One of the worst mistakes I made in my writing career was following someone else's timetable.
I'm not talking about deadlines - of course every working writer needs to do what he/she can to meet deadlines if at all possible. This is more about process than time.
A while back, I signed up for a two-year novel-writing course. It took you from idea, to worldbuilding, to plotting, through writing and editing. As mostly a SOTP writer, it was the most pre-planning I'd ever done for a novel. But this was my first major foray into fantasy writing, and I loved the guided help as I set up my storyworld.
Soon, though, I knew it was time to start writing. I was ready to go. Scenes were starting to write themselves in my mind. But everyone in the forums said no. Writing wasn't supposed to start for about a dozen more weeks. Hold off, they said, and my story would be that much stronger.
Stupidly, I listened.
I continued with the planning exercises, but instead of being helpful and insightful, they seemed meaningless and out-of-touch. As the weeks slowly slogged by, my passion to start writing my story faded every day. Eventually, I set the class and the story aside. The magic was gone.
I can only imagine what my story would have been like if I'd ignored instructions and started writing when I knew I was ready to. Sure, it might have been choppy. Sure, I might have needed to add and edit some things once they came up in the course material. Sure, I might have gotten some backlash for not staying with the group. But the magic would have still been there.
I did eventually pick up the story again, but the passion never returned in full force. This time, it was hampered by a dozen ways of "how to write a novel" drilled into my head by well-meaning blogs and books. The words slowly ground to a halt, and years later, the story still sits, unfinished.
I know myself better now. I'm more content with being a rebel. I know that I'll never be able to turn off the internal editor completely, so I'll edit my work as I write. I'll ignore how many drafts others say I need to do, and not see my story as half-baked after my light revisions. I'll shell out the money for a good editor who can help make my story the best it can be instead of wallowing in cosmetic changes. I'll mash together the genres I want to mash together, write the length that feels right for the story, and view both traditional publishing and self-publishing as equally viable options.
And so I'm going back to that 2-year course. I'm building another world. And this time, when I'm ready to write, I'LL WRITE.
And magic will follow.