Freelancing and the Cult of Consistency

(This article on freelancing and the cult of consistency is part of our commitment to promote the works of the Copywriter Conclave of Portland’s writers and editors. It’s a timely topic by founding member Sheila Ashdown.)

I have a confession. I, Sheila Ashdown, have committed a grave sin.

What, you might ask. Did I steal a Snickers bar? Mug a Girl Scout? Murder someone?*

No.

I’ve been—gasp—an inconsistent blogger.

**Law & Order music starts playing**

Cuff me. I’ve been bad.

Everything you read about writing—especially when it comes to blogging—shouts to the heavens about consistency. All the cool kids are publishing new content daily, or at least weekly, so they say.

And for years, I bought into it. I set myself ambitious blogging goals, which I literally never achieved one single time. I followed up these “failures” by feeling bad about myself and vowing to be and do better next time. Rinse and repeat a thousand times over.

Does this experience resonate with anyone else out there? I’m not crazy, am I?

The Trouble with Consistency

Now, I’m not calling for a blanket disavowal of consistency. I’m still going to floss my teeth every day and I hope you do too. What I’m calling for is a disavowal of the way that consistency is used to artificially force creative processes and create a false sense of urgency that results in sloppy work and psychic pain.

Problem #1: Consistency is usually defined in a painfully narrow way.

When business gurus tell us to be consistent, what they mean is to publish consistently. I’m all for showing up every day and working to achieve your writing goals, but there’s a heck of a lot more to the writing process than just hitting that publish button. And as far as I can tell, most people hit “publish” way too soon.

A while ago, I signed up to receive the daily blog feed of a Famous Business Guru (who I shall not name). He’s a bestselling author several times over, and he has a huge following. But when his blogs started rolling into my inbox, I was shocked by how dreadful they were.

Each blog was very short (a couple hundred words, max), and they were basically half-baked ideas and platitudes, delivered in cliched, uninspired language. They left me feeling like the author didn’t genuinely care about delivering a valuable piece of content; rather, he was just ticking the checkbox next to “Send out blog today” on the his to-do list.

Famous Business Guru may very well have some incredible ideas and insights. But maybe he’s a mere mortal, like the rest of us, who needs time to develop them. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather receive a well-developed, thoughtfully crafted post whenever he’s able to put one out, rather than a daily dose of “meh.”

Problem #2: Creativity is an inconsistent process.

Writing is not a linear process. We loop around between aha! moments, incubation, and active engagement with the writing.

We create in short bursts, and then we walk away for a few hours, days, or weeks to get some distance on it. Sometimes we’re not writing at all—we’re researching and taking notes instead. Or we’re out rolling in a field of clover or whatever, since, as much as we malign “laziness,” down time is an indispensable component of the creative process.

If we try to force an unruly process into a rigid timeline, we end up publishing something because it’s Wednesday, not because the piece is genuinely finished.

Problem #3: Consistency can be a mental trap. Just like “having it all” or achieving six-pack abs or flawless work-life balance, relentless consistency is a never-achievable ideal. What else in life is consistent? Everything in nature has cycles and fluctuations, and we as humans are part of nature. We’re not machines.

And so, even if you want to try for consistency—by all means, give it a whirl! Set up a reasonable publication schedule (emphasis on “reasonable”) and go for it. But I beg you to give yourself ample credit for the times you achieve it, and to please go easy on yourself when you fall short.

Otherwise, if consistency is held up as the most important metric for success, you’re going to feel like a failure next time you’re down with the flu for a week or you take a well-deserved vacation.

Let’s Redefine What It Means to Be Consistent  

Now, let me be clear—you’re not off the hook with your writing. 🙂 Giving up membership in the Cult of Consistency doesn’t mean we give ourselves a free pass for procrastination or perfectionism.

But here’s what I see: Writers who feel they “should” post daily or weekly are the ones who give up on their work. They’re demoralized by their inability to stick to a rigid and rigorous publishing schedule; this takes the joy out of writing, and they don’t want to do it anymore. That’s what happens when we set goals that are not realistic, and that are driven by outside values instead of inner values.

The solution? Ask yourself what a sustainable publication schedule looks like for you

Does it allow you ample time to research, incubate your ideas, draft, edit, roll in the clover, proofread, and then hit “publish”? Does it honor the priorities in your life and the natural rhythms and cycles of your personal creative process? Do you have a plan for how you’ll get back on track when you need to take a break?

Get clear on this, and you’ll create a writing schedule that supports your agenda, not the agenda of the leaders of the Cult of Consistency. After all, as Oscar Wilde said, “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” Let go of those outside constructs and instead self-direct a sustainable and flexible way to create and share the work you’re so passionate about.

 

*For the record, I would absolutely not do any of those things.

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