Finishing my book has taught me a lot about writing and blogging. The most important lesson is that I love writing and that my days are best when I’ve done some deep writing. This is partially because writing helps me get clear about what I think and settles the chaos in my own inner landscape, so I always walk away from a good writing session feeling like a better version of myself.
But it also reinforced that a significant part of my writing is and has always been the feedback that I get from it. I knew that going into the book project, so I created an agreement with my editor, Haven, that on the second Wednesday of every month, I’d send her a “show your work” (SYW) (hat tip to Austin Kleon) of whatever I had written the previous month.
This process had four goals to it:
- It prevented the possibility of having nothing or too little in hand a month before the manuscript delivery deadline.
- It gave her a look at what I was writing so we could avoid the nasty and awkward surprise of the book manuscript being way off what was expected.
- It forced me to break the book down into smaller chunks and just focus on those chunks.
- It gave me monthly feedback on my writing.
It was that fourth goal that was the most catalytic for me, as it gave me feedback that kept me writing. Because Haven wanted and needed the content for herself and it was helping her — and she’s a Creative Giant — I had one job: write for and to Haven. Not a random “everybody” and definitely not all of the naysayers and potential critics. Just Haven.
The pattern that emerged was that my once per month SYW drops ended up being a near-complete chapter plus editorial commentary about that chapter and how the book was coming together. About two weeks after I sent my manuscript drop, we’d talk about it. She’d let me know what was working well and what wasn’t. Sometimes it was “just keep doing what you’re doing because it’s exactly on point,” and we’d spend the rest of our time talking about what I was currently working through because by the time we talked, I was only a week or two from needing to send her the next drop. Or we’d spend time addressing the points in my editorial commentary.
My Unusual Book-writing Process Worked Better Than the Usual Process
I’ve been told by my peers and book team that it’s unusual for an editor to work that closely with their author. I’ve also been told by my peers and book team that what I was doing as an author was really unusual. If I remember correctly, Haven herself said she’d never done it before but really liked the idea when I told her my plan to send her my “show your work” drops.
Honestly, though, I can’t imagine writing a book the way I’ve heard and seen most authors go about it. For instance, I had a good friend that turned in two complete manuscripts that were way off the mark from their publisher’s expectations, so he ended up writing three books; it wasn’t until the last book that he started sending “show your work” drops. And I’ve seen too many authors have creative meltdowns and go into years of deadline negotiations because they were freaking out about not getting their books done or their writing not being good enough. It’s madness to spend a year of your life making (or actively not-making) something without bouncing what you’re making off the one person who ultimately decides whether your work will be approved and paid for.
My “show your work” process was thus forged from the experience of other people’s journeys — this ain’t my first book rodeo, but it’s the first time riding the bull — and acknowledgment that I’d likely be bucked the same way I’d seen people who are smarter, more driven, more resourced, and better writers than I am. Sure enough, the bull bucked in the same ways and, were it not for how I’d strapped in, I would’ve been thrown. But I knew that I had one job: stay focused on writing to Haven until it’s time to send her the next drop.
Consequently, I didn’t miss any deadlines throughout the drafting process, and even in the editing process, I’ve still hit all but one deadline that I needed to renegotiate from a Friday deadline to a Monday deadline. I know that I’ve written the best book that I could, and it’s at least a good book. Whether it’s a great book, I can’t tell, but I’ll know soon enough.
What My Book-writing Process Taught Me About Blogging
Completing the book with this particular process has been extremely illuminative about the demotivation I’ve had with blogging since about 2012. It also allowed me to test some of the hunches I’ve had about what caused the demotivation and build some solutions that removed them.
That I enjoy the process and outcome of writing has made the demotivation extra frustrating. It’s one of those weird scenarios where I truly do want to write more, I enjoy it, and I see how it’s intrinsically and strategically valuable — but I just don’t do it. (Tweet this.)
That there’s a timestamp on when the demotivation occurred is also telling. I’ve written about it before, but 2012 is about two years after the golden age of blogging (before social media became the dominant engagement platform). During that golden age, it felt like I was a part of an actual conversation with other bloggers and readers. I remember writing for and to the people who are now my friends, mastermind buddies, co-presenters, and peers. And I mean this quite literally: I’d hit publish and then either send them the post or be waiting to see when one of their comments popped up. And then we might go back and forth in comments, or they’d write their own post and (gasp) link back to mine. And then I’d go comment on their post and/or write my own response.
But I’d also write for specific readers who’d comment and generate more discussion. It’s always been true that, for me, reader feedback and questions have always been a fertile source of motivation and post ideas.
It’s hard to remember, but before 2010 or so, posts, comments, and email were the dominant ways we strangers on the internet had genuine conversations. Sure, once we left the stranger status, we picked up the phone, hung out, and did other things, but that’s not how we started the relationships. Social media changed all of that and, at least for me, changed it for the worse. The conversations and relationships became shallower, more fractured, and more ephemeral. We creators started writing at people rather than to and for people, and the people we were writing at started insta-liking, saving, and retweeting rather than saying “thank you” or “this helped” or asking follow-on questions and for clarification. Because blog comment culture was dying and social media engagement was ascending, we creators stopped tending comments, shut them off, or just accepted that norms had shifted and instead moved to posting on social media. (Which also meant playing the games the social media giants incentivized us to play, often to our and our communities’ detriment.)
For years, I’ve tried to be too cool to care about comments, but the reality is, I’m not; comments and feedback drive my work. The book writing process drove that home for me. While it’s true that I did the writing, it was Haven’s feedback and comments that kept me writing. I wish I didn’t care and that it wasn’t a catalyst for my creative process. I’m not that driven iconoclast creative who makes art just for them regardless of what other people think or whether they like it. Though there’s no necessary tension between the two, I’m driven to be useful more than I am driven to be artistic, and real comments and feedback are the best ways to gauge whether I’m being useful.
So, the reality is that one of the reasons I’ve been demotivated to do more blog writing is that comments and feedback dried up. This reality almost got me to migrate our entire website to Medium in 2017, as there’s a rich engagement culture there and it was feeding my writing. When having to decide between spending three or four hours and money to create a blog post or spend an hour to do something like a live Monthly Momentum Call (MMC) that gets 50-75 people together asking questions and giving feedback, the latter is simply more motivating to do.
Ironically, though, one of the questions those same people on the MMCs will ask in response to something I’m talking about is, “Is there a blog post on that?” And on every MMC, Jess stays busy providing links to blog posts that reference what I’m talking about. Don’t get it twisted: I love doing the MMCs, I don’t plan on stopping them, and I know how they fit into the total community experience. But I know that because people tell me all the time.
And yet, no one has directly mentioned anything about the fact that I did very little blog publishing in 2018. Maybe it’s because they knew I was writing a book. Maybe it’s because they weren’t around way back when I did do a lot of blog publishing and didn’t know that it was a thing. Maybe it’s because it’s incredibly awkward to email someone and ask them to do more work for you for free.
But I’m pretty sure that if we just stopped doing the MMCs or stopped sharing our free planners, people would say something about it, awkwardness or friction be damned. Some people have even asked when the podcast will be back in season.
Want More Blog Posts? Here’s How to Get Them …
So, what to do here? For my part, I want to do more blog posting; there’s a backlog of ideas I want to share that’s been building up for a few years, and now that the book is done, it’s easier to see what got left out versus what got put in. And, as I’ve said above, I enjoy it and am tired of talking about getting back to blogging without actually getting back to blogging.
Whether my want to do more blogging turns into a real thing is heavily influenced by your comments and feedback. “What you feed, grows” is true here as much as anywhere else, so if you want more blog posts from me, here are three ways to feed it (in order of most nourishing to least):
- Leave comments, ask questions, and join the conversation. Saying “thank you” or “I needed this today” goes a long way and counts just as much as anything else.
- Let me know via Twitter — I’m @CharlieGilkey.
- If you prefer to stay off of the public web, send me an email. If you’re subscribed to the Pulse, you can just respond to that.
You may notice that I didn’t say “Share this post” because, honestly, that’s less important to me. If you’d still like to share the posts, that’s great and please do so. That said, it has much less influence on my writing than the three things mentioned above.
Food for thought: What really motivates you to create? Are you asking those you’re creating for to help? (Tweet this.)
Aaron Hall says
This was good! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Helpful.
Charlie Gilkey says
Hailey Thomas says
Great personal reflection on creating. I’ve found this to be true while drafting new speaking pieces or new funnels in my business – a short feedback loop that involves someone I trust gives so much direction and dare I say it – the reason to finish what I started! 🙂
Charlie Gilkey says
Thanks, Hailey! It’s the whole Create, Connect, and Consume principle all over again. 🙂
This was so helpful! I am motivated to create when I can clearly see the next step I need to take on a project. I actually come to PF regularly when I’m feeling stuck. I tend to read a few posts and follow the bread crumbs a bit until I re-center on what really matters and find the courage to do “the next right thing”, as Emily P. Freeman might say. Today, I was thrilled to see a super-recent post with “demotivated” in it because that word was key to how I was feeling. And even though I’m not writing a book or blogging, I am trying to wrangle an unexpected brain-dump of vision from my boss this afternoon into an actionable plan that I can communicate to the rest of our team without overwhelming them. Your “SYW” concept feels translatable to my context because it’s easy for me to feel like I have to wait to tell the team until I’m sure I can present a whole, cohesive, detailed-yet-not-overwhelming plan…but in this particular case, speed is more valuable than quality. So, today, “SYW” for me probably looks like presenting the most essential layer of overview and giving 1 or 2 immediately actionable next steps to bring us to the checkpoint we should be at by this time next week. So, basically, Team PF saved the day for me! ‘Preciate y’all!
Charlie Gilkey says
I’m glad this helped, Laura, and thanks for the comment.
SYW plus the 1/3 – 2/3 rule go a long way to keeping something going, especially in the earlier stages. It’s so easy to get behind and then, since you’re behind, ratchet up how good the work needs to be to show it, up until it doesn’t matter how good it could’ve been.
Thanks for this Charlie. I have been struggling with motivation to blog as well. As you say, I know why I should do it, I like doing it, I have ideas to write about…but I just don’t do it. I’ve been convincing myself to write to myself: treating a blog post as a conversation with myself that others could listen in on. I’m not convinced of that idea yet (something about it seems limiting), and now I wonder if I came up with it because I really want someone to write to. And lacking another actual person, well there’s only me left!
Charlie Gilkey says
Thanks for the feedback, Alisa! I’m curious: if I were to catalyze a reader/comment club, would you be willing to play?
Yup, if you started a reader/comment club I’d play. I’m curious what you have in mind.
I feel similarly to some of the other commenters here about missing the conversations in the comments section…and it wasn’t unusual to learn additional things by reading the comments! Nowadays “don’t read the comments” is a true phrase. But perhaps that’s more of a social media thing and may be less likely on individual blogs.
I’ve also been turning social media over in my mind (I am and have been a fan of it). It seems to be coming to a crossroads in terms of its usefulness, and how it’s used by people. My suspicion is it’s about to change and that’s going to impact entrepreneurs who rely on it.
Charlie Gilkey says
I’m hoping the changes we’re already seeing will come to a tipping point. I also super appreciate Cal’s new book, Digital Minimalism, because it’s another nail in the coffin.
Yvonne Ator says
Holy Smokes!!! This is me to a T! I need the feedback and the interaction – it is why I stopped blogging and about to archive my Facebook group as well. I wonder, have you done the sparketype test? I recently discovered I am a performer- maker which means I make things so that I can animate an experience, to inspire others etc but also get a response or feedback. If that feedback loop isn’t closed, it is very difficult to continue writing or creating. Thank you for this confirmation! I love that you are blogging again! Please keep it up! ☺️
Charlie Gilkey says
Great to see you, Yvonne! I have taken it, but I was one of the grey areas that ended up with three close options. I’m talking to the maker about it. 🙂
You being a performer is spot on, though. Every since I saw you play at camp, I was like, we have to keep her on stage.
ashley zuberi says
Loved reading this Charlie! I liked the behind-the-scenes peek into your own creative process writing the book and I loved the self-reflection about how the feedback process you intentionally implemented inspired you to keep writing. I had a similar experience hiring a writing coach (Cynthia) to help me work through the first draft of my book, which I wrote in 4 months with her help. I remember you having that same tension in 2013/2014 around not being able to blog. The SYW process with an editor is super interesting. What a great editor! I hope I can find an editor to work with that will do that with me. Can’t wait to read the book 🙂
Charlie Gilkey says
So wonderful to see you, Ash! Be watching your email for more about the book.
Cynthia is the bomb for a writing coach — tell me more about the book, please!
Yeah, I just wasn’t as honest about it at the time, I think. I tried to convince myself that other things could substitute for the conversation and/or that I needed to be more Stoic and detached, but it didn’t work. So it’s time to do something different! 🙂
Terri @ Alexia's Books and Such says
I remember those golden days when everyone had actual discussions in the comment sections! It was a real community back then and yes, I miss it too. Wonderful post!
Charlie Gilkey says
Thanks, Terri! While the blogosphere at large may not be conversational like it used to be, maybe we can bring it back here?
Jeannie Gray says
I noticed that you were missing in 2018 but I’m more of a lurker than a commenter. Your posts have always been motivational, inspirational and/or educational for me. Hope you find your motivation and return to more frequent postings. Thanks for all you do!
Charlie Gilkey says
Thanks, Jeannie. For 2018, I couldn’t draft the book AND blog as much as I wanted to, but, as I wrote in the post, finishing the book also taught me what was up. Thanks for lurking, generally, and thanks for commenting here. 🙂
Katherine Pfeiffer says
Charlie! You hit the nail on the head! So much value in what you are saying. I was slow at even getting into Facebook and still not instagram because I saw people writing “just” for a like/comment and debates turned into hot messes. I prefer to pick up books, read & engage with others…articles, ideas! Blogs are great and I love to read all of your notes but it’s so awesome when I believe people are writing to me/for me. I’m at work writing this at lunch so I apologize I’m a bit fragmented. The planners were a hook for me (adhd person) & I’ve stayed because of the relationship & wealth of sharing! Thank you!
Charlie Gilkey says
Great to see you, Katherine, and I appreciate the lunch squeeze-in! I also appreciate knowing what got you here and why you stayed. 🙂
Sam Hunter says
Huh. I’m in a similar thing… I love to write, and write deeply at that, but haven’t done much lately (no book as reason tho, but more health wrangling). I didn’t see the connection to the rise of the SM platforms, nor the connection to feedback. My major place there is IG, but I dislike trying to be eloquent with two fingers and would rather spend a session at the big screen with the proper keyboard. You’ve given me something to ponder, as always 🙂
Charlie Gilkey says
I’m sorry to hear about your health stuff, Sam! And, if you’re pondering something, my job is done. 🙂
Otiti Jasmine says
Thanks for this great post. I hear you on the comments. It stopped me from writing on my blog and being consistent for a long time, and it still sticks in my craw when I put my heart into something and get crickets in response.
I also feel social media changed me for the worse. I wasted precious years trying to grow my Facebook page and Twitter following, and all it did was distract me from writing solid content for my blog. I finally shut down both accounts after reading Deep Work by Cal Newport so I can focus on regrowing my blog and community from the ground up.
That said, I’ve pledged to be consistent this year for the first time ever and let nothing stop me from my weekly love letters and blog posts. It’s early days yet, but I’m excited about it.
Congrats on finishing your book! It’s so dope that you found a process that worked for you and ran with it.