“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Jay Lake has a thought-provoking post on quitting writing and why everyone seems to get into a tizzy when someone announces they are doing so. I’m sure there are good reasons for making that choice. But there are probably at least an equal number of bad ones. This was already on my mind this week because I got correspondence from someone in response to a rejection in which this person very desperately begged for commentary. This individual has apparently been trying to get published for years and years. I’m surprised they haven’t fallen prey to either a scam publisher or a scam agent yet. Their letter evoked feelings of regret in me – they were literally asking if they had been wasting their time writing and if they should stop pursuing this dream and wasting their life.

Not only have they been unable to get published, but they haven’t even gotten any legitimate publishers or agents to even agree to read their work. Which makes it entirely impossible for me to give them any sort of useful response because I didn’t ask to read it either. Their query is long gone so even if I felt moved to a response, it would require me asking them to resubmit it along with their work. Regrettable as this must be, I simply cannot afford to strike up ongoing correspondence of this nature with any of the several people who seem to do this every week. That level of feedback and guidance has to be reserved for clients and potential projects that I’m actively pursuing. If I tried to do it at the query level, I’d simply never get to the rest of my tasklist. Of course I want new and exciting projects — I’m all about that, but I have to find a way to maximize my effectiveness at that, too.

I was raised on a steady diet of not quitting. This has come in pretty handy as an agent, I must admit. There are times when one is sending out a new project and the rejections come pouring in — even though one is quite sure of the quality of the work. My big success story in this respect is a book that took me two and a half years to sell and is now into many printings and the author has sold several more books since. But I also currently have a manuscript that is striking out and has been all year. And it’s one of the most well-written things I’d read in ages. I get great rejections for it. But it’s frustrating as just about anything. So, not only can I empathize with the writer I mentioned above, I can sympathize.

But this brings me to another point, which is…. Can one simply quit? And, if so, then how dedicated was a person to the dream? Perhaps this is putting it somewhat idealistically, but, in the end, the only person who can make you give up your dreams is you. No matter how many obstacles stand in your way. (Choosing to chase a different dream is something else entirely.)

Is it a waste to try to achieve something and fail, or would it have been better to have never tried? Should I have given up on that first manuscript (which may have still sold regardless) and should I give up on the one that’s challenging me now? Should agenting be only about sales or writing only about getting published? I submit that this approach neglects a layer of actually living life well and experiencing it to the fullest one is able. Sometimes being an agent is believing despite the odds. If I didn’t hold that to be true, I could very well have gotten myself a less fulfilling career that regularly paid the bills. But it would have been a sacrifice.

ETA: One writer’s reaction to this post (not in comments).

55 responses to ““Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

  1. Quit? Heh.
    It’s not worth giving up on something that easily. I might not have submitted in awhile, but that doesn’t mean I’d give it up. It jsut means, IMO, taking a harder look at the way you’re doing things, as compared to the way that others are doing things–ike, what stories do you see that editor accepting–style, content, and the like, and where does your story not fit what that editor’s accepting.
    There’s a bit more ot it then that. There’s submitting to “4theluv” markets, so that at least your name’s out there, somewhere, and so many different factors to consider…
    It is better to have tried, and failed, then never to have tried at all. Yes, I know that’s a paraphrase, but it suits.

  2. I think there are both external and internal reasons for quitting. The former is, I think, where the pick-yourself-up/dust-yourself-off applies, and it’s a sound approach. The how-to books are filled with the stories of writers who papered the walls of their offices with their rejection slips before that first offer came through.
    But sometimes you just don’t want to play anymore, and that’s when you should be allowed to take your ball and go home and figure it out for yourself. What I said in Jay’s LJ about enjoying the process. When you stop enjoying writing, I think you really need to sit back and think about why you’re doing it. It seems simple enough, but it can be like any other career rut–well, I’ve always done this, and I know the drill, and I know all these people…

    • That’s kind of what I meant by choosing to chase a different dream. One has to acknowledge that people change and maybe they grow away from something towards something else.
      I think my qualms come to the surface when it seems clear that the writer is blaming the system and is so focused on publication as an end-goal that it appears to subsume everything else.

      • Yes, but I can understand their frustration. Part of the writer validation package, for some/most?? writers, is gaining the acknowledgment that they write at a “pro” level, that someone wants to pay them for the work, that this work will wind up edited and printed and read. And you’re like the first barricade to be conquered, so you bear the brunt of the attack. Having to deal with that level of need all the time would exhaust me, and I don’t know how you do it.
        And you may be dealing with people who haven’t begun to ask themselves the hard questions yet. External walls are easier to beat one’s head against. Someone else built them. They’re someone else’s fault.

        • It’s not that I don’t understand it can be frustrating. I get frustrated too some days. That’s perfectly natural. But giving the power of validation to an external source can get very tricksy especially if one takes it rather too far.
          As for that “level of need” you refer to…. well, I wouldn’t be surprised if most agents and editors find it necessary to develop a bit of a bedside manner. If you take it all personally, you’d end up paralyzed, like a doctor incapable of triage.
          And I want to be clear that I’m not talking about the majority of writers. I would say 99.999% approach it professionally and their correspondence is courteous with a very genuine need to know. But every once in a while you get that .0001% that has lost it. They swear at you. They insult your ancestors. They explain how you, personally, are ruining their life. They show up at conferences and harrass you. They threaten you. That can get kind of heavy.
          I remind myself that I’m glad it’s only .0001%. And I resolve to treat the 99.999% as fairly and forthrightly as humanly possible.

          • If it’s any consolation, I think you get at least this percentage in just about any career. It’s just when you deal with the ‘public’ (or in your case, we slush pile writers πŸ˜‰ the self-selecting mechanism doesn’t select as many out as other professions.

            • And to some degree – you *have* to believe in yourself, you *must* be self-motivated, because otherwise you really won’t make it as a writer. It’s a long slog and involves many solitary and/or frustrating hours. Writers invest a lot of emotion into their writing, much more than into a lot of other ventures, so again, it’s not surprising they sometimes act emotionally fragile.

              • I don’t know that they’re really any more prone to it than anyone else. Consider how many people equate themselves to their jobs. I have seen far too many people in non-artistic jobs get all bent out of shape when someone offers a legitimate crit of work they’ve done. Many people *do* take it personally. This was something I learned very well when I was a fine arts major back in the Jurassic. One of my profs went to excruciating lengths to teach us to separate our*selves* from our *art*. The art belongs to me. The art came from me. The art is *NOT* me. It’s a valuable lesson and one that self-taught writers (and aren’t most of us self-taught to some extent?) miss out on.

  3. It seems to me that your problem is much larger than ours, speaking as writer to agent. We only have to filter our own work. You have to filter an immense amount of work to find the gold amid the dross. I admire you and your colleagues for doing that.
    As for quitting, I can’t quite conceive of quitting, either. But at the bottom, writing is only a habit. (Like smoking or gambling or heroin, I suppose.) Habits can change. I just don’t want to change…

  4. I’ve gotten frustrated and ‘quit’ several times, usually because a novel project ground to a halt and I lost interest. Each time, within a few months, another idea fired my imagination and I started again.
    After ten or so years of trying to write novels on and off (and completing the occasional short story, and selling three) I’ve finally gotten well (40,000 words) into a novel project. At this point, I don’t think I’d quit no matter what, because it comes down now to writing for my own satisfaction. Even if I never sell another word, I’m creating for its own sake — like a watercolor painter who hangs her work on her living room wall, or a model builder who builds elaborate sets in his basement.

  5. Hmm, what makes a good chef is the adoration of food in all its forms, and I suppose that analogy follows for writers. Most of us, I think, started writing because we loved reading. Loved immersing ourselves in someone else’s world. Maybe we thought we could do it better. Maybe we thought we just wanted/needed to share.
    To be published is a validation that what we are doing is not a waste of time. The time I spend writing might have been spent on my kids, animals, housework etc, so to at least have it acknowledged as ‘something worthwhile’ probably means more than any money.
    I would never give it up. Yes, it is a habit, an obssession, if you like, but I think it’s an inbuilt one. In some form or another I’ve been doing it for years and if I stopped to ask why, I doubt I could give you a definitive answer. It is something I have to do, even when it is heartbreaking and frustrating. But, despite the odds, I will keep submitting and trying, because I love it with the same passion a chef adores a creme brulee.
    Sue Curnow

    • What your comment has abruptly brought into clarity for me at this moment is writing as avocation vs. writing as job. For example — I love to cook. But I can cook for myself and enjoy it quite a lot. Or I can cook for others and get something back from their pleasure in my efforts. Since I am not a professional chef, though, having it served in a restaurant and being paid for it isn’t where I would seek to find validation.
      Actually, I think my analogy is starting to break down.
      But essentially, I feel like I can agree that publishing is “a” validation but not “the” validation, if you get what I mean. These are separate things in my mind.

      • You’re right, it isn’t ‘the’ validation. I get huge amounts of pleasure that my army son will read my ‘stuff’ and pass it around his buddies and they (mostly) enjoy it, and of course I don’t get paid for that. But, like the cooking, I have brought someone pleasure and, yeah, so it’s an ego boost as well, because writers seem to have such fragile egos. Probably because we *do* put our hearts and souls into the novels. The characters and settings become so real that it is a part of us. It may be a little pathetic to beg of someone professional ‘Is this any good?’ but I can understand the temptation. The business being what it is the writer him/herself often ends up in a vacuum where they don’t KNOW. I spoke to Ebear about that – how did you know when your novel worked and she said, “I just knew” but a lot of us don’t. You can feel when something really works, true, but there’s always this damned nagging in the back of your mind. Yes, I love it, but will anyone else? With the cooking you can actually hand out a taster and I suppose, in its way, a query letter is like that. In my case I know my appetizers suck but I’m damned good at the meat dish. And that’s the other thing, the ego can only take so many knocks before it beats you down. I don’t blame agents or publishers for that. I’m fairly fragile but at the same time I’m stubborn as a mule. I treat rejection as a challenge to do it better.
        And that is the real validation, I think, not the publication itself, but that we might have brought something to someone else.

        • How do you know?
          Yes..I think the “how do you know?” question is something that makes us a little fragile. I mean, I think my writing’s great or I wouldn’t bother agents or editors with it. And they write back and say they like this and that but not this or that and then I fix it and then I know it’s fabulous and then there’s something else they don’t like but something new they do! I suppose I’m just on the cusp of really publishable work and that’s the problem. But how do I know????? I have two friends that are super well known, high up the food chain, YA writers and part of me just wants to beg them to read my stuff and tell me what they think, but I know I can’t do that because if they wanted to read it, they would’ve offered by now…still, the whole writing to agents or editors and begging for an evaluation is very tempting.

          • Re: How do you know?
            I suppose I’m just on the cusp of really publishable work and that’s the problem. But how do I know?????
            Harry Stubbs (Hal Clement) was at Conestoga in Tulsa the year he died. I remember sitting in the audience for one of his panels where someone asked him how long it took him to get to the point where he *knew* a story would sell. Mr. Stubbs looked surprised and answered, “I *never* know. I got a rejection letter last week.”
            Not that I’ve got much in the way of a track record, but every time I’ve sent a story out, I *knew* it would sell. I’ve had shockingly few checks in return. ;-):-)

            • Re: How do you know?
              That’s good. Thanks. I always expect my stuff to sell. I do okay on the nonfiction and I’m getting good rejections and lots of interest on my YA so I think it’s just a matter of finding the right fit. I’ll remember your post though. Thanks.

              • Re: How do you know?
                Anytime. I’ve gotten so used to having to write stuff by committee at work, that the idea of rewriting on demand for fiction isn’t even a blip on my radar. So far, I’ve only had one requested (which was then accepted) and one implied, and the rewrite sold to the next market. I’m sure there’s a threshold where the requested rewrite would get my writerly back up, but I’d be more likely to just ask if I could use a pen name if I really didn’t like the result.

        • I spoke to Ebear about that – how did you know when your novel worked and she said, “I just knew” but a lot of us don’t.
          That’s the critical bit, isn’t it? I’m like eBear; I knew when I wrote URBAN SHAMAN that I’d written something that would unquestionably sell. That it was good enough.
          The problem is that every single person who puts their manuscript into the mail thinks that too. And not very many of us are right. I wasn’t when I sent out my first manuscript (and now I’m afraid to look at it, 14 years later!), but sometime in the interim I turned out to be.
          I think there’s some kind of small disconnect you have to develop in the mind to be able to see if your work stands up to what’s on the shelves (we won’t get into the crap that gets published and bewilders us all). I have this discussion fairly regularly about my drawing skills; I have people tell me I’m very good, and I appreciate that, but what I really am is good enough to know how good I’m *not*. Somewhere in there I think I learned to apply that to my writing, too. But I don’t know how to pass that lesson on.

          • I think the one thing that strikes me from this conversation: One has to believe in oneself above everything else. You have to believe something is ‘good enough’. That shines through in a query letter. It shines through in confidence of writing. That narrative drive we are all looking for. Like the poster who wrote about not being good enough to keep up with her fellows in physics, which was very poignant, btw. Not long ago a small press asked me for one of my novels. That was a huge ego boost, I have to say. I didn’t take that route because i wanted a career. It might be vain to say that I do think I’m good enough, or, put into perspective, I WILL be good enough, but I have to believe that.
            You cannot write without passion, although that is a personal view of mine, and I think that is what agents/publishers look for. What is it within a query letter, the first few pages they see? I would imagine they see some spark that isn’t exactly definable but is ‘there’. A surety within the writing that makes them want to read on. What makes them sit up and take notice when they’ve already tossed aside another dozen hopefuls?
            A small disconnect is probably right. I chose to take part in NaNo this year and I chose to push every button I possess. I am writing in first person, a Paranormal Romance and about things I would normally avoid. The point being that I am pushing myself beyond my normal limits and even if I never take this particular story further it proved quite a few things to me. I hadn’t written anything ‘new’ for a while and wondered if I could. It so happened that NaNo coincided with my son coming home from Afghanistan, so my word count is pathetic, but, I am excited all over again. As passionate as I was when I wrote my first novel. I know my flaws (I think) and it’s working beyond them that is the real challenge. My reviewers have already noted that they see more confidence in my voice. Maybe I was always writing in the wrong pov? I don’t know, but, hey, I’m giving it a whirl.

            • For me, I like to find things I’ve never tried and then do them. There’s nothing for me more challenging than reading something that makes me go “why on *Earth* would anyone write that?” Inevitably, I end up running through the whole “but if *I* was going to do it, I’d…” sequence. Sometimes it results in a story, sometimes not, but I can’t keep from doing it. I also find my ‘regular’ writing is just that much better when I get back to it.

          • Well, I never know that I have something that will sell. I know I have a story that works.
            Or sometimes, I know I have a story that’s broken. πŸ˜›

            • I feel like I’m at the same stage in my writing skills now as I am with my auto repair skills: I can usually tell you what’s wrong, but that doesn’t mean I can fix it. πŸ™‚

            • It really struck me when you said that though. I mean, it wasn’t exactly a woohoo moment, but I thought, yeah. It was like me asking you where you get your ideas from, that old reader to author cliche. It isn’t something (as I said before) that you can define and it was rather unfair of me to ask it, but. Maybe there’s a stubborn streak in me. Even if I think something is broken, or, not good enough yet, I can’t quite let it go. Maybe that’s just a case of the writerly skills haven’t got far enough to write it properly yet. Not sure. But I know it struck a chord and I didn’t forget it.

            • Or sometimes, I know I have a story that’s broken. πŸ˜›
              This one hurts. I’ve got a couple of stories in my trunk that I love to distraction but which are much too flawed to ever find a home. I keep hoping that one day my skill will be such that I can finally fix them. If not, they’ll just get to sit around on the porch with the cats and monopolize the rocking chairs.

            • Oop. I stand corrected. πŸ™‚

        • Okay…. so there’s how do you know you’re good enough to which the not so helpful reply is, well, you just do. I’m pondering that. Is there a way to figure out you’re in the ballpark without having to hit it over the fence? Hmm….
          Let me turn that around from my angle, though, as well. Because isn’t this true of anything one sets out to do? How do you know if you’re a good enough agent? How do you know whether you can spot things that sell or that you’re not passing up the next NYT-breakout-bestseller? If it’s all subjective (which everyone says), is there a standard to measure yourself by?

          • Oh, very subjective in this case. Writing is such an odd game because of that. There lies the difficulty, I think. We’ve all heard the stories of the Stephen Donaldsons and the JKs where they were rejected numerous times and then became phenomenal best sellers. So it’s easier to believe that ‘Oh, this particular agent just doesn’t like my style’ versus ‘I’m getting rejected because I suck’. Even if I do believe that my writing is publishable, which I do, I still have to convince somebody else of that. And I will, even if I have to write seven more novels to prove it. πŸ™‚

          • That’s where the external validation comes in, at least for me. How do I know I’m a storyteller unless someone else wants to hear my story? With some things, you do need someone else to tell you that you’ve hit it, or some other type of external affirmation. Imo.

            • The first audience any of us have is ourselves. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there weren’t storytellers out there who never have more than an audience of one. You, however, are not that storyteller.:-)

          • If it’s all subjective (which everyone says), is there a standard to measure yourself by?
            Yeah: if you’ve got Jim Butcher on your list, you’re good enough. πŸ™‚
            Okay, flipness aside, I think that it’s got to be your track record that proves you, at least as an agent. It’s got to be a matter of faith, at first, I guess. Much like writing. Huh. In fact, agenting, I can’t see *how* you could figure it out otherwise.
            Well. I always knew I’d rather be a writer than an agent, but that confirms it. πŸ™‚

          • Is there a way to figure out you’re in the ballpark without having to hit it over the fence?
            Critical reading is the answer to that one, I think. At least, that’s my approach. I have tried to learn as much about writing as possible, and I keep looking at books with a critical eye. The most valuable advice about ‘all that rubbish that gets published’ was to ask what the writers did _right_ – because someone must have seen something in the book that made them take a chance on it. I look at the things that annoy me and ask whether I’m doing the same; I look at the things I like and onder how to incorporate them in my writing.
            I think the standard comes with a bottom line – if any of the aspects of a book fall beyond a certain standard, it won’t be publishable – and with a bar to aspire to – if you reach it with any aspect of your book, your chances are greatly improved.
            Your validations for ‘finding things that sell’ is easy – if you can place your clients novels with editors you clearly have one part of the puzzle; but if editors are happy to hear from you even though they’ve never bought something from you, you get another form of validation.

          • This is why I get annoyed with folks like Harlan Ellison who tell (some) budding writers to quit writing. If the person isn’t taking the writing seriously, fine; if they’re just in it for the assumed Big Bucks, yes, please, by all means tell them to stop. But if it’s just a matter of lack of skill (at that phase)–then no, I don’t agree with them, any more than I would agree with someone who doesn’t like Ellison’s stories just to hang his pen up and quit.
            But then again, as many other great pros of all fields have said before, if you’re truly dedicated to what you love, people telling you to give up will just come off as nags to be ignored and disposed of.

      • The more I read and think about the various posts on this question, the more I think that while I would try to discourage someone from quitting, I wouldn’t try to discourage them from deciding that for them, personally, this is a hobby but not a job.
        I can understand well someone deciding that writing can’t be the thing they have the intensity of a life’s vocation about. I’ve dabbled in enough non-writing hobbies that are, I know, vocations for other folks, after all.

  6. Can one quit?
    Can one ever quit is an interesting question. I always wanted to be a writer, from the time I was tiny, but I got distracted by acting and that’s what I studied in college and pursued. Interestingly (to me!), I “quit” acting to go back to writing in my early twenties. It didn’t work. Not exactly anyway. For years I struggled with the dreams of being an actor while I was trying to write. My writing suffered for it because I couldn’t commit completely. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to go back to acting, study some more, even act professionally for a few years, that I could actually, peacefully walk away from it and be happy to write again. But that’s the difference. I walked away, I didn’t quit. I still have a headshot. When people ask me what I do I say, “I’m a writer and sometimes actor” even though I haven’t acted in more than three years. It’s there though. I can if I want to. I could pursue it like crazy starting today if I want to. I think that one could do the same with writing. If it’s making you crazy, you could do something else for a while and be okay, but if you “officially quit” I think it will come back to haunt you.

  7. This is an interesting question…I love to write, and if I wasn’t writing, I’d probably be insane (I’m a stay-at-home mom, and I started writing in the first place because I was bored out of my mind :D)…but I also write with the specific goal of trying to start a career. Whether the numbers indicate I’ll be successful at this or not, that is my goal. And in all honesty, although I’ve been looking for an agent seriously for nine months now and still waiting, I do think I’ll end up as a career writer. Time will tell, of course, but I’m not really worried about it not happening…yet πŸ™‚ I’ve been writing with this goal in mind for a little over two years — before that, I wrote short stories with nary a nibble. I never thought I’d have the patience to write an entire novel, even though I wrote them in my head all the time…once I started, I was addicted! And I’ve seen real interest from both editors and agents — and each book I think, “This will be the one.” Eternal optimist? Or realist? I’ll let you know in another month or so when I should have heard back on the current round of subs….

    • me too
      Except for the stay at home mom part and the short stories, this is exactly me. I could’ve posted this. We are optomistic realists! And now I have to stop commenting and go fix my query.

  8. My heart really goes out to that writer, and I wish you could send her something to help without it turning into a dialogue you can’t afford to waste time on. I know exactly what that sort of heartbreak feels like.
    I went into graduate studies in physics and found that while I could, if I worked myself to exhaustion and misery, keep up with my fellow students, I couldn’t excel to the point where I was ever going to be able to compete with them for a career as a research scientist or professor. I got my master’s degree and then walked away from the dream. It was painful and it was also a relief.
    I’ll note that I had plenty of work ethic and stubbornness, and I am very intelligent, but my brain isn’t wired in such a way that I can compete with those who really are geniuses at physics. I hit the hardware limit of my abilities.
    I would say that yes, one can simply quit, and there are circumstances where one should, but they have nothing to do with setbacks.
    If the dream is warping your life in negative ways and destroying your happiness for months at a time, then you should quit, at least temporarily – or scale back the dream to a point where you can pursue it without ruining your emotional well-being. The dream is not your whole life; you have to keep your whole life happy and healthy. As long as you’re still happy most of the time, then it’s okay to keep chasing the dream.
    Is it a waste to try to achieve something and fail, or would it have been better to have never tried?
    You learn something from every experience and learn the most from the ones that are most painful. I would have been better off giving up on physics sooner, but I had to know whether I could do it. If I hadn’t tried, I would have spent my whole life wondering whether I could have made it. Now I know. I also know a lot more physics. I also have a degree that has real-world value. The experience wasn’t for nothing, and although I don’t really think it was worth it, it did have worth.
    I still feel so badly for that writer. She sounds like she’s in a very dark place. If I volunteered to write a form letter to send to such authors, would you use it? πŸ™‚ You would of course have editorial control and veto power over the content.

    • If I volunteered to write a form letter to send to such authors, would you use it?
      I’m not sure I could go there. I’ve tried to come up with a paragraph to incorporate into my standard reply but it always comes out sounding like it wouldn’t work anyway. Or maybe even condescending somehow. Which would never ever be my intention. But my instinct is also to acknowledge that there is a certain type of person for whom any response other than a “yes” would be unsatisfactory. You can’t do anything proactive or constructive in that situation.
      I feel for the writer too. And for anyone who has similar frustrations. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have been moved to write this post.

  9. I find it difficult to understand how one can give up a passion. I think I would keep writing even if I never published anything, because ultimately (at least for the first draft) I write the book I wish I was reading.

    • I write the book I wish I was reading.
      YES! YES! That’s *IT*! I sit at the keyboard and I can’t *wait* to see what comes next (because I never really know and this is something I’m going to somehow have to deal with if I ever want to be at a point where I’m selling novels). I’ve found myself yelling at my screen the same way I’d yell at a book “NOOOOOO!!! YOU CAN’T DO THAT TO HER!!!!” when a favorite character has just had the roof fall in on her. Then I have to stop and remember that, ‘oh, yeah. I’m the writer. I can do it!’. [cue evil laughter]

  10. There is much to be said for frustration, however. It’s frustration that often helps breakthrough plateaus.
    I’ve been here–actually, I quit writing several times before I got published, but obvioiusly it didn’t stick. It did teach me that I’d rather write than not write. And it also gave me a breather enough to step back, take a new approach, and that made a difference.
    So, I’m one who’d actually encourage someone to quit. At least for a sabitical. If it sticks, you’ll be happier for not banging your head. If it doesn’t stick, you’ll come back, knowing that you’re a writer and in it for the long haul. You’ll be stronger–and maybe better able to look at your own work better.
    It’s one of those doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, but sure ticks you off in the meantime lessons.

  11. I think it’s different for you then for us, because a lot of dreams ride on your ability to keep believing in a book and to submit it against the odds. (That alone would be worth 15% to me, to know that there’s someone who will go on even when the going is tough.)
    I don’t think I will give up writing; at least not in any life phase I can envision; but people change, and dreams do. As long as writing is fun, people should write.
    The core question is ‘if writing is neither fun *nor* earning them rewards (whether recognition or money or both), *should* they write? Out of a stubborn conviction that they’ve invested twenty years already; they should truck on?
    If I’m honest, I would probably say ‘no’; but I don’t think you will ever catch me saying that to anyone directly; because it would invalidate their dreams. (Maybe they need new dreams instead. Definitely so if they think that acceptance by agent or being published is going to make them happy forever; because it’s just One More Waystation to a writer.)
    The question I’d like to see answered from you is ‘can someone who writes publishable works for twenty years *and who submits them intelligently* end up without actually being published?’ The PoD houses are full of people who say ‘I am every bit as good as the stuff that’s published; but no agent wanted to read my mss, and no publisher wanted to buy them.’
    And I look at the publishing world from my little corner and see who gets published and see who doesn’t, and think – and hope – that genuine cases of that sort are rare.
    (I also think that the answer to ‘but I can’t get published’ is to learn to write better; but that’s a different discussion.)
    Is it a waste to try to achieve something and fail, or would it have been better to have never tried?
    I don’t think anything you ever do wholeheartedly is ‘a waste’ because it’s part of your own journey. But equally, I think that ‘deciding that you don’t want to spend the next <whatever> years of your life writing or submitting, regardless of how much you invested in the past’ should be an honourable option. All three are ‘right’ for someone; and every one of us gets to decide which categories they fall into.

    • >>Definitely so if they think that acceptance by agent or being published is going to make them happy forever; because it’s just One More Waystation to a writer<<
      When budding writers ask me how it feels to be published, I tell them “Encouraging”.
      I have high hopes for the ones who get what I’m saying.

  12. I’d bet few writers give up writing, but quite a few probably give up trying to publish their writing, or at least some kinds of writing. If you love to tell stories, you’ll create stories and if you’re a writer, you’ll write them down. But you may not try to sell them.
    Some people take rejection as a challenge, others as part of the game, but some people take rejection to heart. These people have a hard time finding support in the writing community, which has a tendency to simply say “stiffen up.” That’s pretty much what a writer has to do, but not everyone can do it. My heart goes out to writers who after taking enough rejection on the chin simply choose not to get up again.
    The other thing is a writer might choose not to pursue publication for financial reasons. That’s what I did. I walked away from writing because a bad divorce left me in debt and needing to support three young children. Fiction writing wasn’t going to do it fast enough for the courts not to take my kids away. I had to get a full-time job with health benefits, and then I needed to work part-time just to keep the house. With so much on my plate, trying to pursue a writing career on top of that seemed overwhelming … and I had already published one novel. Wouldn’t you know, though, I kept writing. Better believe it. I could only write a few hours a week, but I wrote. So not every writer who quits is quitting writing, just trying to get published.
    Later, when things turn around, whether that be their finances or whatever else (illness, for example) has been consuming their creative energy, these writers will come back to writing for publication.
    It’s inspiring to know agents can be sensitive to the complicated stresses of being a writer. Writers spend so much time trying to figure out agents that we don’t stop to realize agents may be trying to figure out things about writers.

  13. I grew up in a family where never quiting was encouraged, but not practiced much by the ones preaching the message. And actually completing a task has always been very, very hard for me when that task proved harder than I thought it would be. So to complete my novel–REALLY complete it, as in revise it ’til it can be revised no more–and get it published is something I can never give up on. I love to write, and I have since I was old enough to read. I could never give up the writing itself, but sometimes it would be so easy to stop revising my novel, to stop reading how-to books, to stop researching the market and reading agent blogs.
    But being an author is the one thing I’ve always wanted, and as hard as it is, I can’t let myself stop, because then I’ll feel like my life has had no meaning. And when I do finally get my novel published, when I do finally become a published author… How much sweeter will it be after overcoming this obstacle I’ve struggled with all my life?

  14. I suppose one might quit the *business* of writing. “Sorry, all three of my adoring fans; I’ve gone back to my day job at the bank, with health benefits, vacation time, retirement, and a cushy salary. Another novel might happen in that vacation time, but it may be years. All the best, me.”
    But to actually *stop writing*? I recall the first time I read Robert Heinlein’s description of the process; he’d made enough at writing to pay off his mortgage, and was going to quit. Within days he was cranky; a week or two later, he was irritable, unable to concentrate, and extremely dissatisfied. Something persuaded him to go back to the typewriter to make a few edits on an outstanding submission – and he felt better instantly.
    I was really relieved to read that, because I was beginning to be concerned about my mental health’s dependence on writing. Like Heinlein, offer me a shiny expedition, new book, big craft project or other distraction, and I’ll stay away from the keyboard for a few weeks (or only allow myself to keep diary-notes of the fun before plunging back into it). But if I don’t write, I get irritable, I feel unfulfilled, my mind wanders, and no amount of antidepressants, sunshine, distractions, or chocolate can cure it. And eventually, my brain starts writing without me, leaving me unable to get much of anything done at all because 90% of my brain is devoting itself to writing a Regency novel or operatic SF while I try to balance the checkbook. I can stave some of it off with diarizing, letters, LJ and the like, but if I don’t make some fiction happen on a regular basis, my brain breaks.
    So I can’t stop writing. Really. Not without serious consequences. And I think a lot of the “avocation” part is in that. In fact, if someone wants to be an author and doesn’t feel that avocation, I tell them to try something else; it’s too heartbreaking a business to be in if you don’t love it. (Like many of the other arts, in fact. Sure, you want to be a movie star. Do you want it badly enough to spend years doing commercials and bit stage parts and hustling for SAG credits while you work a day job to pay the rent? No? Then walk away.)
    I don’t write to make a quick buck and a little fame; I write because it makes me happy and it fulfills my life. Publication would be gravy. Making a little money off of it would be extra special sauce indeed. Making enough to quit my day job? Very nice indeed – although it no longer applies in my case. But my last job was a very cushy corporate slot with amazing benefits, and I know writing is unlikely to ever pay for the Internet connection, let alone match my old salary.

    • YES. I am in all kinds of agreement with your comment. I’ve been reading through this page wondering who all these people were who could just — stop writing? Because I’ve tried it before, and it just didn’t work for me. As you said — I would up with 90% of my brain coming up with story ideas on the sly, and it just doesn’t work right. I don’t know why my brain is wired that way, but it is.
      Quitting submitting, though, or quitting writing for “real” — that I could do quite easily. Throw me into a fandom RP and let me write fanfic on the site from time to time and I’d probably be just fine. The reason I don’t is that — as I believe TNH said once at a panel — if I’m the sort of person who’s going to be writing no matter what, I might as well try to say something useful with it and maybe see if someone else wants to give me money to publish it.

  15. Impatience never commanded success
    In an attempt to avoid doing actual study for my psychology exam looming darkly around the corner, I decided to scan through the blogs when I happened upon this one. It certainly struck a personal cord.
    Writing isn’t an easy job, but then again, no job is. Is it a waste to try to achieve something and fail? I don’t think so. None of us would be walking if we’d given up the first time we had tried and fallen. Mistakes are gifts to learn from, failures are those who cannot stand after they have stumbled.
    A dream is something worth fighting for. In the words of one of my all time favorite authors Anne Bishop, Everything has a price. If it isn’t worth fighting for then is it worth the effort at all?
    I think writers, people, who give up on their dreams couldn’t have possibly really wanted it that much. I know what it’s like to watch stream after stream of rejection letters pouring in. I know what it’s like to sit hour after hour, day after day pouring your very heart and soul into perfecting the dialogue, characterizations, plots and background of a novel, only to have no one give you the chance to let it shine.
    But that’s life. You have to work hard at it, you have to keep pushing if you really want something. Nothing comes easy, nothing is free. Those who succeed are not only those born with excellent flair and talent for the written word, but those who are willing to dedicate themselves to perfecting their craft. Success is for the writers who see their work not as a chore but as a pleasure, with the potential to touch many.
    I don’t know if I’ll ever be a published author like Anne Bishop, or Freda Warrington, or Sara Douglass or Traci Harding. I thought of that, which is why I’m pushing through a law degree and a psychology degree, which is why I’m working two jobs and working hard to make a name in the legal field. But my dream is always there. I’m always working towards it, in whatever spare time I manage to find. It’s what makes me smile, what gives me pleasure, what allows me to escape the reality of long hours and work. And that’s why I write. That’s why I want to publish, so that my words can give that pleasure to another, so that the worlds that are created in my mind can bring a smile to someone else. One day I will see that dream into reality.
    If it means enough to you, the stream of rejections, denials, refusals won’t keep you down for long. You can create your own reality, it just takes a lot of hard work, and dedication.

    • Re: Impatience never commanded success
      I think writers, people, who give up on their dreams couldn’t have possibly really wanted it that much.
      That might be true for some of them. *However*, there are other reasons to give up on your dreams, _good_ reasons, and just because I have the ability (mental, fiscal) to pursue mine does not mean I have a right to condemn those that don’t.
      Sometimes your dreams are not good for you. Sometimes a dream becomes obsessive, and sometimes the sacrifices are too high. When you’re part of a social network – parent, partner, carer – other priorities, or others’ priorities might be more important, more fulfilling, or simply more necessary. That doesn’t mean that the person giving up (or scaling down considerably) doesn’t want it, just that it isn’t practical or possible.
      I’m a classical dressage enthusiast. I own a horse who through a combination of issues is not suited to the kind of intense training regimen I would like to do. I have chosen to keep my horse, who mostly stands in a field eating, instead of pursueing my dream to become a better rider. That does not mean that the dream does not burn brightly; that I am not serious about riding, that I have no ambitions. It only means that trying to fulfill my ambitions would be bad for my horse. I have taken on that responsibility, and I take it seriously, and it is more important to me than my on gratification.
      I can easily see writers do the same.

      • Re: Impatience never commanded success
        Yep. I gave up a very lucrative career because it was destroying me. Others were taking care of my kids, I was ill, stressed out, and I just wasn’t happy. It had been a lifelong dream, one that took me more than a decade to master. Did I quit? I suppose you could say that. Were the things I learned and the experiences I had thrown away? Not at all.
        If it came to pass that being published took me past where I’m willing to go as a person in terms of time, energy and family, I would give it up. I don’t know if I would ever stop writing, though, although I am constantly evaluating why I write, making sure it’s for good, healthy reasons. Writing or doing anything else to find validation as a person isn’t particularly healthy, IMO.

      • Re: Impatience never commanded success
        Green Knight
        When I wrote that message I was not talking about people who have a good reason to leave their dreams. Dreams change, *people* change, and I know that well enough. I wasn’t trying to say that people who leave their dreams for good reasons, such as your horse being unfit, have no ambitions or no real wish to pursue their dreams. I’m talking about people who have that drive, who have that burn, and are half way to completing a dream, with nothing except a few rejections stopping them, and then they give up.
        The reason it might have come out a little strongly, is that I’ve been dealing with a lot of people who are “just giving up” in my professional and personal life, and the thread kinda hit a note.
        I’m not judging writers who give up, even if it might have sounded like that, what I’m saying is, that more and more people are just giving up when things get a little hard (and I’m not factoring extenuating circumstances in that equation). Sure sometimes if you just really suck, you should find something that your better at, and I’m not saying that you should stick to a situation which is unhealthy either. I’m just talking about the small percentage of talented people who have the right circumstances but who seem to have taken too many hits to stand up again, even if they still have the heart for their goal. Things in life happen for a reason.
        Good luck with your dreams.

  16. I’ve also been posting on a number of Myspace writing groups, telling people about writer-beware, preditors and editors and so on.
    You have no idea just how many people think all authors pay for publication. The number of people who’ve asked me how much it cost, or how long I had to save up, is incredible. They’re just ripe for scamming.
    I was at a gathering the other night and this charming older lady found out I’d been published. She then told me her daughter wanted to write a book and get it published but had decided against it because she had a couple of kids & there was a mortgage to pay. Yeah, I said, that can take up a fair bit of time. Turns out she meant her daughter had decided she couldn’t AFFORD to get published! I set her straight, but that’s just one example of many.

  17. A love for writing
    WRITING for people is a lot of things. For some it’s a vocation, for others it’s a way of paying off bills and still others it’s a way to achieve their dream of fame, fortune and recognition from peers. It’s a way to make your mark in the world.
    A writer may experience rejection several times in his or her career and finally hit the big time long after he or she had given up and turned to a less fulfilling, but more profitable job or enterprise. That writer may even get the fame or fortune he or she had been craving for long after he or she had passed away, which can be sad and cruel.
    What could probably fuel the writer to go on past the rejections and putdowns is a love for writing in much the same way that he or she loves a family or a job. That may be the antidote to giving up on writing.
    Bailey Dorminc

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