Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 27, 2019

When Giving Up Is Not an Option

Leslie Marshman

Life is unpredictable. For writers, its capriciousness can be especially difficult because it influences not only our ability, but also our desire, to create. More than one writer reading this has at some point wanted to quit writing for good.

Maybe it was years ago. Maybe last week. Maybe this morning when you decided to read this blog rather than admit you’re just not feeling it when it comes to putting words on paper. I know where you’re coming from, and it sucks, right? But I also know the joy of stick-to-it-iveness, the success that can be achieved if you roll with the punches rather than giving up permanently.

Becoming an Author

I’ve written my entire life, as I’m sure most of you have. But when I got serious about writing a novel, I was determined to learn everything I could about the craft. I joined Romance Writers of America and began going to local chapter meetings. I took online classes. I bought craft books. I didn’t just read novels — I studied them.

My plan was to become a published author, and when my husband retired I would quit my day job and write as we camped our way across the country in our fifth wheel RV. I had it all figured out.

I pitched my first book to an editor at the RWA National conference several years ago. She requested the partial. I submitted it. She requested the full. I panicked. I got a bad case of the “be careful what you wish for” nerves.

I’d been told that once you sell a book, you better enjoy what you’re writing because your readers will want more of the same. I wasn’t sure I wanted to write that genre forever. A battle between fear of failure and fear of success raged within me and I froze. But I wasn’t quitting. I still called myself a writer. I’d figure it out, because I was determined to submit that book.

While I struggled with the requested book’s genre, I decided to write short stories for magazines like True Confessions. I wrote four, submitted four, sold four. The pay was paltry and there was no byline, but my confidence grew.

However, if I was going to spend my time writing, it was going to be a novel. And by God, my name was going to be on it. My mojo returned. Once again, I attacked the book, determined that nothing would stop me from getting it published.

My Unpredictable Life

My determination couldn’t hold a candle to what life had in store. Both my husband and father were diagnosed with cancer. I bounced between Houston and Denver, taking care of my parents, their affairs, and my husband while he underwent five continuous years of chemo. First my dad passed away, then my mom, and then, my dear husband.

Throughout that five-year period, my writing took a backseat to grief. I was emotionally bankrupt, physically drained, and though many writers can, I can’t channel my pain onto the page.

I’d been newsletter editor for the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter for years, and I couldn’t even bring myself to continue my monthly column. But I still went to chapter meetings whenever possible. I kept in touch with my writer friends. I continued to read craft books and study novels. I never stopped calling myself a writer. I just didn’t write.

Finding My Way Back

The first six months after my husband died were lost to crying and wallowing in grief. And then one day, I got the itch to write. I wasn’t ready to deal with the book yet, so I decided to take baby steps. I wrote an Editor’s Corner article for the newsletter, posted it to my website blog for accountability, and vowed to never miss another month.

Next, I wrote a short story and submitted it to Woman’s World Magazine. The competition was fierce, but at least they paid well and had bylines. It wasn’t accepted, but my creative juices were finally flowing. I’d dipped my toe into the ocean and felt the pull of the tide. I had to write.

So I pulled out the damn book, decided to change genres, and started over. Life’s too short to not write what you love. I saved the setting, a few of the characters, and brainstormed a whole new suspense plot.

Around the same time, a new chaptermate asked me to critique with her. To me, critique partners were to writing what a league was to bowling. They sucked all the fun out of it because you had to show up whether you wanted to or not. But I agreed to give it a try.

I soon found that being accountable to someone other than myself was everything I needed. Instead of just calling myself a writer, I was a writer. Every damn day. Within a year, my critique partner and I finished our books, entered contests, and finaled in the Golden Heart. We signed with agents.

And that book I was determined to publish for so many years? It’s being released this September through Tule Publishing’s mystery line. Because I. Never. Gave. Up.

What You Can Learn from My Story

Life is going to knock us down and kick us where it hurts the most. I’m in awe of those who can write through hard times without missing a beat. But for the rest of us, the important thing is to never wave the white flag.

Take a break if you need to, but hang on to your passion, even if it’s by the thinnest of threads. Continue to call yourself a writer. The day will come when you’ll resume the pursuit of your dream, even if that dream’s shape isn’t what you first imagined.

Instead of writing while gallivanting cross-country on six-month adventures with my husband, I’m writing in my home office or on my screened-in patio. It isn’t what I thought it would be. The important thing is that it is.

It’s bittersweet that my first book is about to be published and my husband and parents, who always believed in my talent and encouraged me to write, aren’t here to share my success. But I celebrate every step of my writing journey, big and small, with my ride-or-die critique partner and my friends.  

And really, what’s the alternative? Not writing? Not an option. I never gave up. I never quit calling myself a writer. And now I can call myself an author.

And who knows…maybe, just maybe, they have books in heaven.

Have you ever wanted to quit writing when life tossed you a curve ball? How did you avoid throwing in the towel permanently?

Multi-award-winning suspense author Leslie Marshman is (finally) putting her psychology degree to good use, getting inside the heads of her characters and figuring out what makes them tick. She writes novels that feature kick-ass heroines, the heroes who love them, and the bad guys who fear them. Leslie called Denver home until she married a Texan without reading the fine print. Now she lives halfway between Houston and Galveston and has learned to embrace the humidity.

Goode Over Evil, a 2018 Golden Heart finalist, will be published September 18 through Tule Publishing. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Facebook.

55 comments on “When Giving Up Is Not an Option”

  1. I loved this post! It can be SO HARD to keep going when you're dealt unparalleled life changes that change your trajectory. I desperately want to do what you did, but have in recent times been through domestic violence, job changes, personal health scares, and the trials that come from just getting by. Thank you for your inspiration.

    1. Julie, I'm sorry to hear about the horrific things you've been going through. And trying to "put the emotions on the page" doesn't work if those emotions are already overwhelming you. You'll know when the time is right to start writing again. And it can be done in baby steps. If you've survived and escaped domestic violence, you have the strength to do whatever you want.

  2. Glad you never gave up despite the circumstances. Your parents and husband would be happy and proud of you going on to achieve your dream - maybe in a slightly different way - but you kept rolling. I never wanted to give up, but had to adapt when my daughter went through health struggles. I would write in doctor's office waiting rooms, and patient rooms, and even a few time when we ended up in the ER. It helped me focus on something beyond her struggles and not being able to make her better.

    1. Writing during times of adversity is a great way to distract yourself, even if only for a few minutes at a time. I tried, but couldn't do it. I admire writers who can. I hope your daughter is past her health struggles and doing well now, Tracy.

  3. "Never give up, never surrender." Galaxyquest - a much better movie than many people assume (Tim Allen is VERY good).

    The kids and I quote it at each other.

    Quitting has never been an option, but I'm having a bit of trouble with the writing part after a year of instability having to do with moving to California from NJ, giving away 90% of our 'stuff', and getting used to a retirement community with a LOT of social life built in.

    So many interruptions have lost me any progress for that day, and just picking up the threads of things I hadn't looked at in over a year has been daunting - it's a good thing I keep incredibly detailed notes.

    But I thought it would be easier. For me, a major part of the move was so I wouldn't have the distraction of a house - and writing could happen every day. And a whole bunch of new people, here, have read the first book of my mainstream literary trilogy - and ask me when the next book will be ready when they run into me in the halls.

    I keep looking for 'the key.' For something to suddenly restore everything (there were two computer crashes during the move) so that I can go forward with ease.

    There isn't one.

    I have to get my brain functioning every morning, sit in the chair, and figure out whether a few words might come.

    I've asked myself many a time during this disruption whether I shouldn't just give up - the first volume is on Amazon; ergo - I'm 'published.'

    I've done what so many people say they want to do: write a book.

    I like it very much. I know how the whole thing ends - do I have to actually write it? Should I quit while I'm ahead?

    And what if the next one isn't as good? What if I disappoint the waiting tiny horde?

    No slam dunks. Just butt in chair.

    "Never give up, never surrender."

    1. Life does get in the way sometimes, whether with tragedies or too much fun stuff. It sounds like you don't really want to quit writing, Alicia. Maybe you just need to develop new writing habits that work with your new life. I've had to do that - saying 'no' to lunch invitations so I can write the next scene, finding the time of day when my brain is sharpest. I hope to see your books 2 and 3 on Amazon soon.

      1. Thanks. Me, too!

        I've been living in the 'fight or flight' mode for so long, I've almost forgotten what it's like to be able to order your own time - but if I don't, what's the point of the whole move?

        There were glimmerings over the last week, as I realized things were harder than usual because a lot of the background had dropped out of my head.

        I think I'll be fine, now that I've started seriously thinking about what I want to do instead of what I have to do - the system is 'block the internet, and get to work.'

          1. The internet rabbit holes don't get me so much as the sites I regularly visit and occasionally contribute to, to which I don't wish to become a stranger.

            It seems that content I'm interested in is becoming rarer, something fine by my lights.

            I like sites where there are actual threads, initiated by the owner/blogger, and the original posts serve as triggers for thought and discussion. I leave a comment if I had something to add or a question.

            It all takes time, but also makes friends. For me, before our move to a retirement community, the online friends were crucial for sanity. Even here, where there are 340 people in one building, there are no other writers of fiction!

            Fortunately, there are readers.

  4. Oh, Leslie, this is such a beautifully written blog. You are such a gifted writer. So glad you never gave up. You’re a huge inspiration.

  5. I began with the usual writing problems. I didn't take myself seriously and couldn't finish a single story I started after high school. That changed in the 90s when I returned to school and earned my college degree. While in school, and partly because of the encouragement I received there, the itch became passion. After graduation I set to work constructing a fantasy world and writing. Over the next five years I wrote three novels. They weren't great, but I'd turned my writing life around, or so I thought.

    A nervous breakdown in '04. A divorce in '06. Major surgery in '08. A devastating illness in '09 that would color the next decade. Medical bills that wiped me out despite insurance. A relapse in '12. Relocating in '14.

    I came out of it all with the passion to write stronger than ever. In 2015 I started reworking the fantasy world and my writing to reflect the new me who'd survived. Ninety minutes before it was due to begin, I committed to my first NaNaWriMo in 2015 and have never looked back. One novel and short story followed another as I became a writing cyclone. There are still times I want to quit, but always I remember when the challenges were greater than they are now.

    1. You've really had some tough times and issues to overcome. I'm glad you came through them with your passion still so strong. I've wondered occasionally what I would do if I didn't write, and I've never come up with an acceptable alternative. Congratulations on tackling NaNoWriMo! I hope your life is full of peace and joy now.

  6. I know first hand how hard it is to come back after a loss but when your passionate about something, taking a break is better than giving up.

    1. So true, Liz. Our passions can sustain us after suffering losses. We realize life is fragile, and we should be making the most of every moment, and finding joy wherever we can.

  7. Great inspirational blog, Leslie. Thank you. I did go a few years without looking at my first attempt at a novel, then dusted it off, saw a bit of good in it--and a lot of poor writing. Determined to improve it, I read several books on the craft, joined a writers group, and found critique partners. At some point throughout this, my computer died, taking with it many months of edits. After three computer experts couldn't retrieve the data, and a significant amount of berating myself, I accepted that it was gone. To make a long story short (excuse the cliche), life and doubts got in the way until I kicked myself in the butt and started again from the last saved version. I'm happy to say that book one is in the final editing stage, almost ready to be born. Tenacity pays off. (Pardon the verbosity. ? You inspired me to write this.)

    1. Thanks, Glory. I've known so many writers who've lost entire books in computer crashes, and I cringe at the thought. I've had a few Scrivener scares, and finally subscribed to a cloud backup for peace of mind.

      And I think we've all been ashamed of some of the bad writing in our first book (and even first drafts of current books). But then we're amazed when we go back and read something we wrote and think, "Wow! This is actually good." There aren't many things that feel better than that. Congratulations on sticking with it and good luck with birthing that first book! 😉

  8. Great and powerful story, Leslie. I quit writing for years after my first rejection. After I joined RWA I realized it was an encouraging rejection. How stupid can you get. My critique group also lit a fire under me. When I finally sold, I had them and all I learned in meetings and at conferences to thank for it. So glad your persistence paid off. That's what it takes.

    1. We've talked about "good" rejections before, Gerry. While some people disagree with us, there are rejections that can spur us on.

      And I know you're one of those authors who've had to write through tragic times because you didn't have the luxury of taking a break. You've taught me a lot about writing, perseverance, and rejoining the living after losing someone. Thank you.

  9. Congratulations on getting published. After dabbling for years and writing human interest stories for a local newspaper, I came back to writing romance in a serious way when my youngest moved out. Three years of writing and learning, I caught the attention of an agent who told me what skills I was still lacking. I read craft books, took classes and studied the kind of books I wanted to write. After eighteen months of hearing "Not yet." I finally got the call offering representation! Soon after that I sold. With 3 books published and 4 more scheduled, I am so grateful I didn't give up. I thought about it after each "not yet" especially when all my writer friends were getting published but I stubbornly persisted and so glad I did.

    1. It's hard to stick with it when you lose your self-confidence. But I'm glad you took each "not yet" as an opportunity to learn and improve. In a sales job I had long ago, I was told you get ten no's for every yes. When my agent was submitting my book, each time a publisher passed I said "Woohoo! One no closer to a yes!" (It helped not having to get all ten no's first, but still...) Persistence definitely pays off. Congratulations on your success, Carol!

  10. Oh Leslie, I'm so sorry.

    I have to keep going because writing is the only way to live with the damage life has left on me - inside.

    1. Thanks, Laura. I'm sorry for whatever life dumped on you. But you're definitely an inspiration. San Antonio was the only conference I made it to throughout those difficult years, and only because it was close enough to drive to. I have never forgotten your speech as a RITA winner. And your Facebook posts make me laugh every single day.

        1. Shoot, Laura. Not sure what I'd do without your daily dose of snark. Even if I'm just going to bed when you're getting up. 😉

    1. I think that's the important thing, Denise. Even if we get sidelined temporarily, eventually we get back in the game. Never let yourself give up.

  11. You’re a wonderful example of perseverance through adversity. Every author I know endures tough times. Sometimes circumstances force us to take a break, but the writing remains, like a softly shining star, to guide us back to the path when the time is right. ❤️

    1. You're right, Colleen. I know many authors who've dealt with much worse than I have, and many couldn't take a break because of deadlines.

      I love how you put it: "...but the writing remains, like a softly shining star, to guide us back to the path when the time is right." Such a writerly way to phrase it. 🙂

  12. Leslie, your story is awe inspiring. I've shared your perseverance to encourage many writer friends. You never, ever gave up. It does encourage them and me. I'm keeping this link because you say it so much better than I do. Congratulations on sticking to it. I cannot wait to read the book.

    1. Aaw, thanks, Judythe. I've never thought of myself as being inspiring. I was just doing what needed to be done. I guess being stubborn is finally paying off. 🙂

  13. Leslie, what a lovely post. Thank you for sharing your story with us, and I am SO SORRY you've had to deal with such loss.

    I just approved five comments (WOO!) so you might want to take a journey from the top of the comments section. 🙂

  14. There are many who cannot find the ability to create during times of grief. Sometimes one just needs to FEEL. And taking time to feel and not funnel those emotions into writing is A-Okay, and I'm glad you shared that.
    Whenever the muse does call, the strength of self that those acute emotions have honed, shines through in the characters you create and the emotions you evoke. No matter how fresh or old the feelings.
    Thank you for the insight.

    1. Well said, Sara. Everything we experience eventually makes it into our writing one way or another, even if we don't realize it at the time. Sometimes it takes another set of eyes to recognize ourselves in our writing.

  15. This is one of the most encouraging, heartfelt, and transparent articles I have seen in a while. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. It’s so easy to doubt and wonder and think about quitting, and for you to keep going with so much loss, amazing what God carried you through and now you get to share those blessings with other through your writing and your encouragement to all of us. Thanks.

    1. Thank you, Martha! I've been blessed to have amazing friends who encouraged me. I'm happy if this post convinces even one person to not give up completely on pursuing their dream.

  16. Amen, Leslie! After several years of life kicking my butt, I'm finally writing again. What must remain through it all is our passion for story. I'm so proud of you!! Can't wait to read the final product!

    1. Thanks, Jo Anne. You're a great example of needing to take a break, but never letting go completely. I'm so glad you're finally writing again.

  17. Having watched you through most of those years, I know what you've had to deal with and how hard you've worked. You certainly deserve the light at the end of the tunnel (and no, this time it's not an oncoming train!). Looking forward to reading the book (and reviewing it for Ann!).

    1. Thanks, Kay. Everyone in the Lunch Bunch has dealt with tough times and losses, and we just keep on keepin' on. I hope I'll get a chance to read your Jinn books soon too.

  18. I'm awed by your courage in getting back up after life stomped all over you, Leslie. Yay for you! And I can't wait to read Goode Over Evil. My black moment came after I'd written five books and everyone had rejected them. I really considered giving up. I was teaching at the time, and I'd get up at 3:00 AM to write until it was time to go to work. After work, I'd have to grade papers and try to write a little more. I thought long and hard about whether writing was worth it. Luckily, I joined a critique group. Without them, I doubt that I'd have hung in there until I met the right editor. I can attest to the power of never giving up. That next book might be the one.

    1. What makes someone quit or take a break can be the external world taking punches, rejections, self-doubt, so many different things. I (and thousands of other readers) are glad you never gave up, Nina.Your books have brought so much joy to so many. I'm anxiously awaiting your next one. 🙂

  19. Leslie, please accept my sincerest sympathy on your losses. I lost my husband to a variety of illnesses caused by Agent Orange used in Vietnam. It's been 7 years since his death but sometimes I watch a TV show or read a book and cry. We had 40 years 9 months and 11 days of marriage. I was blessed.
    I"m so glad you didn't give up. I managed to survive his death and keep going. The silly thing is in 2015 I had knee replacement surgery and ended up in a nursing home for rehab. I had written on my phone all week keeping my chain of x amount of days on a 5 year chain of not missing a day. That night my mini laptop wouldn't come on. I was already angry over being in the nursing home. I hated it and that topped it off. I was 60 miles from home and no way for anyone to bring me my regular laptop that night. I blew off those five years. But the next day when I got my laptop I went right back at it. It was New Year's Eve before I got to come home for good. Because I lived alone I had to be able to function. I blame the medication it made me want to do nothing but sleep.

    1. Kathy, I'm sorry for your loss. One week ago today would have been my 30th anniversary. I make it through that day now by remembering it could be worse - we spent our 27th anniversary setting up home hospice. I still have days where I cry, too.

      And, you didn't blow off five years of writing daily. You simply missed one day, and for very good reasons. I can't imagine the strength it took for you to write through surgery, pain and drugs. Whether it's day 1 or day 1500, it's a good day when you write.

  20. After my husband passed away almost four years ago, I clung to my critique group. If I was lucky I wrote two pages a week. Critiquing for them was the only reading I could do. I started and put down book after book after book--even my comfort books--I couldn't read anything. I have managed to get my joy of reading back in the last year. Writing has been slower, but I did finish a first draft of a book recently. It took me three years to write. Yay!

    I haven't written on my blog in over a year, and I miss it. I'm not the same person I was when I started the blog, so I'm working on ideas for changing it up for who I am now.

    I learned that what I was calling "widow brain" is a thing that happens during grief, which helped me be kinder to myself, especially when I experienced the secondary grief of being excluded from my late husband's family, after I began dating an incredible man. Sadly, Victorian attitudes toward widows still exist. I could write a book--and I might!

    Thanks for this post!

    1. Diana, I'm sorry for your loss. I went through the same thing, I couldn't even read during that first six months. I'm happy for you that you've found love again and are moving forward. It sounds like you've got a lot you could write about on your blog.

  21. What an amazing, inspiring blog. You are so courageous and your story DOES give others hope. I faced one of those wanting to give up couple of weeks through a traumatizing time, and wanted to so badly, to just throw it all in and walk away. Then I thought of the twenty years I'd put into writing my heart out, learning the craft, thousands of hours in workshops, conferences, meetings, critique groups. All this while working full time, being a single mom of a special needs child (who's still living me because of it), and struggling to survive on a daily basis. I thought of all I already sacrificed, already learned, and was nearing the pinnacle of success with my 3 rd published book, a 4th in the works and I just could not give up those years of my life and those tears I'd shed. All of it had to build something positive. So, thank you for sharing that we are not alone, that there is light in the darkness. Your journey sounds excruciating, but your life now will be joyous to the same beautiful degree. Thank you for your extraordinary words and thoughts.

    1. Thank you, Christine, for sharing your story. I'm impressed by your perseverance to attain your writing goals despite everything else you had/have going on. And what a great way to look at what we'd be giving up if we did quit. I'm going to keep that in mind in the future - I've made too much of an investment in myself to quit.

  22. Having watched some of your journey, Leslie, I'm so thrilled by the "wins" you've had lately and look forward to more. You are truly an inspiration!

    1. Thanks, Julie. I'm lucky to be part of a community of writers, both local and online, that supports, encourages and cheers for every member. Writers are amazing people.

  23. Hi, Leslie - Thanks for that kick in my pants - the pants that have NOT sat in the chair to write for so long. Life did get in the way - working a full-time job while caring for my elderly mom full-time, suffering physically from diabetes and the hard work it takes to lit a 93 year old woman from a chair. Writing existed in my head but never made it down the line to my hand that held the pen or poised over the keyboard. Five years later, my mom died, I retired early and promised myself that I would get to it. Then one of my brother's died with whom I had a fraught relationship, my beloved dog died and my diabetes is getting harder to manage and all my physical ailments seem to be magnified. Saturday is my 60th birthday and I re-joined RWA, Kiss of Death, am enrolled in two writing courses and am determined to have a "if not now, when?" attitude. Your life experience shows that even though we live through (never really through, around?) heartbreak, we can still use of creative nature. -- Linda

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