Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Product Focused vs Process Focused.

A Nasty Problem of Early Writers…

I hear this all the time. Writers, especially indie writers the last few years, have focused on the finished product. And I must admit, that is how we keep score in this new world. Numbers of books and stories equals more readers and more money and so on.

But in most of our workshops, except a few of the business ones, we focus on the process of writing. To long-term professionals, the process of writing is where the focus is, or at least in a balance on both sides.

We would all have not made it for 40 or more years of writing without that focus.

I made a comment about this in response to a question on one of the posts the last few days. But the reason it came up was because someone, in a private letter, took me gently to task because I tell people to not care about the book once it is done. They were honestly worried I was giving bad advice.

The truth? Yup, I do say for people to stop caring so much about the finished product, and I honestly don’t much care about my books or stories once they are finished. My job in all this is in the creating of stories.

And always over my lifetime, I had trouble with Heinlein’s Rule #4. I would often write a story, drop it on my desk, and find it years later in one of my bi-annual clean-ups. So I am always climbing back onto Rule #4.

To me, once a story is done, I want to write another one, so why bother with that old one? Deadlines and rule structures like Heinlein’s Rules help me get my books and stories out.

Now most beginning writers find this idea that the finished product is not the goal an alien concept. No long-term writers find it alien, but all beginners do. The product at the end is what is important to them.

And thus we get the “work” issues and the fear of not finishing issues and the fear of the product not being perfect and the excessive rewrite issues and… and….

You know, all the issues that stop you cold.

All because your focus is on the finished product, not the process.

But Dean…

Yeah, I know, the finished products are how we keep score in the indie world. We just finished a pop-up workshop called “The Game” where productivity is a major factor of success.

But the key is how to get to the productivity? How do you get to those discoverability points of twenty or thirty novels?

The key is what I have been talking about this last week in posts.

How? How has a person like me become one of the most productive writers working if I don’t care about the final product?

Simple, I care and love the process of creating that product. I do the best I can when I am writing every time. I never write sloppy, I honor my creative voice, I write one draft clean and I keep hungry to learn. So when I reach the end of a story or novel, both me and the creative voice are done with the story.

So to me the creative process, the writing of the story or book, is the fun part, the part I desire. I love the process. So I want to do more of it and thus I end up being very productive.

I play one story at a time, story after story after story.

People like me are writers. Writers are people who write.

People who say they hate writing but love having written are authors, not writers. And they tend to vanish after a few years.

So Change The Focus…

And the attitude.

When I tell someone to go have fun, I mean start to think of the writing process as fun. When your writing process is fun, then all the life issues tend to isolate themselves away from your writing. Your writing becomes the fun place to escape to.

Many of us, when young, escaped from bad family situations by reading, living in other worlds. That’s why I loved science fiction so much. It not only got me out of that horrid basement I lived in, but off this stupid planet where I wouldn’t have to go to Vietnam.

Reading became my escape and when I got around to starting to write and got past the myths, I turned the writing into the same feeling.

I can escape by writing, even though I love my life right now. I also love escaping, so I write my own escapes.

I love the process of writing because I have got out of the myths that told me writing had to be painful, hard work, and not fun. The myths tell us over and over, from trying to write the “Great Novel” to indie production schedules, that the final product is all that counts.

Well, in my opinion, the final product isn’t that important at all. And focusing on the final product is what kills more great books than I can count. And makes writers miserable.

What really is important is the fun of writing fiction, entertaining yourself, escaping into your own worlds. That is a ton of fun.

So, simply, go have fun.




  • paladin3001

    I think I get this now. When I am writing, the stories I create are things that I find interesting or fun. Exploring different aspects to tales that I want to explore. Trying to get the story out before it evaporates so to speak. So many ideas just bubbling below the surface it’s difficult at times getting them down or keeping them straight. Only have so many hours in the day that I can write currently. Plugging away…

  • Janine

    I’ve been noticing that lately as well. When I was writing for myself, I was having a lot of fun actually doing the writing, looking forward to the next session. But when I fell into myth land, the fun kinda got brushed aside, and all I was focused on was the end, and it made what was fun into teeth pulling and slowly drained the fun out of writing to where I felt lost, especially when endless rewrites are always hanging over my head that it’s bad that I like it “not perfect”. After ditching the rules, things got fun again, and I’m enjoying every second of writing. I think the problem is that many are looking for instant fame instead of fun.

  • Ashley R Pollard

    As an observation, language is tricky, and conveying meaning more so.

    I think that it’s always easy to misread or mishear what people say and infer something different from what was intended.

    My observation is that you are a font of good advice, but other people may not be able to put said good advice into practice.

    Also, teaching people requires an understanding of learning modalities, which is the highfalutin way of saying that people learn through their senses. So some learn better by reading, others by listening etc. In Learning theory, best practice is to maximize the number of sense modalities, hence the old doctor training adage, see one, do one, teach one.

    • dwsmith

      And I honestly have no idea what you were trying to say, Ashley. (grin) I couldn’t tell if that was criticism, comment, or what? So yup, conveying meaning is tricky, as I did understand that part.

      • Kenny

        I get what you mean, Ashley.

        My wife is a Stage 4 Primary School Teacher. It was interesting when she was talking about how she would run a kid’s church service compared to what was done. That moment there, rather than most everything Dean tried to really get across (and did on some level), was the moment I could see the different between Stage 1 (or 2 if I’m feeling generous) and her Stage 4.

        Dean, from my understanding, people learn either by watching, listening, doing, or X (I cannot remember the 4th one). You teach by getting us to listen (sometimes watching) and by doing.

        But please don’t let this get into your head, Dean, I try so hard not to get into other’s critical voice. 🙂 Also I learn from you just fine. 🙂

        • dwsmith

          Oh, trust me, after this many years, not much can get into my head. but thanks for the worry. And my critical voice is beaten to a pulp and stays in the corner most of the time.

  • Sean McLachlan

    So 20 or 30 novels is a discoverability point? I suppose that depends on what one writes. I have 16 novels or collections out, but they’re scattered over several genres so I don’t think I’m getting many people hopping from, say, my post-apocalyptic series to my Apache western.
    Some successful Indies have told me to focus on only one genre. I think they’re right to a point. Sounds boring, though.
    Recently I’ve seen some cross buying. My Cairo mystery novel is set in 1919 and involves a WWI veteran with PTSD. Suddenly my WWI series, which has been dead in the water for a couple of years, is seeing a lift. I didn’t realise people will buy by time period and not just genre.
    So maybe I just need to stop worrying and keep on writing.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, the worry is from the critical voice trying to stop you or kill the fun. So stop worrying and keep having fun writing what you want to write. The sales will take care of themselves as you go (if, of course, you have good covers, good blurbs, and have the book on the right shelf… you know, nagging details. (grin))

    • Thomas E

      Maybe controversial but my view is it’s better to write the books you are excited to write and have fun.

      • Janine

        Sad that it’s actually a controversial statement to enjoy writing your stories with everything else saying that everything that’s worth doing must be really hard and not enjoyable. Rewriting is also a factor, writers complain that it’s hard and that they have to do so many times, even if they enjoy writing it the first time.

  • Topaz

    Hello Dean,

    thanks to your post, and the last ones.

    Reading this one, reads like I feel at the moment, exercising by writing short fiction and novels.
    They start to pile on my hard drive and sending them out is work.
    Searching for short story markets, format the manuscript following the guidelines. I’d rather write another story …

    Thanks to your “how to make a living writing short fiction” (I think it was a Insiders Guide and a Popup Weekender looking at this topic with different focus each) I managed to submit some first short stories (and received my first rejection – this story is already submitted to the next magazine).
    I managed to finally do the “work” for Heinlein’s rule number four.

    Many thanks to your blog posts, teaching workshops, assignment answers via e-mail and encouragement helping me along my journey.

    Best wishes,

  • D J Mills

    I always used to put on my “lawyer hat” when I had to remove all emotional reactions to solve work problems. It was easy to use the same thought process when I started Indie Publishing. I either put on my “writer hat” and enjoyed the process, or put on my “publisher hat” to enjoy the formatting and publishing. I do not have a “marketing hat” and have never enjoyed marketing, even though I read through my Promotion workshop notes every new and then.

    As I learned indie publishing and your writing processes (which were all fantastic, but Depth and Cycling were the best) I knew which “hat” you were wearing in each workshop. Never doubted. Thanks Dean for this blog, and all your courses. 🙂

  • Rich F. Kacy

    I don’t know if this is globally true, but my travels around the world lead me to believe that keeping score and focusing on the outcome rather than the process is a particularly endemic sickness in the good old USA. Maybe it’s just because I’ve always been more interested in the doing than the thing itself. Hence, I’ve given away most of my visual art over the years without qualm. Now that I’ve taken on the mantle of writer, I write. Every day. Good or bad. The final story always amuses me, whether it’s recognized by the market or not.

    • dwsmith

      Great attitude, Rich, except the giving away part. I believe artists should be paid for our work. But I like the rest of your attitude a great deal.

      • Janine

        I think it’s because here in the USA it’s always “results, results, results!” What has it led you? Many people don’t care about the process and even reject trusting the process. They want positive results now or it’s not worth it. You see it everywhere, not just the arts. You miss so much when you reject the journey, and in a way, makes the result a bit deeper no matter what happens at the end.

  • Emily Dunn

    Focusing on product led me to pull out an extremely old manuscript so I could bring it up to speed and add it to my self-pubbed list. That MS had so much wrong; I didn’t realize I had learned so much in 20 years that I would never do now. It was a great story; the crafting of the story was all wrong.

    In reading this blog, I realized that during the total-gut, I focused on the process. I basically glanced at the scenes that I needed to write then ignored the old work and wrote into the dark. New scenes, new characters, new motivations for the primaries, new settings: unexpected inspirations that vastly improved that story.

    In looking back at a planned one-month project that took four months and in reading this, I now know that it was the focus on process that allowed me to take the necessary time for the improvements. A product focus would have not allowed any changes.

    Thank you for this blog. It confirms what instinct told me but about which logic had continued to slap me around.

  • David Macpherson

    A very fine way of saying it. I am on the side of writing without getting it out. I love to finish my work, I don’t have problems with that rule. It is self-publishing. It has been a learning curve on it and then comes the fear of it all. So I have put out four books. And I have a production schedule of 11 other completed books. Now the question I have is when you say to have 20 to 30 novels for discoverability. My issue is that I tend to write short. I like short books, I write that way as well. The books go from 14k to 30 k. Does that make an issue with discoverability?

    • dwsmith

      David, it shouldn’t. And don’t worry about it, just write what you want and love and let the marketing happen later.