But do “real” writers ever give up? (Not to mention, are they ever really “sane”?)
If you frequent writers’ circles, you will inevitably hear an aspiring author make a confession like this one:
“I give up. I’m done writing. I’ve applied all the advice, attended conferences, read craft books, spoke to professionals, and joined a critique group. I’ve spent hours writing and rewriting. But still no luck. Rejection after rejection, letdown after letdown. My writer friends tell me I’m good, that I should keep pressing on. But I’m tired. My family has suffered, my health has suffered. I’m beginning to doubt myself and my talent. Maybe it’s time to throw in the towel, huh? Nice try, but I just ain’t got it.”
What follows is usually a round of sighs and attaboys. “You’re almost there,” we say. “You’ve got too much talent to stop now.” Before issuing the obligatory reminder that Stephen King was rejected 41 times before he skyrocketted to fame.
Confession: I sometimes wonder whether encouraging an aspiring author to “keep writing” is the right thing to do. I mean, maybe they do need to quit. Maybe they don’t have the talent. Maybe they’re in it for the wrong reasons. Or maybe they just need a break. Either way, telling a struggling writer to “keep pressing on” is not just cliche, it can be misguided.
Perhaps it goes back to our “calling.” But how does someone know they’re “called to write”? It’s a sticky question, one that people invariably answer differently. However, without a reasonable sense of surety that they are following a “divine” lead, I don’t know how a person can rationalize pursuing such a difficult profession.
Could it be that some aspiring authors struggle with a career because they haven’t really been “called” to write?
Stephen Koch, in The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop, strikes a similar note of caution:
Lorrie Moore begins her famous short story “How to Become a Writer” with this blunt recommendation: “First try to be something, anything, else.” Though vocations, like talent, can be damaged, they are rather hard to destroy. “I still think,” Moore says, “you should become a writer only if you have no choice. Writing has to be an obsession — it’s only for those who say, ‘I’m not going to do anything else.’” (emphasis mine)
Which shoots to hell this notion that being a writer is a leisurely romp. You know, endless cocktails, sleep until noon, awash in royalty checks. Maybe if people really understood how tough the world of professional publishing is they’d feel less called.
But what if writing IS an “obsession” for an author and they can’t “do anything else.” They do it on their spare time. They do it whether or not they receive a cent. Must they see “measurable results” to continue?
I suppose it depends on what that author believes are “measurable results.” I mean, if an author simply wants to finish their book and bury it in the back yard, who am I to say they haven’t succeeded? If they’re happy writing for “the love of the craft,” then who cares about rejections?. If they’re satisfied dolling out free e-Books, who needs attaboys? Is this any less noble?
Which is the crux of my muse: It’s important to distinguish between writing to “get published” and writing to write, to create, to use your gifts, to express yourself.
People who want to call it quits as writers are usually those who haven’t made that distinction. They are writing for the wrong reason.
- They are writing for accolades.
- They are writing for validation.
- They are writing for money.
- They are writing for publication.
This is not to say that writing “for the love of it” precludes publication (or money, accolades, or validation), but that the approach is entirely different. You have less reason to bail on writing if your writing is tied to something other than whether or not you get published.
Writers who focus more on craft and motivation, seem to quit less than those who focus on publication and money.
Self-publishing has not helped this discussion. Now, anyone can be a writer. Rather than bury your book in the back yard, you can bury it in the Amazon Abyss. Why wait for professional gatekeepers to acknowledge your talent? Nowadays, an ISBN is all you need for cred.
But if that’s the case, is there ever a time to quit?
I think there is. There is a time to admit that you jumped on a bandwagon. That you had some talent, and over-reached. There is a time to admit that all those rejections mean something. There is a time to admit that your family and your health are suffering due to your obsession with writing. There is a time to admit that self-publishing has not raised your stock. There is a time to throw in the towel and admit that the “call to write” was a figment of your imagination.
So how do you know you’re not one of these writers?