Forget about writing outcomes


OK, you sit down this morning to begin a new writing project. It’s a good project. Maybe your best idea yet. But there is something that can slow you down with this project— maybe even bring it to a halt. This enemy is concern about writing outcomes.

It works like this: suppose you have some financial worries right now. There are some bills you need to pay and you are not sure where the money is coming from. And so you start to think like this: “If only I finish this project in a month, first draft to final, and I self-publish it and it sells really well, I’ll have plenty of money for those bills.”

Do you see what you’ve done? You’ve changed what that current writing project is about. Instead of ‘I must tell a good story,’ you are telling yourself that your finances utterly depend on you finishing this story quickly and it being high quality and on it selling well right out of the box. So every word you put down must be perfect or you are financially ruined and can’t pay your bills and, who knows, will end up homeless and jobless and your life will be destroyed…. Can any story-in-progress stand up to that kind of weight?

A number of years ago I was financially desperate. If I didn’t become a selling writer soon, I didn’t know how I’d get by, how I’d keep my home, how I’d stay off welfare. It was my absolute last chance, I told myself.

What happened to the novel I was writing at that time? Was it the great success that changed everything? Well, no. I didn’t even finish it. Or the project after that one, or the next one.

I had made each of those writing projects into my last chance for being a real writer, and for being a financially stable person. And as I wrote each project I came to a point where I knew that the project wasn’t good enough to do the things I expected it to do. That made it easy to quit in favor of a project that I felt could actually save me.

I’ve been reading Monica Leonelle’s ‘8 Minute Writing Habit’ and one of the points she makes is to decouple your desired outcome from your writing from your writing project. Just write. Don’t worry about your dreams of what your writing career can accomplish. Often, there are better ways to get that outcome anyway. A better job— or a part-time job on the side— might fix your financial woes quicker. Taking a college course related to your day job may get you the extra status that you think being a writer will get you.

There is a principle that you might follow. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”** In other words, concern yourself with what you need to do today in your writing. If you are on day 1 of outlining or Snowflaking the story, don’t look for your book cover artist or worry about your book marketing plan. Those are things to do on future days. Think about the things you must do today, and ignore the rest until it becomes the next thing you must do.


Get a paper and pen and write down quickly the three things about your current writing project that you’ve been thinking about or worrying about. Got it? Take a deep breath or two to allow yourself to become calmer and less frantic about your writing project. Now, think. what is the very next step you need to take for that writing project? Go do it! {In my own case, I need to write scene 2 of my novella. Ideally, without worrying that scene 1 was dull and needs to be reworked. That’s not today’s worry, but something I don’t need to do until I finish the first draft.}

** Matthew 6:34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

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