An author’s career is often compared to a long-distance race, a marathon not a sprint. While that may be so, I see it more as a teeter-tooter, a delicate balance between working as hard and as fast and you can in the short term (hustle) while keeping yourself in the game for the long run (patience). Balance is essential. Going hard for a year is all well and good, but if you give up and quit before the results come in, what’s the point?

If you can’t find a maintainable pace, all that hard work is for nothing.

Steal Like an Artist image

credit Austin Kleon

The trick, at least for me, isn’t finding motivation, it’s spreading it out, like manure over a budding spring hayfield. Highs and lows are inevitable, but the key is to level them out, to temper our fiery passions when they threaten to engulf us, to kindle our creative spirit when life’s torrential downpours threaten to extinguish it. Once you find a method and process that works for you, you’ve got to trust that it’s going to take you where you want to go.

As Austin Kleon, in his brilliant book Show Your Work says:

“Every career is full of ups and down, and just like with stories, when you’re in the middle of living out your life and career, you don’t know whether you’re up or down or what’s about to happen next.”

Unrestrained hustle can do more harm than good. It over-inflates our ego, persuades us to take on too many projects and then, like the shameless hussy it is, leaves us alone in the morning with nothing but it’s lingering scent on the pillow. It’s the mistress of every person out there who always claims to be busy, but at the end of the day has nothing to show for their exhaustive efforts.

On the other hand false patience — procrastination and fear — can be just as harmful. “Telling ourselves it’s okay that we didn’t write today, it’s okay if we miss a deadline” can soon become an author’s bane. Granted, there will be days when we simply can’t write as much as we’d like or when emergencies arise that are unavoidable. These are okay. These are part of everyday life. What I’m talking about is when these instances become the building blocks for a tower of excuses rather than the temporary detours and roadblocks they really are.

As Paul “Bear” Bryant, famous Alabama football coach said. “The first time you quit it’s hard, the second time, it gets easier. The third time, you don’t even have to think about it.”

Given too much leeway, an extra dose of patience turns into passiveness. We’re okay not finishing that novel this year. We’re okay that we haven’t sold a book in six months. All of that will improve somewhere down the line.
If only we could take these two opposing — and equally important — forces and cache them away. The secret, I believe, is learning to recognize when one or the other is taking over. Know thyself.

Recognize when your hustle is out of hand. Recognize when you’re focusing too much on tomorrow and someday instead of today. The yin and yang of our author lives, we cannot exist without both patience and hustle, each playing a pivotal part in the ongoing development of our careers. We all — and I believe the pace is different for every person — need to find the sweet spot, find the speed where we can set things on cruise control somewhere between going just over the speed limit and Fast and Furious.

The hardest part about all this is that there’s no crystal ball to look in, no soothsayer to show us our future. Will we ever find success in this endeavor or will we at last admit defeat, an empty, broken husk with failed words floating overhead like the scattered ashes of our cremated muse? There’s no way of knowing.

That’s the real challenge: commit to the little things and have some level of confidence (or craziness) that things are going to work out. We only have so much energy in any given day, week, month or year. Hammering the throttle on and off in bouts of manic inspiration and despair only serve to drain our emotional and intellectual gas tank all that much faster.