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SLANT LETTER: Let's Talk About Trusting the Process
“Trust the process.”
It’s my constant call to authors in the thick of it. These three words, I’ve found, can hold a wealth of encouragement when writers need it most. Because writing is nothing if not a beast of a process, and when you’re in the thick of rough cut restructuring, killing your darlings, and all the while beating back your fears that NONE of it is enough, it helps to know the process does indeed lead to a work you’ll one day be proud of.
But recently I’ve been thinking I’d like to submit an addendum to this mantra, lovely and reliable as it is.
Because I’ve come to the realization that “trust the process” is an incomplete sentence, and I’d like to complete it: Trust the process, AND put in the practice [tweet this].
It can be a struggle to remember why you first started writing when you’re in the middle, so trust is essential. But if your inner beliefs do not align with your outward actions, that trust doesn’t count for much, does it? So we need something more. We need to prove our trust by taking the next step forward, putting down the next word, and the next word after that, “bird by bird” as Anne Lamott says. In other words, we need to put in the practice.
Practice is the only way to build our creative muscle. It requires us to show up, stretch ourselves, and repeat.
Do you want to become a better writer? This is your one and only way. Great writers only become so by investing their time, energy, and sweat equity in the practice. Slowly but assuredly, that same time, energy, sweat gives back to the writer an incredible gift: muscle memory. Your creative muscle learns to surpass its limits, it takes new ground, acquires new skills, and retains it all so you can build upon your progress anew every single time you show up for the work.
This is your practice as a writer: you show up scared, you leave strengthened [tweet this].
I say all this in the fading glow of the new year promises we thought would save us—for REAL this time. I say it as the ruby slipper shine of “new year, new you” glory has worn off to reveal us standing in comfy house slippers instead—still wonderful in their own way, but not the stuff of our high-flying hopes.
By now, you may be feeling the hard pinch of the process.
By now, you know because you’ve experienced it:
The process will include false starts and suckerpunch failure.
Blank spaces and blinking cursors where you hoped ideas would be.
Bouts of imposter syndrome and days where all the conditions are right and you still come up dry.
Rejections from the outside, resistance on the inside, and missed opportunities between.
It will include the painfully personalized attacks on your self-worth as a writer and a human capable of contributing original ideas.
It will include hard-to-hear feedback, even harder deadlines, and the cold shadow of scarcity that insists at least three other highly more qualified people are first in line to write your book, and write it better than you ever could.
Can I just name what you intuitively already know? The creative process is never a straight bright line rising to the right. Rather, the process is a graphite jungle of swerving highs, lows, and vigorous scratch-outs in between. In fact, if you're NOT feeling the pinch of the process, you're doing it wrong [tweet this]. I have yet to meet a writer who has not experienced all of the above.
But you can trust it if you keep pressing through, if you keep practicing.
What about you? Where are you finding yourself in your own writing process right now? Maybe you’re feeling the sinking guilt of procrastination. Or the anxiety that comes with waiting to hear back on your pitches or proposals. Maybe you’re going back and forth on which idea to go for and develop, or you’re struggling to incorporate feedback to help make your work even better.
Wherever you find yourself in the process, I’d invite you to consider your practice, which as all good things do, starts small.
Make a Habit of Showing Up
In writing as in life as in faith (my forever mantra), showing up is a discipline. But if we don’t show up, we miss the gift. If we don’t use the muscle, we lose it [tweet this].
Put positively, consider this: if you push yourself by just an extra 1% each day in your writing practice, this progress compounds, and your creative muscle will wind up at the end of one year 38x stronger than when you first started! So don’t you dare knock your little victories [tweet this]. Micro movements add up to serious progress over time.
But showing up is about consistency, to say nothing of quality work. So of writing brilliant. Your goal is simply to flex your creative muscle, wake it up, allow yourself to play, and see what happens.
This is about cultivating a habit, not churning out quality—and it’s our quest for quality that most often holds us back from our creative best.
Take Your Next Step
So often writers begin without knowing what their goals truly are. At the top (ish) of a new year is a good time to set them, and map out your next steps in the journey. Maybe your next step is ordering good books in your genre or books about writing. Maybe it’s blocking out time on your calendar for your writing practice, joining a writers’ group, challenging yourself with some prompts, or going public with a new project to hold you accountable to your own progress.
Pick one, start there, and stay focused. You can’t and won’t accomplish everything at once. The trick is to take the long view, and take the next step right in front of you.
Celebrate Your Progress
I think we’ve established a solid theme by now, yes? Writing is freakin’ hard! So when you land a sentence that’s pure gold, or get a long-awaited YES for a pitch, or even simply show up for your day’s practice just like you said you would, cue the confetti cannons and don’t hold back. Claim your own glorious excellence, one good step at a time.
Trust the process, friends, and put in the practice. It won’t be a straight shot, but it will be one of the most rewarding journeys you’ll ever make.
I’m rooting for you! And would love to hear from you: what’s working for you in your own practice this year?
In the meantime...
Take heart. Write on. You got this.
P.S. // A Prayer for Writers
SLANT LETTER is for the craft and soul of what you do as a writer. So for each issue, I want to focus on an element of the craft as well as a prayer for all of us anxious, ambitious, internet-exhausted writing folk. I hope this will refresh you as it does for me. Pray it, print it, share it, and I hope you find some encouragement here.
Take heart. Write on. You got this.
P.P.S. // Find a Good Thing Here?
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