of writing, not the outcome.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Yes!

  • cjoy

    I find this reassuring! I set out to write for myself, because I wanted to. Along the way I fell in love with the process. At first I wasn’t thinking about an audience and had no goals other than writing. Now, though the process of refining the work I’ve done is mildly daunting, my desire to be the best I can be means I’m happy to work towards that end. I’m still enjoying it. :)
    So glad I took time to read this post. Thank you!

    • Chad R. Allen

      Good! Keep that first love burning. It’s so easy to become obsessed with things that in the end don’t really matter.

  • Laurie Buchanan

    My process?

    I sit down at my desk window-facing desk. There are two items — and two items only — on the desk surface: (1) laptop, (2) a brand new tea light.

    I SHOW UP every day. When I SHOW UP, I light the tea light and write. I do not leave my desk until the tea light goes out of its own accord.

    (Dog’s first note to self: Yankee brand candles burn up to 6-hours).

    (Dog’s second note to self: SHOW UP means a positive attitude and a commitment to write. The candle is my visible-tangible CONTRACT. I sign a new CONTRACT each day when I SHOW UP to write).

    • Chad R. Allen

      Oh my, I LOVE that candle idea!

      • Laurie Buchanan

        Chad – It’s something I share with students when I teach at the Writers’ Institute at UW-Madison. If it’s effective for me, it may well be effective for others.

        Make it a shiny penny kind of day!

        • Carey Jane Clark

          I love the candle idea too! But I’m a homeschooling mother of three. I’ll have to find me a shorter-burning candle! ;)

          • Laurie Buchanan

            Carey Jane – I’m glad the idea resonates with you.

  • Arvilla N

    I love to read–mostly anything goes, but other authors on their views on writing are tops on my list–I especially like your helpful articles. It’s great to have a new way of looking at what I’ve written.
    Sometime it helps to do something else for a while. For instance I quilt and that helps use another part of my brain. Ideas usually come randomly which I jot down on scraps of anything available. The trick is finding those later and then being able to decipher them, since some come in the middle of the night.
    Once back in front of my computer, I have no trouble getting them all worked out–kinda like putting a quilt together with bits and pieces creating a harmonious whole. Thanks again for your needed advice.

    • Chad R. Allen

      You make a good point about using our minds for other creative activities like quilting. Some of my best writing ideas come from simply engaging myself in interesting activities.

  • Cheryl Malandrinos

    Before I sit down to write I’m fairly certain of where I am going with a project. That means writing less often than I would like, but I need to be comfortable that I know enough to prevent me from staring at a blank screen for hours. I am also a firm believer in the practice of write now, edit later. Once I type “The End,” I can take my time pondering what works and what doesn’t before sending it off to my critique group for feedback.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Cheryl, sounds like a great process. I’m interested to know how you know where you’re going by the time you sit down to write. Are you sketching and note-taking before you sit down to really write?

      • Cheryl Malandrinos

        For the middle grade historical I’m working on, I tried to get as much research out of the way before starting. There might be details I have to fill in later, but I want to know enough that I’m not stopping to look up something every day. I also have character interview sheets a writing friend sent me years ago. They cover likes, dislikes, physical traits, fears, relationships–all kinds of things that you use in creating your characters.
        I can’t say my characters don’t surprise me and go off in their own directions, but those directions are a natural flow of the story and don’t tend to change the overall outcome.

        • Chad R. Allen

          Got it, thanks for explaining.

  • Alisa LaGroue

    I usually have a general direction I want my story to take. Sometimes I need some time to decide what’s going to happen to get there. I like to write a chapter at a time. Then the next night, I like to reread and edit.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Interesting! Do you restrict your editing to one night and then move on to the next chapter, or do you let yourself edit as many nights as you like?

      • Alisa LaGroue

        I reread and make changes, then write the next chapter. I send it to my mom to check for mistakes I missed because I just don’t trust my abilities (mostly spell check) to catch them all. When the book is done, I have a couple trusted people I let read and edit it. “Trusted” people who will tell it to me straight when I ask them their opinion, because, lets face it, mom might really like the story but she will always be biased.

        • Funkè

          i like this style

  • C.L. Denault

    Wonderful article! Needed to hear this – thank you :-)

  • http://upinandout.com/ Francie Winslow

    Great advice, Chad! “Process over outcome.” Sometimes the pressures to produce or draw an audience can drain the joy out of the creative process. But it seems the more I focus on the calling and purpose behind my writing (and less on my stats or shares) I’m more productive and have more satisfaction in the process. Thanks for helping me stick to the basics and focus! And thank you, Rachelle, for hosting a great post!

  • Alexandria Inde

    This is great Chad! I picked up some great tips from the article, and even more sound advice from the comments. Awesome community of writers out there!
    My process absolutely starts with getting into a great state where energy is flowing through me. Sometimes I do this by meditating, sometimes it’s stretching or walking. I have to be in an open state of mind or else it feels more like a book report and less like a creative process.
    Once I am in that happy place I just let the words flow through me! I write and write and write – no editing allowed. Once the words stop flowing I go back and pretty it up. I may discard up to half of what I wrote, but what stays usually works.
    I’m currently writing a novel and I swear that half the book is coming from somewhere else, all when I am in that open state of mind. It’s so much fun for me to write that way!
    Thanks again (everyone) for taking the time to share!
    Alex
    http://www.myjourneywithlea.blogspot.com

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  • Maureen

    Chad, what a great comparison! I, too, needed to hear this bit of wisdom as it’s so easy for me to get caught up in the outcome–which I can not control at all–versus the process. As a reading teacher, I help struggling readers work on process all the time. When they tell me they want to be reading “those” books instead of the easier books, I tell them, “Just keep going. You will get there. Practice first.” Words I need to tell myself often. Some days I’d rather skip step 1 and land on step 20. But it doesn’t happen that way. Funny how I know things but still need those reminders to keep me in check. My process is this: bottom in chair, a quick request of the Universe to keep me steady and clear and then I pick up where I left off the day before. I always read the last page I wrote then move on. I’ve been practicing hard to write the first draft with no editing–internal or otherwise! (Similar to Alexandria.) That was a big shift for me because I use to expect things to come out complete when I first started writing. What pressure! It’s different today. I’m grateful to see your post and for Rachelle to have asked you. I’ll think of it often. Thank you!

  • Cheri Carroll

    Nice idea. I write a blog, and of course I think about audience. Maybe I’ll just relax and have more fun at it……if only there were more time!

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