Have you ever tried to quit writing? Promised everyone near and far that you were no longer going to keep being the schmuck who pounds the keyboard, willingly and knowingly sending out queries and synopses and manuscripts to those who will, for the most part, reject them?
How long did you last?
I’ve never been able to quit for more than six hours. This doesn’t mean that I’m writing every six hours – I don’t even know what that would look like. It does mean though, that my attempts to quit are usually stifled by that tickle of an idea in the back of my mind of how I can improve what I’ve written, of a character I could craft, of the way I’d describe a setting. And then – BAM! – I’m writing again, even if it isn’t producing words.
Why do I keep doing this to myself? (Not a rhetorical question)
It’s not because I’m crazy. (I mean, I AM, a little bit, but everyone is, right? RIGHT?!?)
It’s not because I don’t have anything else to do. (I work full-time, have a husband & three kids. I’m never bored)
It’s not because I’m such a success at everything in my life that I can’t help but stretch to find one little thing that will allow me to be humble. (Life has provided ample opportunities for humility, thank you very much)
Turns out the reason I keep trying to do this is because it is what I LIKE to do. No, really.
In Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, he states
“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
This means that we enjoy struggling, that we embrace complicated things, that our ability to negotiate difficult things FEELS GOOD.
Do you know what this means?
This means that if you ever do figure out how to write books like the wind, have characters that manifest themselves to you the first time you imagine them, have plots that have perfect pacing and everything else your critique partners, readers, agents and editors point out every single time you are writing, YOU’LL BE UNHAPPY.
What’s a writer to do?
Well, you have two choices. Write what will make you miserable or feel miserable (off and on) while writing.
Hopefully you didn’t just quit again. If so come back and read the rest in a few hours.
If you’re stubborn like me, here’s what you do.
You show up. EVERY. BLEEPIN’. DAY.
I don’t always like to show up. Sometimes I want to sit on my couch and binge watch New Girl or Madam Secretary and eat crap and pretend I’m happy. But I get restless, this urging to create great work, and the speed with which I can put away OREO Thins is not great work.
The last time I almost quit was a few weeks ago. I was rewriting a chapter and it was painful work that I trudged through and slogged through, slowly typing a measly article then a noun, and debating over entirely too many verbs. Netflix was looking really REALLY good.
But then I remembered my favorite TED talk. It is Elizabeth Gilbert sharing her thoughts and feelings on being the person who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and had it accidentally become an international bestseller. In Your Elusive Creative Genius, Liz shares the process of several people, the way they didn’t lose their mind in pursuit of creative greatness, and how we too can create work that is fulfilling and satisfying, despite the struggle.
I remembered that there were times in my process when I have laughed and cried and clapped and threw my arms in the air when I had completed a difficult scene, finally figured out the voice of the characters, finished whatever version of a manuscript I have been working on. I have reflected on the struggle, felt a little flicker of pride for what I’ve been able to get done. If you are reading this, chances are pretty high you’ve felt this too, even a little. Everything that you’ve trudged through, the times when you pull your hair, put it up, take it down, remove glasses, rub eyes finally comes together and you have a little victory dance.
And then, in that moment, you feel
How do you work through the struggle of writing? What do you do to celebrate even the smallest of victories?
* * * *
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears.
She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women's Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine (Write On!), where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.
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Tasha, I have to say, I think you're a *tiny* bit crazier than most. That was a disclaimer. But I digress...
BUT you can write a great blog! This came at such a good time for me. I thought when I won a RITA that it would be the tulip seeds I'd plant to skip through later.
*excuse me while I laugh hysterically for 5 minutes*
Okay, I'm back. I've been trying to cross over into WF for a couple of years now, and yesterday received my latest rejection. For the rewritten proposal. That was originally rejected last year.
Sorry, still in the bitter stage. But your blog helped, and I'll pull myself from my sea of self-pity by this afternoon.
When I start writing the next book.
I mean, if I'm going to be unhappy 98% of the time anyway, I might as well amuse myself, right? Cuz I really do love putting pretty words on a page...
Man, we're sick puppies...
I know I'm crazier than most, but as a fellow person who keeps saying yes, I think you know I am because you're right beside me 🙂
Rejections are super dooper hard. I did a huge revision on my book, sent it to my agent, and she came back with things that required ANOTHER revision. And patience is not a characteristic that I hold to well.
But nailing a just right sentence? Totally keeps me going.
Dead on - right down to sitting next to you on the weirdo bench...
The *tiny* bit crazier that Laura called you on can only be because of the OREO Thins comment. Come on ... that's just WRONG! Double stuff, baby! Double stuff!!
I realized the other day that I'd forgotten how to celebrate the victories. I've been pushing, pushing and not taking the time to enjoy the trip. Thanks for the reminder.
Now I'm off to buy Oreos. Won't be thanking you for that. 😉
Double stuff is the only way to go! I SO miss Oreos. None of the gluten free options offer double stuff.
I hate the cream. And the cookie distribution per package is way in my favor with Thins.
I love this, and I'm pretty sure every writer who reads it is now screaming "yes, yes, YESSSSS" as they run back to their keyboards. But you hit it on the head -- that need to create and the wonderful, amazing feeling when you finally get it right. That moment is worth all the others we spend beating our heads against the wall.
Thank you so much. As tends to be the case for most of my blog posts, I write about what I need to remember 😉
You hit the nail on my big toe (we aren't supposed to use cliche's, right? So I went with something different.) 😉 Every writer feels this way. Okay, maybe not Jodi Picoult. I'm already at the breathing-into-a-paper-bag hysteria at the idea of working on major edits for my book over the holiday season while we have roughly thirty people at our house.
Soooo, how much easier would our lives be if we didn't write?
Our family would probably like us better. We'd be able to go do fun things with our friends, read more books, and not freak out about standing in front of people and talking or worrying that nobody will buy our baby.
I curl (as in the sport of curling) with Liz Gilbert's uncle, and we've talked about her amazing success. "None of us, including her, can believe how EAT, PRAY, LOVE changed her life!" He has said. Well, I'm pretty sure I won't have to worry about any life-changing book in my future.
But for me, I wouldn't feel the satisfaction I get from writing and wouldn't fulfill that NEED to write. And as long as I remind myself that I'm writing for myself, I hope to celebrate any small successes along the way. With chocolate chip cookies instead of Oreos. 🙂
I love that you curl. And avoid cliches. But mostly, I love that you understand that in a world where we are often expected to give and give, you are taking time to write for you.
I don't judge people because of their cookie choice 🙂
It's always nice to know you're not the only one who has these thoughts 🙂 Thank you!
Oh, so many people. Thanks for commenting!
You say it so well, Tasha. I feel so guilty when I spend more than a day away from my writing desk. And I am so happy when I get past a rough patch where my writing seems to suck so bad I just know I'm in the wrong business.
Oh, writers guilt is horrid.
Well done, Tasha. Thanks for the pep talk! Heading to the pantry for a few Oreo thins to jump-start my brain. I promise I won't quit. Today. :>)
I just saw they have mint Oreo Thins. I need to stock them for the next time I think about quitting. Good luck with your writing!
I quit writing before I hit 21, although up till then it was all I ever aspired to do. I lost my confidence in being able to "get it right" when I was writing. I began assuming I wasn't talented enough. Plus life intervened big. Married early, had kids, had to work long hours to support my family. Over thirty years later - and now more mature and confidant in myself - I realized something was missing in my life. So I took up writing again.
It is easier now. I no longer need an industrial-sized trash bin to accept all the crumpled up typewritten sheets I threw out in re-writes. But more importantly, I've learned that writing is work, and the more one studies and practices, the better skilled they become.
Pure talent is wonderful, but as I've learned from participating in writers groups, it still doesn't replace work. My new worldview is that there is an incredible number of wonderfully talented writers out there, who will never finish their stories, publish, or even try. This is especially sad when it is a young talent who could have years of honing their craft and spreading their light. Respecting that it is work, and recognizing that there is much value in studying and developing one's skills - when you know you've given your best - these are what will ultimately give the dedicated writer satisfaction.
I'm not sure how much talent I had back then. I think I had at least a little (or maybe not), but I know now it's the effort I put into my "work" that will ultimately determine whether I become a good writer, or even a successful one.
"But more importantly, I’ve learned that writing is work, and the more one studies and practices, the better skilled they become." I love this sentiment. And I'm so happy that you have come back to writing. Life can definitely throw curve balls for what we think we want to do, but it sounds like you are still swinging, which is amazing. Good luck!
Thanks, Tasha. And I forgot to say I liked your article. BTW, Oreos are a guilty pleasure at our house. Just need milk to go with them.
I needed this so much. 1st round edits on my 7th book are due tomorrow and I'm freaking out because sales for this series ( and all my books lately) have been dismal. I d not have a contract after this book. Part of me wants to give up. I have a part time job I enjoy but sometimes I think I need to quit both jobs and get a full time 9-5 real money-making career.
Then I look at what's available and think about the commute and I know I would be inundated with stories that would keep me up nights.
If I'm going to be sitting in front of a computer all day it might as well be my own, telling my stories.
It is super tricky knowing what the right balance is. And as someone who doesn't have any book contracts yet, I can say with all honesty that even if I didn't sell a book, I'd keep writing. It sounds like you are in the same boat. Good luck with your future books and your quest to find the balance of happy!
I wrote secretly for five years (at least) before I made the decision to pursue writing seriously. I really hoped to be at a point by now where I could at least consider doing it full time. Not there yet. But when I do think about quitting I realize I would always wonder "what if my next book would have been the one?" I almost shelved what ended up my debut novel. Instead I sent it out one last time so didn't have that regret later. So maybe book 6 will surprise me. Or book 7, or 8.
All very interesting - seems we're destined to crawl towards our creative goals, sweating and sore, torn by words and slashed with ideas. It's a hard life!
It is definitely a hard life. But it is also a really satisfying life. I'm not sure if there is another way. Good luck with the crawl!
Great blog, Tasha. I give up every so often, most often when I've just given birth to a new novel from the sheer exhaustion of getting through it. Most times, I'm ready to jump right into a new project, but when I'm not, I give myself a break. I know it will only be a couple of weeks before my fingers get itchy again...
I think this is key for sanity and happiness as well. Even soldiers took time after a victorious but hard battle to sit back and reflect for a while.
Ha! Thanks, Tasha.
My husband raises his eyebrows whenever I pause a program like Madam Secretary and say, "If I were writing this, I'd make [insert event] happen next." Writer mode never switches off.
Kathy, that scene you just replayed: Brilliant. (I thought I was the only one who did that.)
Problem is, I'm right more often than not, and it p*sses him off, because I spoil the suspense. 😉
Because I love my husband, there are some shows I don't watch with him for this reason.
Movies! So predictable! I so irritate Alpha Dog with my, 'Oh yeah. A motorcycle crashing through a window, flying across a 100' gap and crashing through another window? (with the hero in control the whole time, of course) That's gonna happen.'
If we wrote that, we'd be laughed off the planet!
Tasha, everyone above said this better. But when I have doubts about continuing, I think of something Kenny Moore wrote in Sports Illustrated about running he marathon. (He finished 4th in the Munich Olympics marathon.) He said, and I'm paraphrasing, Without pain to force meaning on the struggle, what is the purpose of the struggle? As a writing teacher used to tell me: Seek pain. (I know, yikes.)
I was in high school when the Olympics were in Spain and had a shirt that said "No Pain, No Spain." I've rarely celebrated and accomplishment when it came easy to me.
So true that a hard fought win is more satisfying. Even for our characters...we have to make them fight or the story is boring. Thanks for the awesome post, Tasha. And BTW, totally agree with the "thins". Mint, all the way, baby!
Tasha, like you, I've be bewildered about why I sit my butt in the seat day after day when I'm almost certain that what I write is going to be dreadful. Yes, I love to write. I want to beat the challenge of writing something someone is going to love to read. Without it, life is humdrum.
Nice piece, Tasha. A quote from George Orwell comes to mind: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon which one can neither resist nor understand.“
Yet NOT writing can be even more painful, as Kafka pointed out: "A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity."
Seemingly paradoxical quotes, but not really. I tackled this in a recent blog post of my own. http://greglevin.com/scrawl-space-blog/the-agony-of-not-writing
Hope you'll give it a read. And thanks again for your frank and compelling post.
YES! To everything you've said.
[…] those moments of crippling self-doubt and wanting to give up, pass eventually. I read on the Writer’s in the Storm blog that I’m not the only crazy one having ambivalent feelings towards this thing called writing. […]
Tasha, I agree that it's the creation that's addictive and makes quitting impossible. Bringing to life a cast of characters is the way I express myself and my views on the world. It's my way of contributing to our collective conversation, the way I learn when I read a great book.