A Writer’s Worst Enemy Isn’t Time Management Or a Bad Idea

This is a slow game. But it’s still worth playing, if you’re willing to take the time to do it right.

Why is it that we start to panic if our tweets, articles, and other posts don’t get instant feedback within seconds of us publishing them?

Why, when no one immediately leaves comments on our blog posts, do we start to wonder if we have done something wrong?

Why, when we submit that piece of writing we’ve been working on for what feels like months, and don’t hear back within the first 24 hours, we become convinced we’ve somehow failed?

This is the era in which we reside. We roll our eyes when Amazon takes more than 48 hours to deliver our packages even though we pay for Prime. We check our email 10 times within the same hour we made first contact with someone.

We not only expect that everyone and everything should respond to even our smallest actions immediately, but we often find ourselves crushed by the pressure that comes with believing everyone and everything, in turn, expects us to respond instantaneously to every little thing.

As a writer, this so often makes living, working, and thriving in our creative efforts so much more stressful and complicated than it needs to be.

The truth? You can’t have everything you want “right now.” And continuing to desire this unrealistic experience is only going to cause you more pain.

One of the most difficult things about working as a content creator in 2020 is that part of what makes a writer successful is their ability to wait, and slow down, and take things one small step at a time.

In online writing groups in the past, I’ve seen flustered bloggers post about how their sites have only existed for two weeks and they aren’t getting any traffic and they want to know what they’re doing wrong.

I’ve seen tweets from writers admitting how hard it is for them not to talk about Big Book News because contracts and legal processes can take months, if not longer, and all they want to do is tell the world about their accomplishment (understandable — but still way too real and relatable, right?).

But the thing that seems to trip aspiring writers up the most is that same impatience that makes waiting for your packages and email responses and feedback so unbearable. The biggest challenge for a struggling writer isn’t always having a “good” idea, or even finding the time and creating the space for writing in an already busy life.

It’s wanting to “have written” when you haven’t actually written yet.

It’s wanting to publish a novel that does not yet exist.

It’s wanting the work you know comes between point A and point B to start and end right here, right now.

We call this psychological plague instant gratification — the expectation or desire that you will or should be rewarded for an action immediately after you complete it.

This is the driving force behind so much of our obsessive social media posting. We crave the like/share/comment feedback so much that we find ourselves beginning to spiral when we don’t receive it. Yet when we do, the adrenaline rush is more than satisfying. It’s everything.

As a writer, instant gratification will ruin you before you even take your first steps into your work. Because even if you know that writing a novel, for example, might take you at minimum six months, you don’t want it to take you six months. If it could take you six minutes, you’d be happy. Because writing isn’t “fun” in the sense that you automatically get sweet, sweet rewards every time you compose another page.

Writing in itself is extremely rewarding when you look at the big picture. But it also requires long hours over many months. And it’s common to work on multiple projects at once. Some days the promise of later rewards isn’t quite enough to motivate you to push through the “I’d rather watch Netflix” haze and get your work done.

The reality is, you can’t start writing something expecting immediate returns. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to set both long-term goals and rewards and short-term ones that keep your motivation at the highest level possible. And these so often have to be completely intrapersonal, because you can’t always rely on other people to give you the adrenaline boost you’re looking for.

Perhaps this is simply a matter of training yourself not to expect things to happen quickly. I’m very bad at limiting how many times a day I check my email, but I’m working on it. I’m trying to force myself not to check the tracking updates on every package I order. And I’m doing the best I can to take more time with my work, and proofread more carefully, and not expect someone to respond as quickly as some part of my brain might expect them to.

The more anxious you are about just wanting to get the work over with, the lower the quality of your work is going to be. Some people are even more likely to quit halfway through working on something because they just can’t stand how long it’s taking to finish it.

Don’t let your need for instant gratification prevent you from being the best writer you can be.

Train yourself to slow down and take your time.

Reward yourself in small ways for small accomplishments, bigger ways for bigger accomplishments, and so on.

Things are not going to happen right away, especially in publishing.

This is a slow game. But it’s still worth playing, if you’re willing to take the time to do it right.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

6 thoughts on “A Writer’s Worst Enemy Isn’t Time Management Or a Bad Idea

  1. “This is a slow game.” YES! And, unless you have a wealthy benefactor and can devote all your working hours to writing, it’s going to be a really slow game. But that’s OK; it’s actually how it’s supposed to be. Do I want to publish my book yesterday–of course! But it would only be as good as I was yesterday. And maybe if it’s published in two years, instead, it’ll be better–because I’ll be better then. Well, self publishing (not that there’s anything wrong with that) benefits from a lot of writers being unable to ride out this very slow game. Great post, thank you!

  2. This is so true. When I had the realisation I was doing exactly this recently I pulled myself up and slowed the hell down. Each day I sit in my chair and write towards – my gratification comes only from the knowledge that the story is coming together and jotting down the word count for the day. I have found myself enjoying the process so much more and my writing has of course improved alongside that “living in the now” mentality rather than craning my neck out in front and rushing.

  3. The world certainly has gone and “gotten itself into quite a hurry.” This post rings true on so many levels. The affects of the “instant gratification” era, in which we live, can be seen on the our highways, in the grocery lines, and unfortunately, in our children.
    Writing a novel and building an audience is a marathon, not a sprint.

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