Thursday, April 14, 2011

On hope, bad advice, and positions that cramp your thighs

Yesterday morning, I had a call from one of my critique partners.

“I’m stuck,” she said.

“You’ve got your ankles behind your head again?”

I could almost hear the eye roll. “Do you ever stop being a pervert?”

“Tell me you didn’t just ask that.”

“Right,” she said. “Whatever, I’m stuck on these edits and I just can’t seem to make anything work.”

I felt her pain instantly, which isn’t terribly unlike getting your ankles stuck behind your head. You want to get free, but you can’t find a way to do that, so you’re sitting there with a cramp in your thigh and an overwhelming fear things will never function properly again.

So I offered her the worst advice I could think of.

“You should quit.”

“What?”

“Quit,” I said. “Set the book aside and start a new one. You can always come back to this one later. Or hell, don’t come back to it. You don’t even have to start a new one, right?”

She was quiet for a long time. Such a long time, I started to worry she was really attempting ankle thing.

“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t be that person who starts writing and gives up.”

I should note that this is my critique partner who isn’t published or agented yet. It’s a distinction that’s almost not worth mentioning because she’s an incredible writer – better in tons of ways than I am, and better than plenty of published authors I know.

But publication is her ultimate goal, and she wants it badly.

Badly enough that she won’t quit, not even if she hates her manuscript, or she can’t dig her way out of a plot hole with a backhoe, or she wants to scream from the thigh cramps.

Someone a whole lot wiser than me once said, “the only difference between a published author and an unpublished one is that the published one didn’t give up.”

I believe that with every fiber of my being.

An hour after I hung up the phone with my critique partner, she sent me an email. Her message was so insightful, so lovely, that I asked if I could share it here. She refused, so I beat her with an empty wine bottle until she relented.

Here’s what she wrote:

Why I write
Shared with permission from Linda Brundage
First of all, thank you for letting me be where I was at today. For saying it is “okay” to not keep writing this book. Somehow, it was what I needed, to be free to actually consider it. I suppose it had the reverse effect in that suddenly in my mind I was thinking of all the reasons why I write. All the reasons why I cannot stop. (At least not today.) The most important of all is because I like myself a lot when I am being creative, when I am writing. I love words and the ideas that come from stringing words together. It is a challenging, rewarding and ultimately a magical process. I like the feeling of hope that comes from writing (the idea that yes, I can get published.) Without hope, I am lost.

***

I couldn’t possibly have said it better myself (which is why I’m certain we’ll eventually see her name in a bookstore – not just on a wanted poster in the lobby, but on an actual book).

And even though she and I are at different points in our writing careers, those words apply to me, too. I know I’ll encounter plenty of new stumbling blocks as I go along. Bad reviews, bad sales, bad hair days. The hope that things will get better is precisely what will keep me going.

Well, that and a fervent desire to make obscene hand gestures at anyone who doubted my ability to succeed.

Have you ever considered quitting when it comes to writing or any other pursuit that means something to you? What made you keep going? Please share!

I’ll be limbering up for my next attempt at the ankle thing.

20 comments :

Sarah said...

I think about quitting every day and every day I channel my inner Scarlett and decide to think about it 'tomorrow'. Then I'm free to write today because I know I can stop 'anytime I want to'.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

There was a time when I considered giving up on Discovery at Rosehill but I carried on with it and eventually published it. I wanted to have it traditionally published like most other people do, but I wasn't prepared to wait another year or two to see it "out there". I realised in the end, that I could never have given up on it. And I love the motto, the only difference between a published writer and an unpublished one.... it speaks volumes especially for someone who has self-published.

I think sometimes we have to take a step back for a while and ask ourselves why we want to write and publish the book so badly. Most writers are passionate about their writing and it's something they couldn't give up on even if they tried.

CJ xx

Sarah W said...

If twice makes a routine, this is what I do:

I pull out my Good Things folder and read the encouraging comments and notes from people who have read some of my stuff over the years.

And then I e-mail my First Reader and brood (and watch Torchwood, because it's prime angst material) until she can write back to tell me that I can, too, and get off the stick, girl.

So I give it another go, just to prove her wrong, but that's apparently not possible, so here I am.

Linda G. said...

Fantastic post. This says it all:

“[T]he only difference between a published author and an unpublished one is that the published one didn’t give up.”

Persistence pays. :)

And if anyone dares give you a bad review, I'll toilet paper the jerk's house.

LynnRush said...

LOVE this post! Great insight and great advice! It's so difficult to stay motivated sometimes, especially in the face of rejection or writer's block.

I've never really considered quitting. I think I'd go mad if I didn't get the stories out of my head.

That's why I keep writing. :)

B. WHITTINGTON said...

Loved this post. Such good advice, that old reverse psychology!
I plan to use this on my critique partner.
And when I again struggle with writing which will be the next time I sit down to do it, I plan to put my legs around my head first to see that there is something harder than writing.
Blessings, Barb

Charissa said...

Love this, Tawna. We all go through those days when we doubt our writing and I love seeing writers like Linda persevere. Her love of writing and her perseverence will encourage others to keep pushing. It's a chain reaction. And...Everything is difficult before it becomes easy.
Best of Luck to Linda... :)

Teri Anne Stanley said...

I think that knowing that I don't HAVE to do this writing thing helps. I quit my job once to pursue a career in art, at which point my muse immediately fled. I went back to a "real" job and immediately started getting a million great ideas and the will to work on them.

I know that getting published takes some serious discipline, and I dont' discount that--but for me, knowing that this is a "sideline" keeps me moving more than anything!

Shain Brown said...

There was a time when I considered ending my writing and actually did it, though it didn't last. Writing was never the reason I left. It was life, just everything pushing so hard I felt I had to turn my back on my writing.

Even to this day I appreciate it, because had I not turned away from I would never understand how important it is to me, and most of all how much I need it.

Danica Avet said...

I've thought about quitting several times; usually when I'm stuck on a scene or feeling adrift from my manuscript (you know, like an out of body experience where you're disconnected from it). But I hate giving up on anything; this is why I don't gamble very often. I hate admitting defeat. I will hold out until I'm either broke (hence no gambling) or I win the jackpot.

But the advice you gave your CP is good because if I even consider quitting, my competitive nature rears its head and balks at the thought. It's like my brain needs the nudge to come out swinging.

Sierra said...

I didn't quit, but I took a break. I'm still on that break, actually. And I hate it. School has become overwhelming, I'm struggling with even writing the papers I need to, and I had to find something to remove from my life for a while so that I could have time to breathe and not have a nervous breakdown.

I'm telling myself that it's the right choice, that I wasn't getting anywhere anyway. My brain is so fried that my creativity is gone. I couldn't even think of what was happening in my story beyond the opening scene. I started to get depressed over the fact that I couldn't think of a name for the heroine. I fixated on the minutia so much that I lost the plot. But still...I felt like a failure for taking a break to focus on school and staying out of the local mental hospital.

This post has helped a lot with that for some reason. I know that I haven't quit, that it's something I will be going back to. I even have a date planned. And this time away will help me. But I don't want to be that writer who quit, so I know that this is only a pause.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Writing has always been a part of me, so I don't think it's something I'd ever give up voluntarily. But up until the past couple of years, it's also been something I've done purely as a service, meaning organizations and causes benefited from my efforts, but little or no money ever crossed my palms. Now that I'm writing fiction for my own pleasure, with the intended goal of eventual publication, there are times I consider throwing in the towel, purely because of my age. But what the heck. I'm not interested in spending my "golden years" sitting in a rocking chair, watching the grass grow. Might as well spend them in front of the computer, right?

N.M. Martinez said...

What beautiful words from Linda. You know, I like myself most when I'm being creative too. I've never thought about it that way, but it's true.

Now I am writing, seriously, intending to finish a novel that started out as a short story. And I want to quit all the time. I keep thinking that I just can't do it and I won't be able to hoodwink anyone into wanting to read this piece of junk.

But I do like myself better when I create. So even though I honestly sit at my desk holding my head in my hands sometimes, I can't help going back in. And since I can't help going back in, well I might as well keep going and see what happens.

Also, I post some stories online. I don't advertise them, so people usually find me through word of mouth and links from other blogs. I have met some really nice and interesting people. The comments they leave on my stupid little tossed up stories really inspires me to keep going. When I start doing the head holding think, I remember all those other people I've hoodwinked who do seem to be enjoying it, and that helps me get excited enough to continue.

Kristina said...

Liking yourself more when you are being creative is a good thing to recognize...I had that epiphany a while back as well. Writing gets the words out and all the reasons the words (and voices) are in my head in the first place. You and your CPs are awesome!

Allie Sanders said...

I gave up writing for a long time because everyone told me I wouldn't be able to make it as a writer. I stopped writing because everything I started I couldn't finish. Turns out I was writing the wrong stuff. I may love to read paranormal romance but it doesn't mean I can write it. Sometimes you have to just step away until you can find the style and voice that work for you. I'm still aspiring at the moment but now that I know what I can do and stopped listening to the bad advice from others I know that I'll end up on the bookshelves one day.

Judy, Judy, Judy said...

I just recently gave up on the novel I've been revising. Not forever but for now it is the right thing to do because I have it too tangled up in my head.
I also gave up on being published, for now. Again, not forever just until some angst clears from my brain.
I decided instead to give myself a different challenge. Inspired by a character in an Amanda Quick novel, I'm going to write a serial novel on my blog. It feels fun. And I need writing to be fun for a while, again.

The Mad Hatter said...

The character who was giving me the worst freaking headache because he wanted out. I tell most of the story about how I finally got most of the problems ironed out in this blog post, which is partly a thank you to Shirley Meier, who rather than telling me what I was doing wrong, asked me a lot of questions, forcing me to think of the answers for myself.

Thanks again Shirley!

http://madhatter.ca/2011/04/10/fantasy-versus-reality/

Wayne

Christina Fifield-Winn said...

Sounds like you two could teach yoga if the writing/public relations thing doesn't work out! I've never considered quitting, just showering more often. Not because my hygiene is not what it should be, but because that's where I do my best thinking. Whenever I'm stuck, I lather up and my muses whisper in my ear. Sounds like a sexy scene from an R rated movie, and depending on the story I'm writing at the time, I guess it could be...case in point...KAFE CASTRO. Anyhow, thanks for the reminder that there is such a love for the written word out there. It comes from the author's heart and hopefully infects the reader.

Christine said...

I love this post and I love your relationship with your CP. I feel that way about my CPs as well. They are such talented writers that I believe in my heart that they will be published one day. Me, too. If we don't give up. Why do we write? Because it is like breathing to us.

Matthew MacNish said...

What a wonderful friend you are Tawna, and you're right, the only difference is giving up. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.