A Writer’s Worst Enemy?

If you’re a writer, what would you say is your worst enemy?

Distraction? Procrastination? Starvation?

I admit, those are all candidates. And thank you for not saying “agents.” Unless you did. But I doubt that I am alone in thinking that my worst enemy, as a writer, is hurry.

Don’t misunderstand. I work on deadlines. Daily, in fact. Book deadlines. Article deadlines. Blog-post deadlines. They can be overwhelming; and I am often behind, despite my best efforts at staying organized, focused, and ahead of the game. Still, I wage warfare against hurry.

I agree with some guy named Carl Jung. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He wrote, “Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.” And one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard, albeit secondhand through another guy named John Ortberg (who received it from yet another guy named Dallas Willard, I think, so maybe it’s thirdhand) was “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

You may be different from me. (If you are, take a moment to give thanks.) But I have found that hurry saps my creativity; multiplies mistakes in my work; and adversely affects my moods, often replacing gratitude with grumpiness, for example. So what is someone who suffers from “hurry sickness” (it’s a real thing; Google it) to do?

  1. Consider—and take steps to correct—why you hurry. Is it a compulsion? Do you have trouble saying no? Is there some task or responsibility you need to drop?
  2. Recognize that time is relative; that is, it is not uniform in all situations. So, define when hurry is unnecessary and practice recognizing the difference. For instance, running to catch a plane may be necessary; but always choosing the fastest checkout line at the grocery store probably isn’t.
  3. Get to your schedule first. Block out time for thinking, outlining, brainstorming, even walking or napping. If you don’t schedule your priorities, others will schedule theirs for you.
  4. Break deadlines into incremental steps. Every time I’m given a deadline, I determine how much I need to do every week and every day in order to beat the deadline. Then I make each incremental step an item in my to-do list (app, actually).
  5. Take control of technology. You don’t have to respond to every comment on Twitter or Facebook; if it’s sucking time from more important tasks, shut it down for parts of each day. Conversely, you can use your smartphone to block calls at certain times or from certain callers—or both.
  6. Do less. One of my weaknesses is tackling urgent and otherwise less-important tasks before the important stuff. I have to force myself to choose the three most important things on my list each day and do them before straightening the books on the shelf, for example.

The less hurried I am, day by day, the deeper my thinking and the better my writing seems to be. Funny how that works. Shoot, maybe if I eliminate all deadlines I can be a really good writer.

43 Responses to A Writer’s Worst Enemy?

  1. Shirlee Abbott September 5, 2018 at 4:29 am #

    My father often quoted, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Bad grammar, good advice.

  2. Brennan S. McPherson September 5, 2018 at 4:42 am #

    What a useful post, Bob! Really fantastic suggestions.

    Could I suggest an optional more extreme step to your fifth point to eliminate a ton of hurry? Throw away your smartphone and buy a flip-phone, instead. Honestly, most of us need to do that. I promise, you’ll get more done. I certainly have. I’m 27 with no smartphone, work full-time as the VP of a non-profit, and do a good bit of traveling. It hasn’t killed me yet. 🙂

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 5, 2018 at 6:02 am #

      I can do one better. When *I* was 27, I didn’t have a FLIP-PHONE! But it was push-button, and there was an extension in the bedroom.

    • Sharon K. Connell September 5, 2018 at 7:44 am #

      Brennen…love that reply. Well said.

      I hated my smartphone and went back to a flip-phone. I only answer it when I know the party on the other end. But most of the people I know, also know that I would rather have an email than talk on the phone. I answer those in my own timing. LOL

      My worst enemy is hurry, but the cause is because I can’t wait to get my next story to my readers. I think they instigate it. LOL But I do try to curb my excitement with my desire to make the story the best I can for them. It’s still a struggle though.

  3. Elisabeth Warner September 5, 2018 at 5:12 am #

    When I was working full-time and trying to maintain a part-time editing side gig, I would still find some time to “write.” Now that my side gig has become my main gig, I’ve gone back to look at my edited manuscript. The idea was strong but the words were choppy, and (there it is) rushed. I have started to block out time for freewriting (for me, the easy part of writing) and editing this book. I’m also reading other works of fiction to capture the writing style, and I’m reading books on improving plot and structure. What took me a couple of months to write is now taking me a year to edit. But hey, at least it’s not rushed!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 5, 2018 at 6:03 am #

      I’d reply to your comment at greater length, Elisabeth, but I’m in a hurry. Doh!

  4. Peter DeHaan September 5, 2018 at 5:32 am #

    Before I read your post, I was sure you were going to say that we are our own worst enemies. But, yes, haste can get in our way and cause many problems.

  5. Rachel McDaniel September 5, 2018 at 5:50 am #

    *raises hand* I’ve been guilty of this more times than I can count. I’m reminded of that verse in Proverbs- haste makes mistakes. When I’ve succumbed to hurry’s pressure, I’ve made errors. (Which ironically took more time for me to amend then if I had taken my time in the first place. ) Thank you for the reminder, Bob!

  6. Bob Hostetler
    Bob Hostetler September 5, 2018 at 6:07 am #

    Eugene Peterson’s wonderful phrase in The Message, “The unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:29) comes to mind.

  7. DiAnn Mills September 5, 2018 at 6:11 am #

    Bob, Fabulous advice! Seems like my life is one hurry-activity to the next. Thanks for the advice!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 5, 2018 at 6:54 am #

      Well, DiAnn, but you are a force of nature. Maybe the normal rules don’t apply to super-heroes like you.

  8. Chris Storm September 5, 2018 at 6:41 am #

    Oh, is this timely for me! Today, I’m cleaning up the details following my daughter’s 300 guest wedding this weekend, I’m jump-starting a non-profit gala for 500, and I’m working to get a new book proposal out! Stress?! Slow it down!

    I did pause, several times, at the wedding this weekend, just taking it in and thanking God for every ounce of it. I need to do this more often. Rushing through life, not only leads to sloppy results, but steals your joy. Stop and smell the roses, or something like that? How about this instead: Talk to God all day long, ask Him, thank Him, be with Him. There’s something good in every day. Don’t miss it! Thanks for the advice.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 5, 2018 at 6:56 am #

      Geez, Louise…er, Chris. As Simon and Garfunkel sang (long before you were born, of course), “Slow down, you move too fast…”

  9. Judith Robl September 5, 2018 at 6:51 am #

    For years I credited “The Nun’s Story” by Kathryn Hulme for a quote that I tried to live by “without haste and without sloth”. Before making this comment, I googled it. It doesn’t appear in her book. I did find it in two different prayers.

    The one I like best:

    Refresh us, O God,with the vision of thy Being and Beauty, that in the joy of thy strength we may work without haste and without sloth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    The Road – N. C. Sherwood – 1935

    I think I’ll pray this each time I sit to the keyboard.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 5, 2018 at 6:54 am #

      Wow, that’s a great one, Judith. I’m stealing the prayer to use on my prayer blog at oneprayeraday.com!

      • Judith Robl September 5, 2018 at 7:04 am #

        Steal away, but don’t forget the credit goes to N.C. Sherwood.

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield September 5, 2018 at 7:30 am #

      What a beautiful and apt expression of our need, Judith! I plan to edit it into modern English on a sticky note reminder at my desk.

      • Judith Robl September 5, 2018 at 7:41 am #

        Thank you, Linda. Our need for God is timeless. It’s nice to know that those who have gone before expressed the same needs.

    • Rebekah Love Dorris September 5, 2018 at 9:50 am #

      Oh, that’s rich. Thanks for sharing, Mrs. Judith!!

  10. Sami A. Abrams September 5, 2018 at 7:08 am #

    As my Myers Briggs personality will confirm, I’m a goal oriented person. Reaching the goal is always my focus. And because of that, I do it as quickly as possible. It’s not an easy task for me to slow down, but you have very valid points. Thanks for the reminder. I’m planning pin a “slow down” note to my board.

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield September 5, 2018 at 7:37 am #

      Sami, Maybe you do need to slow down, but being goal-oriented is what God built into you. Hurrying seems to me to focus on the constant action instead of the goal. Maybe you just need to be intentional about your pace instead of pushing forward in a way that is hurrying. ‘Just a thought.

      • Sami September 5, 2018 at 10:26 am #

        Very good point. Thanks!

  11. Carol Ashby September 5, 2018 at 7:13 am #

    Judith’s prayer is going on my author’s prayer list, too.

    Off topic: Andrew’s having chest pain and difficulty breathing right now. Prayers appreciated.

    • Judith Robl September 5, 2018 at 7:39 am #

      Thank you for the info, Carol. Praying now. He is so very special.

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield September 5, 2018 at 7:41 am #

      Oh, Carol, reading your post made me realize that caring about Andrew is never off topic here. Thanks for letting us know. I’m praying for our friend.

    • Jaime September 5, 2018 at 8:20 am #

      Thank you for letting us know. I was missing him on here today. Praying now.

    • Rebekah Love Dorris September 5, 2018 at 10:01 am #

      Dear God, thank You for Andrew. Please strengthen him and lay Your redeeming, healing hand on him. Let him feel Your presence and Your righteousness sustaining him. In Jesus’ name, amen.

  12. Linda Riggs Mayfield September 5, 2018 at 7:18 am #

    Great post, Bob! I’ve been late for show-up things, even routine, everyday events (not deadlines) my entire life, and as a result, almost always hurrying. I used to quip that the part of my brain that perceives the passage of time didn’t fully develop. Then when I became a serious scholar and earned a doctorate in teaching and learning, my studies included brain function and I saw that the quip in jest might have been the truth. Hurry isn’t always unpleasant–it can be an addictive adrenalin pump, producing a pleasing sense of accomplishment, but that’s too often a false perception. When hurrying has also been a lifelong habit, it’s REALLY hard to begin to control it, but for my own physical, mental, and spiritual health at THIS stage of my life, I must try. It’s a struggle! Thanks for the timely reminder and great tools for doing that!!

    • Judith Robl September 5, 2018 at 7:47 am #

      Linda, I was you in my thirties. When I found the quote about haste and sloth, it made me think. I was always making excuses, saying I worked better under pressure, etc. Beginning in my late 40s, early 50s, I started taking that quote as a byword. I found that I had been talking too much about how much I had to do. When I quit talking and just worked, I got more done. And my innards weren’t so riled up about things, either. Praying for your victory in this area.

  13. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D September 5, 2018 at 7:46 am #

    Bob, I think you’ve read at least part of the speech I’m giving at a regional meeting for ACFW this coming Saturday! Organization is the key to avoiding hurrying, or so I would argue.

  14. Kay DiBianca September 5, 2018 at 8:21 am #

    Since I seem to be putting many life experiences in the context of running these days, I’m reminded that a good runner is careful to pace herself through the marathon. Speeding up in the early part of the race will just serve to tire you out and result in a slower overall time.

    Praying for Andrew.

  15. Martha Rogers September 5, 2018 at 8:57 am #

    Great advice if you’re always in a hurry. 🙂 I never hurry at anything anymore if I can help it. Procrastination is my worst enemy. Besides, at age 82, I’m not moving as fast as I once did. Slowing down, smelling the roses, and enjoying life is much better than racing from deadline to deadline, activity to activity like I once did. Relax and enjoy the ride. It’ll be over much too soon. And as a Sanguine personality, I’m not all that organized, but organizing one thing at a time helps me get the job done.

  16. Rebekah Love Dorris September 5, 2018 at 9:56 am #

    Wonderful post.

    I read recently in the email devotional by Jordan Raynor, author of Called to Create, that the secret to the balance between trust and hustle is rest.

    We should hustle hard, but if we fail to rest, we’re trusting the hustle, not the God who breathes life into the hustle.

    Now I know. And knowing is HALF the battle. 🙂

    • Kathleen Denly September 5, 2018 at 10:20 am #

      “We should hustle hard, but if we fail to rest, we’re trusting the hustle, not the God who breathes life into the hustle.”

      Yes. This is so true. 🙂

  17. Rene Diane Aube September 5, 2018 at 9:56 am #

    Love this, Bob! I so needed some tools to conquer the hurry monsters. Thank you! 🙂

  18. Kathleen Denly September 5, 2018 at 10:18 am #

    Thank you for this timely reminder. It is far too tempting to complete the less important but seemingly more urgent things before the actually more important things with a more flexible or farther off deadline. Remembering to slow down and keep my priorities straight is something I regularly work on. I have found that getting my husband to sit and talk through my to do list with me helps with setting out realistic expectations and blocking out those sections of time as you suggested. I have also found that the time when I find the hurry overtaking me are usually those times when I ha e fallen into the trap of thinking it’s all on me and forgotten to lean on the One who is truly in control.

  19. claire o'sullivan September 5, 2018 at 11:04 am #

    Oh, great post!

    I no longer hurry, but procrastinate. I ‘justify’ it by reading. The current novel is waiting, the characters are thrumming their fingers, and they want me to fill the plot holes to move on.

    I know folks who love to edit their work. I waver between dislike or admiration for them, ha ha.

    Well, I need to finish a book so I can review it, since it was given to me free. It’s a pithy book that has to be chewed through, so, I must go. Ahem.

    I would love prayer from anyone and everyone to put 1500 words down tonight since part of this edit is chapters of rewrite. Erg.

  20. Roberta Sarver September 5, 2018 at 6:59 pm #

    Bob,

    I feel the most pressure to hurry when I’ve been away for a week, the mail has piled up, and some newspaper columns are due. And you’re right that the pressure inhibits creativity and productivity.

    But..it’s such a relief when you get caught up. I am now semi-caught-up and actually cleaned my kitchen pantry today. Hooray!

  21. Kathy Cheek September 7, 2018 at 8:41 am #

    The world of hurry will slow down when we slow down.

  22. Tisha Martin September 7, 2018 at 10:24 am #

    Thank you so much for this great reminder, Bob. When I was in college, studying Professional Writing, a final project for a copywriting class I had hurried through like a tornado. Turned out, nearly the entire paper was quoted material and statistics, with very little support/thought from my POV. I hurried because I didn’t have time to do the research correctly, and time was my enemy then. And the grade reflected.

    Since then, I’ve determined not to hurry and try to give myself adequate time to plan accordingly. Does it always work? No. But if I’m intentional about slowing down, it does save me some stress.

    I like your suggestion to complete at least three top things on the day’s to-do list.

  23. Jim Reeverts September 7, 2018 at 6:58 pm #

    The catalyst to hurry in my life is perceived lost opportunity; which is a prime mover in marketing copywriting… hmmm, makes me wonder.

    “Hurry up and wait” is another saying the old song from Petra created a stinger for:

    ‘Hurry up and wait… upon the Lord” – which leads to my take away from your wisdom today: If I’m gonna be hurrying about something, it may as well be scurrying to get myself into a position to quiet myself before God.

    Thank you, Bob!

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