Results Vs. Process

One of the most interesting things about owning a publishing company these days is talking to everyone who wants to write a book. Even with all of the books published each year (now topping the 1,000,000 mark), there are many who will never get past their rough idea or outline. The creative process is still viewed as hit or miss, but there are some practical skills that anyone can develop to create an idea from their outline.

(Photo courtesy of jayneandd)
Ideas are plentiful, execution is rare. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. It is very easy to come up with great ideas consistently, but much harder to execute an idea, even a mediocre one, even once. Rachelle Garnder put it well in her latest post, “Unfortunately, the old adage is true – ideas are a dime a dozen. In themselves, ideas have no value. The value is in the way a writer is able to capture those ideas using the written word, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.” If you want to learn more about what strategy really is, take the advice of David Maister, author of Strategy and the Fat Smoker. “The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve.”
Focus on the process, not results. This is advice often given, rarely taken. Focusing on the end result or a finished book in this case will get you nowhere. Focusing on your next step, no matter how small, will actually move you towards your goal. It seems counterintuitive, but it works. If you focus on the big picture, you will freeze up. If you just do the next small step, then you are on your way. Tim Ferris, author of The Four-Hour Workweek, did a lot of the legwork himself and by focusing intently he was able to create a #1 New York Times bestseller one paragraph at a time. 
For instance, when deciding on which book cover to use he tested multiple covers by taking them to a local bookstore and putting them on the shelves. He spent the next few hours watching and tracking how many folks actually picked up the various book covers and he was able to focus on the best design quickly. It may be overwhelming to think about how your book should look in the future, but focusing on what you can actually do in a local bookstore for a few hours will move you towards your goal in record time.
Creativity takes many, many drafts. There are some great creativity/productivity tips in Mindhacker, a book that focuses on many different areas. Hack 34, Don’t Know What You’re Doing, has some great advice for authors. It is worth picking up the book just for this chapter, but here are some of my favorite quotes from it:
“Successful artists and writers know . . . that drafts are key.”
“Realize that not everything you make must matter, and that making stuff that doesn’t matter is also part of the process. If you have an idea for a story, write the same story five times; if you write about a memory, try writing it from five different viewpoints or interpretations.”
“A piece of art should be a by-product of the adventure of making it, not the goal.”
Too many ideas are never realized, too many books never move beyond an outline. Focus on the next step in your work and start writing. Remember that value only comes from doing something, no matter how great the idea is.