Why I fired my writing process (and why you might, too)

“Real artists ship.” — Steve Jobs

I’ve been writing for a long time–both as an aspiring (and now debut) author, and as a marketing communications expert. I’ve written fiction and non fiction, and all manner of business copy from websites to speeches to training manuals to press releases… you name it, I’ve probably put it on paper.

donewayFor most of my writing career, writing fiction was a distinctly different process from writing for business. Writing fiction was an art, a craft; a mystical, magical foray into the arcane world of plot and setting, dialog and characterization. Writing for business, on the other hand, was all about clarity, persuasiveness, brevity, and calls to action. You couldn’t set a deadline on art, but when it came to business, it was all deadlines, all the time. I even made up fake deadlines in my work with both clients and employers, just because I really didn’t consider a job “real” unless it had a deliverable date.

Writing historical fiction was an even weightier undertaking. There was so much research to be done! There was always another article to find, date to double check, political treatise to decipher. Whereas in business, if you had time to do research at all, it was expected you somehow manufactured that time in another dimension, where you could go and read to your heart’s content without actually taking any extra hours to get the job done. You had to get the best product together in a timely and effective manner, and then get it out the door.

After ten years, countless award wins and several manuscripts under my belt, I still hadn’t sold my first book. I’d worked and reworked a couple of them, polishing them to utter perfection–but none of them quite made the grade.

In that same time period, however, I’d written literally hundreds of thousands of words to sell products and promote people and ideas. I’d moved up the corporate ladder in multiple businesses, quit and joined a successful start-up, risen to the level of vice president of a multi-national company, and had finally been able to leave corporate altogether and become a freelancer.

So there I was, in the Fall of 2010. After a flash of inspiration, I’d rewritten a historical novel almost entirely in the space of a few months, then set out to prepare for the lonnnng revision process to make it perfect, prior to sending it out.

And it hit me.

I wasn’t conducting myself as a professional writer, artist, or anything else. I was being decidedly UNprofessional, in fact. I wasn’t getting my work out on a timely basis. I was editing the life out of it. I was missing out on pitching and querying calls because “I needed to make it perfect.”

And I wasn’t selling.

At that point, I developed a new writing motto: Professional, not Perfect. I would do everything I could do (which was a lot… I can be a workaholic when need be) to make the manuscript the best it could possibly be within a reasonable amount of time… and then I would send it out. I would get professional feedback from agents on my marketing hook (my query) and my product (my book), I would see if I was differentiated enough from my competition, and I would take that feedback and make my story better. I would not sit in my office at my computer and polish an unpublishable manuscript until it gleamed. I would ship my work.

So I did.

In a little over six weeks from that decisioning point, I sent my manuscript out. Agents responded, and I eventually chose an amazing professional partner and advocate. I revised the manuscript again, and we sent it out on submission. About six weeks after that, I was blessed to receive an offer from a publishing house. Then another. And finally, I was delighted to be able to say my book was going to be published by Simon & Schuster.

From the decision point to final sale? Approximately six months.

Time I’d spent writing up to that point, off an on, here and there, learning and developing but not pushing my fiction career like I was my business career? Approximately ten years.

So, yeah. I fired my writing process.

And opened up a world of opportunities.

What about you? What writing practices did you used to have that no longer fit you now?


MaidofSecretsJennifer McGowan’s Maid of Secrets debuts May 7, 2013, from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. She is currently ready to ship book 2 in the series, Maid of Deception.

You can visit her online at http://www.jennifermcgowan.com, on facebook, or via Twitter at @Jenn_McGowan

3 thoughts on “Why I fired my writing process (and why you might, too)

  1. “Professional not perfect.” Great motto!

  2. Thank you, Connie! It’s made a tremendous difference in how I approach my work. 🙂

  3. […] the Corsets, Cutlasses and Candlesticks blog, YA Author Jennifer McGowan explained How and Why She Fired Her Writing Process (an got […]

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