How Your Flexibility is Actually Hurting Your Writing Career

How Your Flexibility is Actually Hurting Your Writing Career

It’s fashionable these days to be flexible in all areas of life.

The demands of your job are always changing, your family dynamic is in perpetual flux and news breaks in a flash.You have to adapt or you’ll be left behind.

However, I’m here to tell you that being too flexible can actually hurt your writing career.

If you don’t have a strong, unwavering foundation, our frenzied world will swallow you up.

And nothing is more vulnerable in this regard than your writing — the next “urgent” matter is always waiting around the corner to commandeer whatever time you thought you had to write.

Only by standing steadfast in your convictions can you protect your writing career against the ravages of the mayhem.

Here are three ways being inflexible can actually make you a better writer.

1. Finish what you start

Writers tend to be creative sorts, which is great for coming up with story ideas, but can be lousy for fulfilling long-term dreams.

The problem is that we often have so many ideas that it can be hard to stay focused on the project in front of us. It’s infinitely more exciting, after all, to start on something new than to plug away at the novel we’ve been writing for the last two months.

The truth is, though, that writing is like every other job — sometimes it really is just a job.

You have to grind through the tough and boring tasks of filling in your story and developing your characters if you want to reach your ultimate goals.

How many abandoned novels or blog posts do you have lying around right now? If you’re like most authors, the answer is, “too many.”

Wouldn’t you have been closer to “success” — however you define that — if you had managed to actually finish just half of those stunted works rather than moving on to something shiny and new when the going got tough?

I know I would have.

Be flexible with the projects you consider, but once you commit to something, you need to become rigid in your determination to see it through.

Be inflexible when your mind tries to tell you that a sparkly vampire YA novel would be so much more fun than the Western you’re halfway through.

Hold fast to your original conviction and finish what you started.

become a better writer2. Protect your writing time

We’re really good at doing things for other people, and we hardly ever miss an “appointment” that impacts someone other than ourselves.

When was the last time you bagged a meeting at work or failed to pick up your son from soccer practice? You probably can’t even remember.

But when was the last time you went a day without hitting your writing goals or without writing at all? It probably happens all the time, or at least more frequently than you would like.

The problem is we inherently love to please people, and we hate to disappoint them. We’ll go out of our way to make sure we serve those around us even if that means missing out on something we really want to do.

You can fix this situation starting today, though, and you can do it without compromising on your commitments and without feeling guilty. The solution starts and ends with your daily calendar.

Specifically, you need to find the open spots in your calendar every day and then actually schedule them as writing times just like you would any other appointment. Tell everyone who might be affected by your schedule and share your electronic calendar with them if possible.

Now, the tough part — stick to your schedule!

You wouldn’t leave your son standing out in the rain after practice just because your neighbor asked you to help move some furniture, and you shouldn’t give up your writing appointment, either.

Make the time commitments to yourself and to your writing, and then be inflexible with regard to that schedule. Nothing short of a bloody emergency should keep your butt from that chair or your fingers from that keyboard.

3. Keep writing

Writing is hard, and it’s hard in all sorts of ways.

It’s hard to sit down and write every day when you know there will be days that the words just won’t come. It’s hard to keep pushing through your novel when it takes you a month to write 20 pages and you have 200 more to go. It’s hard to identify yourself as a writer when you haven’t published anything and you hold down a full-time job that doesn’t involve any sort of writing.

You know what’s easy? Giving up.

But you can’t do that because you are a writer. I know you are because you’re reading this article. You have stories to tell and messages to deliver to the world, and you need to accept that your words are worth hearing, worth all the hard days and nights.

You must be inflexible in your resolve to become the writer you know, deep in your soul, you’re supposed to be.

It’s a fast-moving world out there, and you can’t afford to stand still.

But if you don’t tap into the power that a little inflexibility can impart, your author self may get swept away in the tide of constant change.

Stand strong on your writing foundation, though, and you’ll be able to endure the chaos around you and ultimately achieve your goals.

What do you think? Can being inflexible actually help your writing? Let us know in the comments.

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33 comments

  • For me having a “where” is as important as a “when.” It’s a Pavlov’s dog thing. The coffee place I go to is my “writing place.” I turn off my cell. My only task I can do there is write (and drink lattes). When I’m in my house, there are too many distractions, and I have too many other roles and obligations.

    • Adam Hughes says:

      I can definitely understand the dangers of distractions. If you can’t close yourself off at home, then going elsewhere is the best alternative. And isn’t there something appealing about being able to “schedule” your coffee trips, too?! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • William Laws says:

    Adam, this is really scary. Its like you’ve been looking over my shoulder for the last five years! You know every one of the excuses that get in the way of my writing.

    Thank you so much for the advice on scheduling time to write – and sticking to it. I’ll try harder, I swear….

    • Adam Hughes says:

      In conversations with other writers, I’m always struck by the similarities in our situations, no matter what type of writing we do — novels, short stories, blogging, self-help, etc. So I guess in that sense, I have been looking over your shoulder!

      Thanks for reading, and good luck with the scheduling.

    • Danica says:

      Haha! I was thinking the exact same thing!!

  • @Adam
    You stabbed me straight in the ventricle and see….
    I’m still all praise for your advice
    Gosh…
    How can you read what I think, what I do!!
    Everything connected so raw that I read every letter 3X
    Thanks chief!!

  • Michele says:

    All too true, but I have gratefully discovered that friends and family do respect and understand my vigilance when it comes to my writing. I suppose it helps that my scheduled time is early in the morning when most of them are still sleeping. 🙂

  • Ditto what everyone said. So THANKS–a great post that’s both tasking and encouraging.

    I haven’t managed the getting-up-earlier thing. Maybe I should coffee-shop it right after work? when normally I’m sitting home with a cup of tea watching what was taped last night on the DVR…

    • You won’t have to make the tea yourself, then! Also, everyone in my coffee place knows I’m a writer and they’re always giving me encouragement.

    • Adam Hughes says:

      Glad you liked the piece — thanks for reading and commenting. I haven’t tried coffee shops for writing, but I have spent my fair share of time there coding software and web pages. Good thinking environment in general.

  • Excellent article, Adam, and its advice applies not only to writers but to most of us who own a small business. Part of the attraction of owning a business is “being your own boss,” but it really only works if you learn to be the best boss you’ve ever had. Sometimes that means being firm, even inflexible, with yourself!

    The whole purpose of the writing exercises I provide to clients is to help them practice that kind of “inflexibility” in small doses, as little as a five-minute appointment every day to focus on writing just one short passage that has no connection to any other projects they may be working on or contemplating. Being faithful to that daily appointment can make a difference in the rest of one’s writing business.

    Trish O’Connor
    Owner, Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources
    epiclesisconsulting.com

    • Adam Hughes says:

      I agree that even a very short spurt of writing, done consistently, can keep the machine well-oiled. It’s amazing how stilted my writing become when I’ve been away for awhile and how quickly it comes back with regular practice.

      Thanks for your comments!

  • JOHN T SHEA says:

    “If you don’t have a strong, unwavering foundation, our frenzied world will swallow you up.”

    Amen! Particularly the Internet, which can be even more of a double-edged sword for writers than it is for other people. Too much writing advice, however well-intentioned and useful in smaller doses for some writers, can overwhelm us and trigger analysis paralysis.

    Thanks for this, Adam. Incidentally, the link to your website in the ‘About the Author’ paragraph is broken, though the other links to it are okay.

  • Adam Hughes says:

    Thanks, John.

    Totally agree about the Internet, which is why I intentionally left a broken link so as not to distract you!

    OK, maybe not, but the net really can be a spiral to getting nothing done.

    FWIW, the correct link is http://themoonlightingwriter.com/the-30-day-novel-2/

  • Percival Thomas says:

    A very good article giving some techniques on hoow to avoid procrastination.
    If I put the TV out the house , wear disposable clothes, use disposable wares. I would do more writing. But you surely right. Organisation of your daily task coupled with motivation

  • Storm says:

    I loved this article. It really hit home for me. My problem is that there isn’t any time to write. I have a billion other things on my plate that take precedence — necessary things that pay bills and come with being a single mother.
    But I recently realized that I’m NOT all that busy. I’m procrastinating. Anytime I reach a point in my life where I think “Okay, I have time to work on my novel,” I panic and plunge into a dozen other things until I’m overwhelmed and frustrated that I don’t have time to write!! It’s such a vicious cycle. But I’m trying to be more disciplined in my writing, and this article gave some awesome insight. So thank you!!

  • Billie says:

    Parkinson’s Law: work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. I’m not distracted by social media or people or telephone calls. I have the problem of too much time and find myself taking longer than necessary to complete some projects. The result is that I have some tasks undone at the end of the day that I could have easily accomplished. I have been unsuccessful in creating a “workable” schedule. From reading your post, I figured what I need to do: 1) set specific appointment times for my writing, and 2) schedule deadlines for project completion. As you pointed out, sticking to a commitment can be tough. I’ll keep working on it. My writing career depends on it.

    • Adam Hughes says:

      Sounds like a good plan. I also like to chunk up my writing into blocks that I can reasonably finish in fairly short bursts. So, maybe I’ll set a timer for 30 minutes with a goal of finishing beats for three chapters in that time. Or maybe I’ll allot an hour to write the first draft of a chapter or scene. It’s not perfect but does impart some urgency and tends to keep me focused. Thanks for reading, and good luck!

  • Laura Mezoff says:

    I have been struggling with a chronic illness and so have found myself with some time to write unexpectedly, which is helping me better instill the Pavlovian response that another commmenter mentioned. I had been really helpful. (And the only upside of being sick. I’d happy take the alternative!) But I cringed at the comment about a million unfinished half-written pieces. Yikes. I need more discipline in that area. I have young children so there is little “peace” in my house, but I have learned the joy of writing with my headphones in and lovely loud music in my ears. Pandora is my friend.

  • Kate Cone says:

    Nice article, Adam, and boy, did I get a wake-up call. Like that other person who said it was like you were standing over his/her shoulder! You hit all the beats for why I don’t finish my projects. Shiny! New! Apples! Ireland! Cookbook! New blog! Bird! That’s me. But here’s the first best thing I can implement from your post: use my planner to write in writing time for each project, then sit down and work on them. I know you said finish one at a time, but that’s hard. Many thanks!

    • Adam Hughes says:

      Glad you found something useful here, and it’s true that driving all the way through one project before starting another can be tough. A well-planned context switch might even be refreshing from time to time. Thanks for reading!

  • Good points and, you might say “goes without saying” but we always need to be reminded again. Distraction ist the great challenge! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Nami Russo says:

    Great advice, thanks for putting it in writing. All good practices I’ve been trying to incorporate for years – I’m going to bookmark this post and re-read it every time life gets in the way of writing.

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