Wednesday, April 4, 2012

On Reaching The End

The unspoken question hisses into the ears of every writer:  "Should I just give up?"

There are myriad reasons behind the question, depending on the stage of each writer's journey.  It might be, "I've written four novels and none of them work well enough to query."  Or, "I've queried 184 agents on three separate projects and have never gotten past a partial request."  Or, "I've been doing this for twelve years with no results."  Or, "My agent and I have gone out with five projects over the last four years, and nothing has sold."

And you sit amidst your doubts and wonder...is it time?  Have I gotten this whole thing wrong?

Here's the thing.  The answer to your question has to come from the right place--or it's the wrong answer.

Self-deprecation ("I will never amount to anything.") is the wrong place.

Fear of failure ("Whatever I send out next will get rejected, anyway.") is the wrong place.

Drama ("Forget it! I quit! Whatever! My emotional stability is suffering! Gah!") is the wrong place.

You get the idea.

There may, however, be a right place.  But only you will know that.  And only if you are honest and kind with yourself.

When Mr. A and I were a goo-ified, newly engaged couple, we met with our pastor and his wife for a "pre-marital counseling session" of sorts.  In the context of this "session," the pastor's wife asked Mr. A how long he was willing to pursue his dream of writing music before he "grew up".

That may sound a little harsh.  But what she was really saying was, "You're getting married now.  Writing music isn't a viable means of making a living for the vast majority of aspiring songwriters.  When is your reality check going to kick in?"  Or, more simply put, "Are you going to recognize when it's time to quit?"

To be fair to my husband, he already had a "day job" (which he hated).  So it's not like he was asking me to come live in a tent with him while he chased his elusive dreams.  Also?  He was never unrealistic about his dreams in the first place.  He knew it was a crap shoot.  So I'm not sure whether he needed our pastor's wife, at that precise moment, to remind him that his artistic aspirations were a huge gamble that needed to be evaluated as time went by.

Because the short story is that Mr. A quickly abandoned his dreams and moved into a corporate job at which he excels.  And which occasionally sucks the life out him.

Now?  I watch my husband struggling with the unfulfilled-ness of being an Artist Who Is Not Creating.  Not that I think he should abandon everything and spend his days writing songs.  But I surely would like to see him doing something to satisfy his muse.

Writing songs--like writing stories--is something you can keep doing regardless of whether or not you are pursuing it as a career.  Just like all the other fine arts.

If you're born to create things, you need to keep creating.  The quitting decision has more to do with your goals, and not with the creating itself.  And that's what you need to examine when you feel as though you're at an "I should quit now" place.

So yes, by all means, take a hard look at what you are doing and how you are faring according to what you'd ultimately like to accomplish.  Stand as far away from your work as you can and ask yourself, "Is this viable?  Am I kidding myself when I say I'm going to press on no matter what?"

No one can answer those questions but you.  I want to sit here and cheer you on and scream, "Never give up! Never never never!"  Because it's the never-giving-up that leads successful people toward their ultimate success.  (Truly.  It's a known fact.)  But I don't know your goals, and I haven't read your work. All I know is that if you are working hard and responding well to solid critique and growing as a writer, then you're on the right track.

The decision-making is up to you.  You are the master of your creativity, the chooser of your goals.  If the time comes when you finally lay down your pen and say, "I have done my best," may it be for the right reasons, and may it bring you the satisfaction of knowing that you really did do your best.  And that you are simply, peacefully, moving on.

It's a privilege for me to have intersected with your journey, regardless of where that journey leads.  May you find joy at the end of it, and everywhere along the way!

41 comments:

  1. What a sweet and encouraging post. <3

    I'd be lying if I said I'd never had a breakdown of the "I should just quit" variety. Mostly, it had to do with my house being filthy, but lately, it's been of the "I'm never going to find an agent variety."

    But, weirdly, my last one was about a month ago. I'm about ready to put a SECOND manuscript in the drawer, and it would be easy to feel defeated and quit. But, at least for me, the simple truth is that writing is cheaper and healthier than the psych ward for me and my family.

    Even if I never find an agent to love my books, or if they never get published in any way, they've kept me afloat when I suspect nothing else could. (not to mention my amazing CPs!) And, in a way, I'm proud of them. So, yeah. That's why I'm not giving up. I suspect everyone can find their own reason not to, if they look hard enough.

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  2. This is an excellent post. I think people need to assess where their writing is coming from, as well. If they are writing a book to make a squillion dollars, that's probably the wrong place.

    I am realistic about my writing.

    And I've always said, if a magic genie came up to me tomorrow and told me, "I have seen the future. You will never get an agent. You will never be published."

    I would reply, "Thanks."

    But I'd keep on writing. Because it is the writing which I love. And it is the writing that keeps me sane...ish. Sane-ish. :D

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  3. Thanks for this post.

    I'll never quit simply because writing is what I love, it's who I am. Whether I make money or not isn't why I do it. Yes, publishing is a goal, but it isn't WHY I write. I write because if I don't get these stories out of my head, they will haunt me. haha

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  4. The things I would say to that pastor's wife are not fit for public consumption.

    This is a tough industry (especially in this economy), and anyone who has gotten published deserves respect just for having the perseverance to see it through. I think encouraging sites like these help more people reach that goal, by letting them know they aren't alone, that the slog isn't there because they suck, and there will be others to support them.

    I admit, I was getting pretty down over rejection letters last month. But the overwhelmingly positive responses I received in last month's contest lifted me up again, helping me to believe that 'yes, I can be published, I just need to find the right agent.'

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  5. This is... this post means a lot to me. I'm actually fairly new to the writing game - writing seriously, that is, although it feels like I've been working so hard for so long.

    It's such a sobering topic, and yet I think there's something encouraging in the thought that, even should we decide that writing isn't where we'll find success, it will always be where we find fulfilment.

    Thanks. :)

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  6. Authoress...very thoughtful post. But I have a question for you: once you sell your book, then the second, third, and, God willing, begin to make a living at it, or even a decent living - is it part of the plan for Mr. A to quit his soul destroying job and become a creator again? Because that is the plan my husband and I came up with. We both work jobs that suck the life out of us, but we've put away money and paid off our house and sometime this year I will quit my job. I will then have 3 years in which to publish or bust (that's going on a shingle and being nailed on my door). At the end of those 3 years, it's my husband's turn. He will quit and pursue his happy dream, whether it's to become a master brewer or start an organic farm. But that's the plan. Each of us gets a chance at trying to fulfill our dream. And if I don't publish at the end of 3 years, I probably won't quit writing, but I will need to do it around the edges of other jobs. Again.

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  7. Dear Anonymous,

    I quit my job last July, signed with my agent in October and have just handed my third revision in. I'm *hoping* to be out on submission in the next couple of months.

    Best of luck to you. It can be done.

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  8. Excellent post and insights. I do think there's a delicate balance of living your dream and letting your dream make you miserable (primarily by rejections and lack of funds). There are no hard and fast rules, other than I suppose to be responsible and make sure your family has three square and a roof. I think all of us who are pursuing our dreams are lucky to be in that position. And I commend your husband, even though that must have been difficult.

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  9. Beautiful, heartfelt post. Thank you for sharing. I definitely needed to read this.

    What your pastor's wife said is definitely something I would have struggled to hear, particularly based on my second-hand experience with this. An ex of mine is a professional musician with several bands and solo work that has spanned decades and inspired and encouraged thousands. He is the most talented guitarist I have ever met (and I lived/worked in Nashville for 4 years), an obviously terrifically gifted songwriter, and beautiful singer.

    He's never had a "real" job, but despite his talent, fan following and support, touring and festival gigs, he has always lived in a rented flat and struggled financially. But who's to say that his stopping the creative encouragement and art he gives to so many is a good idea? Who's to say he should quit what so many people enjoy and be an accountant? I get where she was coming from, but I also think that's something only the individual can decide.

    In my ex's case, I think it's a matter of accepting that this may be the most income he ever gets from his vocation.

    While I do have my breakdown days, I can't imagine anything in the foreseeable future other than continuing to try with positivity and hope.

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  10. Anon -- Yes, that is the desire of my heart. I want to be able to release him from his non-creative drudgery. (I'd also love for him to write the soundtracks for my movies. Dreamin' big, yes? ;D) I love your plan and you have my BEST WISHES!!

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  11. I'm lucky enough that I don't have to work a "day job", and I spend most of my time writing. I'd keep doing it regardless of if I had to go back to work, though. I only started writing to help work through a recurring nightmare, and I'm afraid that without the creative outlet, the nightmares would start right back up again.

    If I ever get anything published, it would be a bonus, but I'm not truly writing for anyone but myself. I'm taking it seriously, though, and learning about the publishing industry. It can't hurt to TRY to get published, but at the end of the day, it's secondary to my need for a creative outlet.

    I play the violin, too, but no one's ever going to pay me to play for them. I do it because I love it. Everyone needs a hobby, and those are my hobbies.

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  12. Meh, Dream Big! Some people sing into their hairbrushes in front of the mirror; I practice my talkshow interviews.

    This was a lovely post and a nice reminder of why a lot of us got into this in the first place. I'm a writer. In some form or another, I've always been a writer. I was writing for my own amusement long before I started letting other people enjoy my work, and I was letting other people enjoy my work for years before it occured to me to try for commerical publishing.

    Big Publishing the current goal. If that doesn't work out, I'll look at smaller presses, then small e-pubs. If no one wants to publish me, then I'll just publish myself. If no one wants to buy it, I'll stick it up on Word Press.

    For me, the ultimate goal is to tell a story that affects people. I can reach more people if I'm published, but not being published won't keep me from doing what I really want to do on at least some level. Reminding myself of that helps take some of the pressure off.

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  13. Thanks for this post! I can relate to the when-to-quit question and also to the issues surrounding being married to a fellow creative type (which can be both frustrating and astonishingly wonderful). I'm with some of the other commenters in that even if my writing didn't get published, I'd still do it. I wrote stories and poems when I was a little kid, not in the hope of publication, but because I loved to do it. It's easy to get caught up in the external trappings of capital-S Success (and capital-F Failure), but in the end, you have to come back to that initial creative impulse. Do what feeds your soul, whether it's for an audience of yourself or an audience of millions.

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  14. A famous author was once asked in an interview what he would have chosen to be were he not such a successful writer. His answer - "An unsuccessful writer."

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  15. Thanks for this wonderful post. I am one who gave up on writing early and worked successfully in corporate writing for 11 years. I could never find my muse while doing it and that's what killed me on a daily basis- not the job itself but being so unattached to my real self. I quit (luckily I have a supportive spouse) but three years later and 3.5 brutally critiqued novels in, I still haven't to meet my ultimate goal of being published and having others be as moved/humored by my characters as I am.

    Every time I send a query I go into the tail spin of 'this agent won't like it either' but I send the query anyway.

    And when I think about giving up, I think about what my life would be like if I didn't write creatively and ask myself if I want to live that vision. The answer continues to be 'no' because frankly that vision sucks. When the answer becomes 'yes' because the rejection is worse than losing my voice entirely, then I guess maybe I'll think about quitting.

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  16. One of your best posts ever, Authoress! Thank you!

    I've recently shelved a manuscript I had poured my soul into for 4+ years. It was heartbreaking. But doing that opened up another door and I've gained a momentum on other projects that are much more promising!

    Thank you always!

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  17. You always have such thoughtful things to say. This post, especially strikes a cord.

    I quit for awhile back in 2010. I was in that place where the art I wanted to produce and what I was producing were not on the same level. After so many years of trying, it honestly felt like it would never happen. Plus I could never seem to get comfortable with balancing family and writing.

    So I quit. I didn't write, blog or read other people's blogs (I even gave up my subscription to MSFV!). I just lived. And after six or so months, I realized that whatever talent I did or didn't have wasn't the point. I missed the writing itself. The creating. Something shifted in my thinking and when I did start to write again, I came to it with freedom. Something I hadn't been able to do before. After some professional feedback and another revision, I started querying in December 2011 and signed with my agent in mid February. We are on submission.

    Sometimes quitting is the best thing. But that doesn't mean it's the end of the road.

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  18. Whatever comes of my writing, whether I succeed in making it a career, or even just getting published (sans significant profit), I will always need to write. The doubt part sucks, but I'm learning to deal & not let 'em take me so low. :)

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  19. While I will spare you the dreary details, this post could not have come at a better time! Not sure how or why you picked today, but I am glad that you did:) Thank you.

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  20. You said it all right there. ;-)

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  21. When I first started writing, it was to hit it big. I got agent nibbles, but no offers to represent. I trunked that novel and started a second one, knowing that this is the one I'd hit it big with. Again, nibbles, but that's it. With both novels the agents had great things to say about my work, and basically passed because of "personal preference". *sigh*

    That's when I thought of giving up. I still didn't have much of a support system and I was tired of swimming against the current. That's also when my hubby told me I was treating this writing thing more like a dream than a career. He encouraged me to attend classes and conferences and pushed me to send out more queries than a few here and there.

    And that's when I realized I'm no longer in it to win it. I just love to write. I love to tell stories and don't want to ever stop.

    So now I am signed up for a conference, and have beta readers who love my books and ask me to write more for their reading pleasure. I am now on my third book, and while I still hope that this is the one to land me an agent, I also know that even if it's not, my handful of fans will adore it, and I'll keep on writing.

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  22. The timing of this post was perfect. Within minutes. Exactly what I needed to hear.

    Thanks.

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  23. For me writing is in my blood. So cliche, and so true. I will never stop writing, but if I get tired of the publishing game I might stop submitting.

    I don't need to be published to know I can write a sentence, or capture a moment in black and white.

    What I do need is to express myself. :-)

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  24. Excellent post, Authoress. You are a gem <3

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  25. Kimberly GabrielApril 4, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    This is one I am printing out and holding onto. Thank you Authoress for this very well-written, encouraging post.

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  26. Authoress,

    What an incredible post! How many writers actually do give up for all the reasons you mentioned? I know that I could easily have been one of them. I started writing in the 3rd grade and dabbled with it, not really improving my craft but BELIEVING my stories were entertaining. I even submitted a query to DAW Books when I was 15 or 16 years old. The nerve! I continued writing in the military and reached the point where I thought I might actually be producing quality work. But marriage and kids came along and I set my writing aside, believing it wasn't practical, no matter how much I loved it. After all, it wasn't going to pay the bills, so what was the point?

    Then I started college in 2006 at the age of 39. After writing a few papers for my research paper class, the fire was ignited again and I KNEW I was a writer. I wondered what could have ever thrown me off that path in the first place. Ever since, I've been writing, reading, learning and writing some more. For me, it's not a matter of becoming rich and famous but using this gift to the best of my ability. Whether that means my novels are ever published or not don't matter at this point. I am a writer and I can do nothing else.

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  27. Writing songs--like writing stories--is something you can keep doing regardless of whether or not you are pursuing it as a career. Just like all the other fine arts.

    If you're born to create things, you need to keep creating. The quitting decision has more to do with your goals, and not with the creating itself.


    I couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks for this post, Authoress. I think it will help people to know that you can never quit being creative, even if you decide to quit being creative for monetary reward.

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  29. A beautifully written post and one that obviously strikes a cord with many of us. Rejection sucks and it's hard on the emotions and the self-confidence. Quitting has certainly crossed my mind a time or two, but I always think, "If I quit pursuing this, will I quit writing all together?" And the answer is a solid, "NO. I will always write." So I continue to write things that I enjoy writing and I continue to study my craft and the industry and hope that someday the timing will be right.

    Thank you for all that you do for the writing community.

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  30. Love this post! I agree with everything you said. Thank you and I hope this helps others struggling with this issue.

    I know my goals, and that's how I know I won't give up. :)

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  31. I stopped for about two years a few years back. I think i needed the time away to realize that writing was what i really wanted. So i guess i needed the break, but also, sometimes i look back and think how much farther along i'd be if i hadn't stopped for those two years

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  32. Thanks for all your wonderful comments, everyone. :-)

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  33. Thank you for this post. Something had been off lately for me as I'd just finished a project and I'm working on queries right now. Writing queries and synopses is not, shall I say, fun writing. I realized this about a week ago, that I'm itching to CREATE something. But, I've been holding myself back because I'm not sure which idea to invest my time into. And then I realized, and your post validated this, that to be happy, I just need to be writing. The concept of investing my time...that's for bankers, not artists.

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  34. As the others said, it's a touching post.

    Am I the only one feeling paranoia at the line "it's a privilege for me to have...." This is the sort of thing people say upon...

    farewell. (GASP)

    Authoress.... PLEASE dont say you're about to QUIT the blog!

    (And if you do, will it be taken over by one of your first "victims", thereby chaning the blog name to Miss Snark's first victim's first victim")

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  35. My husband and I talk about this all the time - he's also a musician with a day job who is acutely aware of the challenges of "making it" as an artist.

    "Writing songs--like writing stories--is something you can keep doing regardless of whether or not you are pursuing it as a career. Just like all the other fine arts."

    It's more a matter of perspective. His band might not make it, but he's so talented he has a hundred other outlets for his music. We have a home studio where he's recorded people reading audio books to laying tracks for the foundation of their album. He's still using his talent and can produce his own music to do whatever he wants.

    I think the limitations are in our own mind. We think we have to get published to be the next [instert favorite author name]. For awhile I was part of a writing group that met a local library. Out of a rotating cast of 30 or so people, only a handful wanted to seek publication. Most were retired folks who just liked writing and wanted to get better at it.

    Thanks for a great post and I enjoyed the comments, too.

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  36. In the comments, I was surprised to see how many have hubby's, boyfriends, exes that are musicians. My hubby's a musician, as was I until I retired and started to write. I think creative people are drawn to each other.

    I loved Happy Dolphin's comment.

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  37. "I'll write just one more book" is how I get through those periods of angst about writing. :D

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  38. My internal drama isn't so much about quitting as it is about prioritizing time. I'd write for myself, even if no one else wanted to read it. But I also have a job where I know I'm making a difference in kids' lives, and I'm a mom.

    Thank you for the encouragement, opportunities, and information you provide. I read almost every post that comes to my inbox, though I rarely comment. I do appreciate your time and the insights that you share.

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  39. Authoress, this post is wonderful!

    Last winter was really hard for a number of reasons, and I had a rather scary amount of times where I was thinking 'maybe I should just give up writing' -- because I was already barely doing anything writing-related, was not submitting, had avoided the majority of writing blogs and crits, so it seemed like a natural point. Just stop, go find something else to do. (Maybe I should go become a lumberjack.)

    But then this happened (long story) and I stopped and went, 'Okay, Merc, let's think about this. Is giving up on writing going to make you feel better? No. Because the stories will still be there. RL sucks right now, yes, and that is the bulk of why nothing is going well in writing-land. So quitting will not actually help, and you will not be happier if you do.'

    And I started listening to myself and realized that while RL is still not good, I could adjust how I handled my writing. (That is controllable.) Writing every day is not required; it is okay to take the time needed to get stories ready to send out; this is not a race; it is okay to take things slow, relax, and remember that it is supposed to be fun--let's go back to basics and start over. It'll get better.

    And that helped. I may not be writing a LOT, or submitting a lot, or trying to keep up with everything going on in other blogs, or trying to do a zillion things at once. But I haven't quit, either, (It is a slow process to recover from hitting rock bottom. We'll get there.)

    This post resonated so much because the REASONS I was wanting to quit were the wrong ones. It was coming from the wrong place, unrelated to the actual writing and creative need.

    The joy is still there in writing for me, and so, in the immortal words of Galaxy Quest, 'Never give up, never surrender!'

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