writing life, writing

Change vs. Persistence

In my last writing post, I talked about dealing with discouragement. One of the pieces of advice was to change what you’re doing. There’s the often quoted saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you don’t like the results you’re getting, it makes sense to change what you’re doing.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for persistence. What you’re doing may not be wrong. It may just be a case of sticking with it and building up momentum. In the business book Good to Great, Jim Collins brings up the concept of the “flywheel.” In a factory, this is a large, heavy wheel that takes a lot of effort to get moving, but once it’s moving, it can be kept moving with minimal effort. The idea behind the metaphor is that in your career, it may feel like you’re not getting results at first, but if you stick with something long enough, you’ll eventually reach the point where it keeps turning on its own. If you keep starting and stopping or changing to something else when what you’re doing seems to be difficult, you’ll never build any momentum.

Which advice is right? It all depends on the situation.

In some cases, the need for change is pretty obvious. If you’re not selling enough stories, then it makes sense to write more stories and/or work to improve your writing. Sending out the same story over and over again, even after everyone’s rejected it, isn’t necessarily the good kind of persistence. The persistence there is continuing to write and submit rather than giving up at the first setback.

Other situations are more difficult — is it better to stick with a publisher and hope that you’ll gradually move up in the ranks and eventually have a book chosen to be a lead title, or is it better to move on and hope that you can find a publisher who’ll give you more attention now? Is the agent who launched your career the best fit for you when you want to move to another level? Should you continue with your current marketing efforts and hope that you can build an audience if you just let it build momentum, or should you drop some things and try some new things?

One thing to consider is how much you’ve sunk into doing things the way you’ve been doing them. Sometimes, that investment means you should stick with it, but that can also hold you back in making needed changes because you don’t want to lose that investment. Would starting over do you any good? Are there any opportunities waiting for you if you stick with where you are? Is there a potentially better use for the resources you’re currently devoting to what you’re doing now?

Have you given it enough time and opportunity to take off? If you’ve given what you’re doing a reasonable amount of time and aren’t seeing results, change makes sense. Are you seeing a positive trend? Are things getting better over time, even if you’re not yet where you’d like to be? If things aren’t improving even after you’ve given it some time, then change makes sense.

Here’s an example from my own career: I’ve been hitting science fiction conventions as an author since soon after my first fantasy novel was published, more than ten years ago. Travel to conventions was the biggest part of my marketing budget. Last year, I started thinking about whether that marketing strategy made sense for me. I realized that even that far down the road, I was still relatively unknown at the bigger conventions. I don’t seem to be making a name on the convention circuit or among that particular crowd. I’ve had one invitation to be a guest of honor at a convention. I mostly see the same faces in the audience when I do readings. I got a big boost from conventions early in my career when I went from being unknown to being slightly known, but I don’t seem to be growing beyond that level. I’ve given it more than ten years, which is long enough that if I were building momentum, I’d have seen it by now. The results seem to be tapering off. There are more effective ways I could use that time and money, so I decided to back off from conventions unless I’m an invited featured guest. Instead, I’m attending professional development and networking-oriented events and library and school events. I’ve used the travel budget on getting a new logo and website developed, and I’m working on other activities that I hope will get my name out in different ways. I’m also using the time I would have spent traveling to and recovering from conventions to write. I wasn’t feeling the momentum, so maybe I can build momentum in a different way that might allow me to hop back into conventions at a level where I can see more results, or at least do it for a different purpose, meeting fans instead of building a name.

If the answer is to stick with it, you may still need to make changes, like improving your writing, increasing your output, or finding new ways to build word of mouth. You can seldom get over any kind of slump by just continuing to do exactly what you’ve been doing all along. At the very least, changing something makes you feel more empowered and may help change your frame of mind, which makes it easier to weather the discouraging moments.

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