My next book is a mess

This is the feedback I just received on the draft of the book I’m writing:

  • It wanders.
  • It’s circular.
  • It’s repetitive.
  • It’s confusing.
  • It’s a mess.
  • It’s bloated.

This is the book that I started writing in 2015. That I wrote 72,000 words on. Then I threw those words in the trash and started again from scratch. Writing an additional 45,000 that comprise the current draft.

This is the work of being a writer. Of approaching the book with fresh eyes for the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th time. Of getting greater clarity on what it’s about and whose world it will change.

If the feedback above seems harsh, it isn’t. I would say it is accurate. But the critiques above did not arrive as starkly as I wrote them above. They were part of a long email, that included four other documents that had markups on them — detailed notes. They were followed up by a long phone call talking about the book’s strengths and what I need to work on. The feedback above was not meant to tear down the work, but to build it up. To ensure that my creative vision didn’t get muddled by back structure. Oh, and the feedback above came from book coach Jennie Nash. She worked on my last book, and is basically a genius when it comes to making books the best they can be.

This is why I often talk about the value of collaborators. Simply put: they make my creative work better.

The book I’m writing is currently called “From Dabbler to Doer.” Since 2015, the content has gotten better and better because I have spent those years in deep collaboration with writers and artists in my mastermind group. Every day of those three years was spent in the trenches with them, learning how one moves from dreaming of ideas to actually making them a reality. All of what I have learned is infused in the book.

As a writer or artist, it is your job to keep trying when others would give up. To take the creative risk that others back away from. To experiment with ideas when you don’t have a roadmap. To double-down on craft when others say, “Gee, maybe you should just give it up.”

As I sit here in my studio writing this, I’m staring at photos I’ve hung on my wall of successful artists and writers:

  • Kate Bush
  • Ray Eames
  • Tove Jansson
  • Jack Kirby
  • JK Rowling
  • Alexander Girard
  • and many others.

I have thick books on the shelves behind me that dig deep into the careers of creators:

  • Walt Disney
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Ed Catmull
  • Amanda Palmer
  • Alexander Calder
  • and many others

In studying their lives, you find that they were filled with collaborators. That they spent years working on projects, and involved others in the process wherever possible. Those collaborators made the work better. They turned good ideas into great ideas.

Many people have this romantic vision of the lone creator creating a perfect work of art. Does that happen? Sure. But it is more the exception than the rule.

Because of this, I am trying to infuse my own creative process with collaborators. Here are several ways I worked on that this week, and I’m going to encourage you to consider doing each of these for your own creative work:

Create a Team

I spent this week interviewing people to join my team. That process has been wonderful — it has helped me clarity where I want to grow, and to consider how the talents and skills of those who applied could add so much to that growth.

Perhaps your creative work is a side project and you have zero budget — that doesn’t mean you can’t create an informal team. A writing partner that you speak to once a week. A mentor you have lunch with once per month.

Consider where you want to grow, where your strengths lie, and where you can use help. Then, fill in that gap.

Find Creative Collaborators

In the past few weeks, I have mentioned my Creative Business Boost workshop, a collaboration with author/illustrator Lori Richmond.

The idea for this workshop is an experiment. Working with Lori on it has pushed me to consider new ways to make it better, and she has brought an amazing energy to the project. Something that may otherwise seem big and scary has instead been a total joy to put together.

I would encourage you to find side projects that you can collaborate with someone on. I approached Lori to work on this with as simple email. We took it step by step. Along the way, we kept checking in to ensure we understood each others needs and goals. These are incredible skills to hone in your creative career.

Oh, and she and I recorded two videos this week! The first is titled: “What I wish I knew when I first became an author/illustrator”

The second was hosted by Mom Writes Inc where we discussed how to find creative energy, fix your marketing, and make insider connections:

Join a Community of Like-Minded Creators

My most recent Creative Shift Mastermind started earlier this month, and I have been getting to know the new members, and working hard to ensure this group feels aligned and connected to each other.

The first month is about finding radical clarity in one’s creative work. That invariably leads us to deep places about what we create and why. I think that takes a risk: to explore that not just within your own mind, but with a trusting group of other people.

I would encourage you to seek out a community that you can be a part of. Maybe it is a mastermind group, or a writing group, or a co-working space. Maybe it is a formal organization you become a part of, or a loose-knit group of you have to create yourself.

I have seen magic happen when a small group sits down and talks about their creative goals, their challenges, and their process. If you are like many writers I speak to, you are overwhelmed by advice you see online: blog posts, podcasts, webinars, courses, and the like.

Take the next step from simply consuming content, to actively discussing your goals and challenges with a group of people you trust.

Learn From Those You Admire

This week I also reached out to several people to become guests on my podcast. These are longform interviews where I dig deep into their career. In the next few weeks I get to speak to Jonathan Maberry, Allison Leotta, Travis Jonker and others. I could not be more excited about this.

Reach out to those who inspire you. You have nothing to lose. There were people I reached out to that turned me down for the interview. And that is fine! I sent an Instagram message to Aline Tamir, and within hours she said she just didn’t have the time for it. I emailed Anna Burch’s publicist who within an hour, sent me a kind note talking about her schedule and how she is saying “no” to many things so that she can instead write new music.

In each case, even the rejections often lead to nice conversations.

We are all trying to find ways to turn our art into reality. Simply put, I find that it is more effective, and more fun, when you do it with others, instead of struggling alone. Does this require you to sometimes be vulnerable? Yep. In each of the things listed above, I had to put myself out there. I had to face the criticism, the rejections, navigate the social nuances, the negotiations, and the risk of failure.

And I’m so glad that I did!

The truth is, I don’t know which of my creative ideas will succeed and which will flop. But regardless, my life feels full of wonderful people, inspiring experiences with them, and a dedication to the creative process because of them.

How can you bring one person into your creative process this week?