Why stubbornness is a virtue

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Are you determined enough to get your writing done? Believe it or not, stubbornness is a virtue…

When one of my daughters was two she chose to present her unique personality on a family camping trip. I was about to go for a walk, and she begged to come along. I said, ‘of course’ — provided she wouldn’t expect to be carried, as my back was sore. I made sure she understood the deal before we left.

We walked for about 15 minutes and then she turned to me, holding her hands up in the air — that universal symbol of a child wanting to be picked up. I looked at her and said, ‘sorry, you know I can’t carry you.’ She glared at me in disbelief and waved her hands more urgently. But I knew I couldn’t give in — and she did, too — because we had made a deal.

I started walking back to our campsite, attempting to look unconcerned. When Claire fully understood she wasn’t going to get her way, she was furious. She decided to “walk” back to camp using what parents sometimes call a bum-shuffle. On gravel. By the time we arrived at our tent, she had holes in her shorts. Still, I was impressed by her awesome determination — otherwise known as stubbornness.

Claire still displays stubbornness — in the politest possible way, because she is nothing if not kind and courteous — in her life as a 21-year-old. Last week, she left for a term abroad in Brisbane, Australia. Organizing the trip required plenty of stubbornness. She had to sort out the credit transfers between two institutes of higher learning, apply for a visa, arrange for student housing, and find work to allow her to pay for the whole thing.

I was thinking about stubbornness recently after reflecting on Claire’s experience and reading an interview with Canadian actor/director Paul Gross. He described his latest film, Hyena Road, as something that required vast stubbornness. “I think I have a certain amount of stubbornness built into me,” he said, “because, with a project as monstrous as a film, there are going to be so many times where you just feel like quitting.”

Writers need to be stubborn as well. Of course, it’s obvious why book authors and thesis writers need to. Their projects are long and time-consuming — I like to describe them as marathons rather than sprints — and they demand a great deal of sticktoitiveness.

But even shorter pieces can require stubbornness. For example, certain interview subjects may be difficult to reach or may not give you the information that you need. You may have difficulty finding the right lede (story beginning). You may be at a loss as to how to explain something truly complex in simple and plain English. You may have an editor who fails to give you enough guidance or feedback — or, conversely one who gives you far too much.

Holding the stubborn notion that you’re going to finish your piece of writing may be the only thing that can keep you going. For this reason, I’m amazed that stubbornness is typically seen as something damaging — often defined as the trait of being difficult to handle or overcome.

And, of course, there are some disadvantages to stubbornness. It can irritate family and friends. It can cause you to miss opportunities because your tight focus might lead you to fail to see them. As well, it can lead to arrogance, impatience and martyrdom.

But if you create what I like to call ahealthy stubbornness” — leavened with a good dose of detachment — you will be seen, simply, as someone holding a resolute adherence to your own ideas and goals.

The idea of detachment is crucial, here, I think. Don’t try to be the best writer ever, working on the most ground-breaking piece/book/thesis ever produced in the history of humankind. Don’t equate yourself with your writing. Don’t think that publication will solve all of your life’s problems. Madness that way lies.

Instead, satisfy yourself with your crappy first draft. Then, take the time to edit it into the best shape you can manage.  Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Don’t try to please anyone else. Not even your editor or boss. (Although, make sure you meet their word count, deadline and other specifications.)

The most important target is to please yourself. Then, it’s to improve the quality of your writing over time. These are both reasonable and inspiring goals, even if they do require a boatload of stubbornness.

Are you stubborn? How does it help (or harm) your writing? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to “organic mama,” the winner of this month’s book prize, How to Write by Richard Rhodes for a Jan. 19/16 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Feb. 29/16 will be put in a draw for a copy of the memoir What Comes Next and How to Like It, by Abigail Thomas. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. You don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.