Recently, I participated in a writers’ conference. Conferees gathered to learn, gain inspiration, acquire information, and access publishing opportunities. Appointments with editors, agents, and professional writers occurred. Manuscripts were critiqued. Excitement was palpable.
Over the years, I’ve attended and taught at numerous writers’ conferences, and at each one, editors and agents report only a small fraction of writers follow up after receiving an invitation to send their proposals or manuscripts for possible publication. After jumping the huge hurdle of having their writing seen, and being given the green light so many aspiring writers long for, the majority of conferees fail to follow through. While the failure to walk through an open door of opportunity seems crazy, writers are not unique to follow-through-itis. At times, all of us fail to act on what we say we’re going to do.
Here are some reasons we don’t follow through:
Life intervenes – After attending a conference, retreat, or going on vacation, we return inspired, energized, and refreshed, determined to act on what we learned or feel inspired to do. And then life intervenes. All of our resolve to follow up evaporates with the urgency of other deadlines and the relentlessness of everyday schedules and responsibilities.
Fear takes hold – Fear is a four-letter word that may as well equal paralysis. No matter how determined we are fear often niggles at the back of our minds, whittling away at determination and causing us to doubt and second-guess our intentions.
Perfectionism surfaces – Perfectionists strive for, well, perfect, and that rarely happens. Perfectionism is fraught with do-overs, re-writes, review, correction, tweaks, and micromanagement. In an attempt to improve, perfectionists over-do, and delay, and re-think, and massage, and wait. Often the open door slams shut while the striving for perfection drags on.
Enthusiasm wanes – The more time lapses between creative spark, excitement, and resolve, the more likely it is for enthusiasm to wane to the point of inactivity. Delaying means prolonged inaction and increased distance from inspiration. The greater the distance the more difficult it is to recapture enough enthusiasm to move forward with the project.
Procrastination wins – When you delay, the task seems to grow in complexity and difficulty. What seemed do-able initially suddenly feels a lot more complicated. Often it’s easier to ignore what you intended to do, or give up on it, rather than follow through.
At the writers’ conference, an interesting scenario occurred. A number of conferees paid for critiques prior to the conference, but never submitted their manuscripts. Then they appeared the first day of the conference with their manuscripts, expecting immediate critiques of their work. Their initial lack of follow through meant chaos for the manuscript critique coordinator and the appointment scheduler. Faculty members had the added stress of critiquing between classes or at night after a long day of teaching. While the faculty did a great job, having the manuscripts prior to the conference would have provided more time for reflective reading and thoughtful comments.
Often our lack of follow through causes difficulty for others. Think what it means to organizers if you volunteer to help with an event and then don’t show up. Imagine the bind it places on a non-profit or ministry if you pledge a donation and then decide to do something different with your money. And on a personal level, what happens when you get the nod for a career opportunity, but fail to deliver?
Are antidotes available for follow-through-itis?
Here are a few:
Banish distractions – Distractions are a part of life. Instead of whining about them, carve our time for your project and don’t allow time-wasters to take priority and rob you of focus.
Embrace persistence – Persistence involves plowing through obstacles and accepting that things rarely move forward in our preferred timing. Persistence harnesses the never-give-up spirit and keeps marching forward, even when the process becomes a crawl.
Set goals and keep them in sight – Those who don’t set goals have little motivation to follow up on opportunities. Goals don’t have to be lofty and large, just defined and attainable with a plan and determination.
Realize the magnitude of inaction – For writers, the obvious outcome of failing to submit writing projects you have an opportunity to publish is a delay in your career, and perhaps, never the same type of future opportunity. The possibility also exists that the level of inspiration and enthusiasm may not come again. Failure to harness the opportunity also means readers never benefit from your words.
Many obstacles surface to delay, or prevent, the forward motion required for follow through, but with goals and firm resolve to accomplish them, you can jump the hurdles and cross the finish line.