The stages of a writing project

Something that’s helped me when taking on a longer writing project is understanding the natural ups and downs of the writing process. Now when I know I’m in an “up” or a “down”, I don’t take either one too seriously and just forge ahead.

But in the past, I’ve made the mistake of thinking that if I’m having a hard time or if I’ve “lost interest” in a project, that it means something about the project, like:

  • It’s not the right project for me.
  • I’ve blown it and I don’t know how to fix it.
  • It’s time to ditch the project and move on to another one.
  • I’m not capable of solving a particular problem or of finishing.
  • The idea I started with wasn’t actually good enough.

Now that I’ve been through this process a few times, and I’ve worked with more than a few writers and observed them going through their own stages with their writing projects, I’ve come to see the experiences we have as natural patterns that are part of any project. And “getting” that I’m having a normal experience helps me make the decision not to take it too seriously and to continue on, even if I’m having a hard time with it.

The stages of a writing project

So let’s talk about these stages we go through, shall we?

Here’s what I’ve observed about the natural stages of a writing project. I’m sure they apply to ANY kind of creative or other resistance-triggering endeavor. If you have other stages you’ve recognized, please post them in the comments.

  • The idea! — “Ooh! I have an idea for a project, this is great! I can’t wait to get started!”
  • The joyful beginning — “Yay, I’m starting today, this is so exciting, this project is going to be amazing! It’ll be my best project yet!”
  • The crash of reality — “Oh, wait, I really actually have to show up and do this now for real? Like every day? I don’t even know where to start or what happens next!”
  • The commitment phase — “Okay, bit by bit, I can do this. I’ll figure it out. I can make this happen.”
  • The dreaded middle — “Wait, what’s supposed to happen here? Where am I? What’s this about again? Why am I doing this?”
  • The downhill side — “Okay, I’m past the midpoint, it’s all downhill from here, I can see the ending from here, I can make it!”
  • The 80% mark — “This is so boring, I’ve lost interest in this project, I’m over it. I don’t even know why I was interesting in this idea in the first place. That other project sounds like so much more fun.”
  • The recommitment moment — “I’m not falling for that, I can do this, it’s not that much longer, I’m not falling for that Bright Shiny Object (the other project), I’m going to keep going.”
  • The almost to the bitter end stage — “This is terrible. What was I thinking?”
  • The last push — “I just gotta get to the end, then I can see what I have.”
  • The end — “I made it! This was so worth it.”

And then, of course, we start all over again.

Notice the creative blocks

What’s particularly useful about this is noticing how creative blocks like perfectionsim (“This’ll be my best project yet!”) and apathy (“I’m over it.”) can show up. They are resistance in disguise. The key is not to fall for them, but to keep going until you get to the end. THAT is the time to evaluate what you have and decide what happens next with it.

An epidemic of incompletion?

I see an epidemic of not finishing all around me. Perhaps it has to do with the short-term gratification culture we’re raised in these days (a favorite quote from Carrie Fisher, “Instant gratification takes too long!”).

What I know is that personal strength, self-confidence, and self-worth is deeply grounded in commitment, doing the work, and making the hard choices.

Your turn

My best experiences of my life so far never have come from taking the easy way out. What about you? Leave a comment on the blog and let me know.



You may also be interested in:


Learning from endings

I’ve finished the rewrite of my script.

And I’ve learned so much about endings as I’ve approached this one. It’s a different scenario from the usual drill of having a forced, external deadline. This one has been entirely internally motivated. There’s no due date, there’s no have-to.

Look at the pony show

And the fancy tricks I started to pull at the end were very creative. Hilarious, in point of fact.

As soon as I could “see” the end — when I had it in my sights and knew it was only a matter of about 10 to 15 pages to get there, my insides got all squirrely. I decided I wanted to finish it right then, even if it took me the rest of the day.

When reality struck and I realized I had other work that had to come first (I am running a business here), I found myself wanting to postpone working on it again until I had a Long Block of Time to write (the precise opposite of what I recommend). What a joke! I got myself back onto my regular, moderate, well-paced schedule of 30 minutes a day pretty quickly once I caught on to the dog-and-pony show my inner critic was putting on.

I also found that my inner critic fired up a whole new level of criticism — she’s been pulling out all the stops, laying it on fast and thick, “It’s not as good as the last draft. You’ve wasted your time, it’s still no better. This still isn’t marketable.”

Good thing I know better than to listen to all that.

Creative expression is deeply vulnerable

Here’s what I also know to be true — part of me IS scared, and that’s okay. I just can’t — and won’t — let it stop me. I only need to acknowledge it and move on. It’s a big deal, after all, bringing something into being. It’s bound to stir up fear and vulnerability.

Shame researcher Brené Brown says that there’s nothing more vulnerable than creating something that has never existed before.

She’s right.

I’ve also heard it described as being like taking down your pants, in public, very… very… slowly.

It’s no wonder so many of us hesitate when it comes to completing our work.

It’s all about the fear — and the old wounds

So many of us have been so wounded around our creative expression, it’s no wonder we hold back when it comes to “shipping.”

Shipping, in case you’re wondering, means completing and delivering our work, whether it’s a website, book, ebook, script, painting, or widget.

I can’t tell you how many people I see never shipping their work, full of excuses, not realizing it’s really fear that’s stopping them. (If you want help keeping your fear and doubt from stopping you, my new mentoring programs will help. More on that next week.)

It happens with so many different kinds of projects — getting almost to the completion point and then deciding we’re “stuck” or “bored.” Websites that never go live. Ebooks that never get published. Scripts that languish in endless revisions.

It’s all just smoke and mirrors

Stuck is a smokescreen for fear.

Bored is a smokescreen for fear.

The fact is, we are terrified. Getting to the end of a project stirs up all our issues around being seen, heard, scrutinized, read, listened to, failing, succeeding.

But in the end, isn’t it better to try?

Brené Brown brought this quote from Theodore Roosevelt to my attention, “It is not the critic who counts. It is not the man who sits and points out how the doer of deeds could have done things better and how he falls and stumbles. The credit goes to the man in the arena whose face is marred with dust and blood and sweat. But when he’s in the arena, at best he wins, and at worst he loses, but when he fails, when he loses, he does so daring greatly.”

I’d much rather try and “fail” then never to try at all.

Your turn

I’d love to hear from you. What’s your experience with completion? Do you keep going until the end? Waffle? Run out of steam? Get bored? Are you daring greatly? Dipping in a toe or diving in? Does the fear of failing stop you?



Coming Attractions

~> March 8th at 11 a.m. Pacific — Mark your calendar! If you enjoyed my Creative Productivity TeleClass Series and you’re wondering about the next steps to put what you learned into practice, you’ll want to join me for this free information call next week. I’ll walk you through identifying your next steps and fill you in about details about how I can support you along the way through my 1:1 mentoring programs. More information on its way soon! Watch your inbox for details about how to sign up.

~> March 21st: Register for the next Writer’s Circle session. Register by March 21st for the next session of my Writer’s Circle (starts March 25th). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects: We’re running four groups of fantastic writers right now and it’s a ton of fun. Come join us!


What I'm Up To

~> Daily. Working on rewriting my script, Progeny, with my mentor Chris Soth after finishing the ProSeries. Just about done!

~> Reading How to Speak Dragonese with my son. Finished ScriptShadow Secrets* by Carson Reevesa great one!


Thanks for reading.


* Affiliate link