By Juleigh Howard Hobson
Diligence. In the wrong hands, the word has about as much appeal as a raw turnip salad without mayo: sure it’s probably good for you…but…
What is it about this particular word that makes a lot of otherwise reasonably well-adjusted writers get out of a nice warm bed at some crazily inhuman hour, forcing a set number of words out of their sleep-deprived skulls, not allowing themselves to miss a nanosecond of scheduled writing time or even contemplate stopping this writerly form of inspired hell? Even if—or maybe especially if—it means battling through fatigue, overcoming worries, enduring depression, dealing with lack of inspiration and disregarding illness, it’s crucial to keep that writerly diligence intact.
No pain equals no gain, right? A lot of writers think so. Why does gain have to hurt so much? What if no pain also equals gain? The Oxford dictionary defines diligence as “careful and persistent work or effort.” Think about that. It says nothing about getting up at 5 AM and writing 2000 words before the coffee maker’s done brewing.
Diligence is a malleable concept, a habit of happy industry, and (for writers) a source of indefatigable wordly creation. It doesn’t require a set schedule for writing. It doesn’t force anyone to create any particular number of words in a particular amount of time. It doesn’t mean that writing must happen despite sickness, heartbreak or complete lack of inspiration. It means that writers who are diligent write with careful and persistent effort. Persistent, not regular effort.
Really, you can give yourself permission to sleep in, to have entire days when you don’t write more than a shopping list. You don’t have worry about it. All you have to do is keep writing. You have to write a lot. You have to write diligently. You just don’t have to write regularly.
Take me, for instance. Some days I write all day. I don’t do mornings, so I never write before breakfast, but I often do right after it. Other days I write after lunch. Or right before bed. Some days I just edit things I wrote before. Some days I write in the late morning, edit in mid-afternoon and spend a few hours submitting work in the dark midnight of the writer’s day. I am never without a project; I have never missed a deadline, and I rarely suffer from blocks, lack of vision or no inspiration. I write in hiccups and in streaks. In waves and sudden whirls, with great malleable diligence and ease. The idea of a whole body of work, a sum total of creation, is what we as writers should cling to. That’s what creates true diligence, and what makes diligence such a pleasant concept to hold. With it in mind, there is no daily hand wringing over writing goals unmet, no guilt over spending an entire evening writing like a maniac, no feeling bad, no self-recrimination: there is only writing, writing as a natural presence in our lives. Once writing is natural, not forced, writing itself becomes able to sway and bend around all the fits and starts, the odds and ends, the bits and pieces that make up a writer’s world. Sure, there will be off days. But there will also be on days. Balancing between them is the writer, staying dedicated. Swaying and bending, tucking and curling as the words come and works are inevitably created. With happiness. With grace. With malleable diligence.
Juleigh Howard-Hobson writes fiction, formalist poetry and non-fiction essays, purposely blunting the modern ‘brandable’ concept of artistic obligation to any single form or movement. Winner of the ANZAC Day Award for Poetry, named a Million Writers Award “Notable Story” writer, and nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, she has appeared in such venues as The Lyric, Aesthetica, First Line, KeyHole, Prime Number, Poemeleon, The Alabama Literary Review, Mezzo Cammin, Enchanted Conversation, History is Dead (Permuted Press), Mandragora (Scarlett Imprint), The Best of the Barefoot Muse (Barefoot Pub), Poem, Revised (Marion Street Press), and Caduceus: The Poets at Art Place Vol 8 (Yale University).