If It’s Not Hell Yes, It’s No: Maintaining Focus and Productivity as an Author
Posted on October 13, 2019

I live my life by a few key principles, most of which are shaped by a desire to stay curious and productive. The mantras may sound good on paper, but they ultimately lose meaning when applied to a broader spectrum. Take “never stop learning” for instance:

Would you like to learn more about neutron stars?

Yes, that sounds like a delightful use of my time and brain space.

Would you like to learn more about the latest Kardashian drama?

Uuuuhh … no. Nope, nay nay, hard pass. Put it in a no bag, smash it with a no hammer, and flush it down the no toilet.

I realized that my life was actually governed by a hazy interpretation of principles, which got me to thinking about ways to clear the fog. I wanted to devise a “Theory of Everything” for productivity, a mantra that I could use to focus my efforts and avoid pitfalls.

I didn’t get far. As it turns out, humans are complicated. Write that down.

I began my writing career as a “yes man,” as most greenhorns do when tackling something new. I swallowed all the conventional wisdom, took every tip to heart, joined any group that would have me, listened to every morsel of advice from every author I could find, and said “yes” to any activity that touted itself as useful.

That … was a mistake.

What I ended up with was a giant plate of obligation, most of which was outright useless. I polluted manuscripts with unnecessary edits based on questionable advice. I joined groups that offered little substance outside of social credit. I participated in risky events that failed to expand my network. In short, I bogged myself down with a desire to engage. My “yes man” schedule had started to crush my productivity.

As a necessary disclaimer, none of these things are objectively bad. Good editing is critical. Good groups are beneficial. Good events are fruitful. (Emphasis on the good qualifier.)

After a particularly terrible event, my “Theory of Everything” finally revealed itself. I was ranting to my wife about the colossal waste of time. She smiled and nodded along like the endlessly supportive spouse she is. She was also dealing with a massive transition after a decades-long career as a successful physician. Once I finished my tirade, she dropped a magical truth bomb on me: “At this point in my life, if it’s not hell yes, it’s no.”

Holy crap on a pogo stick. (Cue the angelic choir of revelation.)

Thinking back on the event, I had been on the fence about doing it at all. In fact, I was goaded into participating by one of the organizers. It was a soft networking opportunity with very little promise of turning into anything significant. My enthusiasm piqued at “meh” and bottomed out at “why the hell am I here?” I wasted an entire weekend on something with zero appeal. Did it expand my readership? No. Did it grow my network? No. Was it profitable in any way? No. I shouldn’t have done it, and I knew that from the start.

Everyone say it with me: “If it’s not hell yes, it’s no.”

Out of curiosity, I applied this filter to my entire writing career to date. Much to my surprise, I probably should have avoided most of what I agreed to. Granted, there will be duds in every endeavor along with missed opportunities, but it’s the initial valuation that matters most. I would much rather be excited about a new experience and end up disappointed than be lukewarm about it and end up resentful.

One by one, my other mantras faded away in favor of this new Herculean filter. I now apply it to everything that involves leaving the house, and especially to my writing career.

Let’s give it a spin, shall we?

Would you like to join a writers group that does nothing but complain about the marketing grind?


Would you like to participate in a niche event that vaguely relates to the topics you write about?


Would you like to visit Dublin and speak at an international writers conference?

Hell yes!

Tossing back pints in Dublin with Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur.com

Read more:
Let’s Talk About Writer’s Burnout: No Tips, Just Talk
No, I’m Not on Facebook (And No Author Should Be)
Embrace the Trinity of Ownership: Website, Blog, and Mailing List

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