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Making Progress in Your Writing

colleen orchanian writing

I am in a writing group with three of my sisters. Each Friday we send an update to the group about what we have accomplished and ask for feedback on any writing we have done.  The other day I was feeling that I had not made much progress in my writing. I didn’t feel productive.  And then my sisters all commented on how much I had accomplished that week.

I wondered why I felt unproductive when I had actually made progress. I concluded that there are different stages in the writing process and some of those stages don’t feel like writing to me, even though they are necessary to the process. When I’m doing the “non-writing” activities, I don’t feel productive. In reality, I should acknowledge progress if I am in any one of the stages. 

Here are some stages I have in my writing process:

Research: Gathering information needed for the book.  I write books that include a lot of personal experiences. My research is often accomplished in a series of meetings or retreats with people I think have something relevant to share about the topic. I enjoy this type of work because I love to hear people share their stories of faith. This is not writing, but is necessary to the process.

Creative Work:  Generating ideas without actually writing in an organized fashion or even writing the words in the computer. Because I write about the spiritual life, ideas often come during prayer or at Mass. If I get an inspiration, even if it’s just a title, I write it down. For example, I did a podcast called “The Envelope.” The idea came while reading my morning meditation from In Conversation with God.  There was one line about how we are the envelope and Jesus is the message. I began to ponder, What kind of envelope am I? I journaled about the idea and then brought it into my podcast writing. I love creative work, the feeling of inspiration, the power of the Holy Spirit speaking to me. There is a lot of energy around this type of work. 

Actual Writing: Sitting at the computer and writing a chapter or a retreat handout or a blog post. Sometimes I start out with lots of energy and the words come easily. Other times I only have my notes and don’t feel especially inspired, but I force myself to write something and the words flow. I pick up steam as I write.  Even if I begin thinking it’s not that great, by the time I’m done I am amazed at what’s down on paper and know the Holy Spirit was working. It may still need editing, but I love the message. Like the creative work, I feel God’s hand as I do the actual writing.

Enhancement Work: Editing and revising the work. In an interview with author Emily Stimpson-Chapman, she commented that this is her favorite part of the process. Not for me! It is hard work and I feel good when it’s done, but the process can be frustrating when I get stuck. I am there now with my book on the seasons of the spiritual journey. Part of me (a big part) wants to move on to my next project. This is where I need the virtue of perseverance. 

Technical Work: Getting the work published, whether online or in a printed book. It may involve learning a new software, posting a blog or podcast, preparing a book for publication, submitting proposals to publishers. When the podcast is written, I have to record it. When the blog is written, I have to post it. I have Atticus software now and putting my manuscript into the software fits this type of work. Technical work is a struggle for me and I don’t enjoy it. But I’ve been blessed to have many resources to help navigate through the details. 

Marketing Work: Sharing my writing with the world. It’s promotion, which is a little uncomfortable for me. I have trouble writing a short summary to get people to read or listen. How do I summarize in one short paragraph? What will make people read or listen? What will my family and friends think about me when they read or listen? I want to follow God’s lead in putting my writing into the world but what does He want? I can have tons of ideas and need discernment to choose the right marketing tactics. This stage is also a tough one for me. 

I have several writing projects in various stages of completion. I feel unproductive when I have not spent enough time in the Creative or Writing phase, but I have to remember that the other work is important as well, and nothing is finished until all parts of the work are done. The key for me is to prioritize what I should do so that I’m not tackling low-priority tasks that I like over high priority tasks that need attention. If I can do that, maybe I will feel a sense of accomplishment more regularly. 

When you think your writing is not progressing, be patient. Maybe you are making progress but not in the way you like. Maybe you are simply in one of those writing stages that isn’t easy. Hang in there! Pray for patience, inspiration, and perseverance.

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