Be the One who Keeps Going

A commonly cited statistic in publishing states that more than 80% of Americans believe they have a book in them. That’s 200 million people. And yet only about 300,000 books are published in the U.S. each year.

So what’s the deal with the other 199.7 million? What are those 300,000 authors doing that the rest of them aren’t?

They’re sticking with it until it’s done.

Yes–there are many more books finished than published each year. But the ones who finally find success are the ones who keep going and going and going until they make it. Maybe your first book isn’t publishable … but you want to be an author? You keep working on your craft until you make it. I’ve heard a lot of stories from those who have made it to the other side, and there’s two ways to get there–be very, very lucky, or work very, very hard. I wouldn’t sit around waiting on the luck.

If you want to succeed as a professional writer, or in any kind of creative work, you’re going to have to learn to finish–and sometimes that doesn’t mean completing a single project. Sometimes you have to keep at it over and over while you learn the craft–think Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule.

So how do you stick to it until you make it to the other side? Here’s what I’ve learned from three years of persistence on this blog, drafting my novel, and launching wordhaus:

Be realistic about the commitment. If you start a long-term project without considering the long-term commitment it will demand of you, it will be much harder to stick it out once reality hits. It’s all about mindset.

Break it into small steps. Don’t try to write a novel in a series of 10,000-word binges. You’ll burn yourself and you most definitely won’t be doing your best work. But want to complete a draft in a year? All it takes is 350 words a day. Slow and steady wins the race. With the wordhaus site, I set weekly goals for planning, site development and outreach over a year and a half.

Work on a regular schedule. An important tactic to keep yourself focused. As you see in the examples above, it’s not just about the size of your goals, it’s also about keeping your work fresh by touching it regularly. It will keep it rolling around your brain–and it’ll also help you see regular progress on the project, which will keep you motivated.

Celebrate small victories. WordPress gives me a little “congratulations” and tally of blogs posted message each time I hit “publish.” It’s a tiny thing, but it gives me a little victory moment–Huzzah, you’re still going at it! Personal high five. It’s important to celebrate those little accomplishments when you’re working on a long-term project. Those feel-good vibes will encourage you to keep pushing forward. 

The bottom line here? Persistence. Slow and steady wins the race, friends. I’m not going to pretend you won’t get discouraged. Some days you will wonder if it’s worth it anymore. Some days you will think you simply don’t have it in you. But you do. There’s only one way to make it come to life, and it’s to push through even when it gets hard. Those are the people who succeed.

And tell me … what other tips have you found help you stick with a big project?

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11 thoughts on “Be the One who Keeps Going

  1. Great advice as always Emily. When I get discouraged I tend to look at the amount of time, sweat and dedication I’ve already put in and determine not to throw that away by not finishing. It’s like only painting three-quarters of your living room.

  2. Perfect timing, Emily! I just finished the rough draft of the novel I started five years ago. Your suggestions of breaking it into small steps and working on a regular schedule are what really helped me. And NOT thinking about the big picture. Toward the end, I wasn’t writing a novel (too scary, so much time and effort invested, what if I screw it up, etc), I was writing scenes and conversations.

  3. Emily, I’ve found that taking just one afternoon, or even one day off from the project lets me come back to it with a fresh eye on what I’m doing. But more than a day…well, then it becomes so easy to forget to pick that project up again and finish. I guess I’m a slow and steady gal. I know the “slow” part applies. 😉

  4. Great post… and great advice for *any* project!

    Walt Disney called it “sticktoitivity” the ability to keep with a project through completion.

    Here’s an old article I wrote on the topic: http://www.idea-sandbox.com/blog/sticktoitivity/

    Also… Seth Godin just wrote a nice quick blog post noting that the path to AMAZING passes through NOT-YET-AMAZING and you’ve got to hang in there to reach AMAZING.

    An additional piece of advice I would recommend is picking up a copy of Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.” I re-read it once in a while and it kicks my butt into gear.

    • Thanks for the extra resources, I’ll check them out! The War of Art has been on my reading list for a while … I’ve heard so many good things about it. I will have to bump it to the top of my list.

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