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.



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