Tenacity vs. Obstinacy by Terrence McCauley

Today Terrence McCauley is here to reflect on the difference between tenacity and obstinacy in the life of a writer, and how which one chooses to embrace makes all the difference in the world. It certainly did for him, as his first novel, the Depression-era gangster yarn Prohibition, was published to great reviews just last month.

Terrence McCauleyIn my opinion, there’s only one thing more important to an artist than following your dream: the manner in which you go about it.

In my long quest to be published, I endured a lot of the same rotten things many other writers experience throughout their career. Broken promises. Agents who disappeared. Plans that remained on the drawing board gathering dust. People who lost interest in my work. All of which eventually lead to self-doubt and a lack of confidence on my part.

At every roadblock, someone would invariably tell me to just give up and go do something else like golf or skiing. Save myself the heartache of rejection and disappointment. Walk away with some of my dignity intact. After all, I’d won a national contest. Why not rest on my laurels and leave it at that?

And while I flirted with the idea of walking away from writing, I never left it for long. Why? Because I’m a writer and writers write! I didn’t choose this. It’s always been a part of who I am, and I could no sooner give up writing than I could decide to give up walking. Sure, I could do it, but why do so, especially when the ability was there? So, I kept on writing the stories I wanted to tell. I kept looking for an outlet for them and, after a whole lot of searching, I did.

The moral of my story is an old one: Tenacity pays off. But obstinacy is lethal.

To be obstinate, by its very definition is: ‘firmly or stubbornly adhering to one’s purpose, opinion, etc.; not yielding to argument, persuasion, or entreaty’. (Source: Dictionary.com).

All of the above is the kiss of death for a writer. Holding fast to your dream is important, but you’ve got to be flexible about it. Writing is an interactive process. We write stories that we hope people will want to read.

We also have to realize not everyone will like our work. If a writer is so confident in the story that they reject all creative criticism of the work, it leads to stagnation. When people reject my work, I ask them why. I can’t tell you how many times such criticisms have made my work better, but it’s a lot. Was it always easy to hear? No. Did the manner in which some people have delivered said criticism leave much to be desired? Sure. But I’ve always taken something away from every negative response I’ve received. It tells me something about my intended audience. It tells me something about me as an artist as well. Refusal to change is the writer’s greatest enemy and a big reason why many writers don’t find a path to publication. We’re artists after all, and artists need to be flexible. We refuse to change at our own peril.

Being tenacious, on the other hand, can be a writer’s greatest asset. A writer must possess a certain amount of stubbornness in order to sit in front of our computer or a blank piece of paper and tell the tale we need to tell. Tenacity gives us the will to fight off the demons of distraction and self-doubt that are ever present in our craft. Tenacity helps cancel out those blatantly negative voices from our friends and family members who don’t fully understand what we’re doing and why. Those who tell us to just walk away and go do something else. To give up.

And, yes, we have to be stubborn enough—and strong enough—to look at our own work with a critical eye and judge the critique we’ve received accordingly.

With the publication of my first book, PROHIBITION, in December 2012, I didn’t feel like anything was over. I didn’t feel as though I’d reached any finish line or climbed a summit. Because although publication is very important to me, my goal is to become the best writer I can be and that doesn’t end with one book or story. I firmly believe writing should be a constant evolution of one’s talent.

Will people like my next book? I hope so. If they don’t I hope they’ll tell me why. And I hope I’ll always have the tenacity to take those critiques and use them to improve my craft. Because that tenacity has served me well thus far.

Terrence P. McCauley is an award-winning writer of crime fiction. His first book, PROHIBITION, is a full-length novel set in the colorful, exciting world of 1930 New York City. A proud native of The Bronx, NY, McCauley is currently working on his next work of fiction. To learn more about McCauley, visit his website.


  • Terrence

    January 28, 2013 - 12:58 PM

    Thanks everyone. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • J.F. Constantine

    January 28, 2013 - 11:54 AM

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. Bravo!

    Good luck on your future writing, too. 🙂

  • Thomas Pluck

    January 28, 2013 - 10:32 AM

    The first chapter you read at Noir at the Bar was a blast, looking forward to the rest.
    And you’re right… stay tenacious!