by Jenny Hansen
I've known many writers who give up before they cross the finish line -- the finish line being that place where they feel like they have the skill to tell a story and the know-how to release it to the world.
Some of them give up way before the finish line, for a variety of reasons. Maybe they find that they don't like the writing life or the process drives them bonkers. Maybe they just like keeping those stories tucked safely inside their heads. But today's post is about the writers who give up just before they cross the finish line. Those are the writers that make me want to grab their hand and give them the encouragement and resources they need to hang on a bit longer.
I hope you'll share a bit of your journey down in the comments.
Anyone who has been at the writing game for a while could list a dozen reasons to give up. Maybe two dozen. But the reason they keep going is hard to argue with: they love writing. Or, maybe they don't like the writing so much but they love telling stories. Here is a small sampling of some of the main reasons I've seen so many writers throw in the proverbial towel.
This is a tough one. When you first begin, you don't know what you don't know. You want to share your story with the world, but you don't have a concept yet of what it takes to do that.
Then you find some writer friends or some blogs like WITS or some podcasts. You participate in some challenges like NaNoWriMo, and maybe go to some writing conferences. You listen to those published authors talk about their road to publication, and are maybe a bit surprised at how long it takes.
You write some more, and learn some more writing craft. Maybe you join a critique group or start entering contests. You might start querying at this point, or looking at indie publishing. And then you start to lament that it has been weeks, months, maybe years...and you aren't nearly as far along as you thought you'd be.
And sometimes this is when people get discouraged, and they quit. This is right when you are finally ready to take off with intention. You've made the connections, learned some solid skills, and started to figure out enough about the paths to publishing to set a more reasonable timeline for your goals.
This is what I meant when I said many writers quit just before they get to where they want to be. This is the time when you need to get whatever help you need to hang on a bit longer.
I'm sure you've heard me say it before, but the writing life is not for the faint of heart. This is a profession where you will fall down. It's a profession where you will have to pick yourself up, probably many times. One of the reasons I encourage the collection of some awesome writing pals is that they will pick you up when your writerly legs can't possibly hold you up even one moment longer. Your writing pals will check on you and encourage you and commiserate with you.
And if you can't bear to reach out for help, I'm here to remind you (and myself):
We're writers. Writers persevere. Even if it's only one page at a time--hell, one sentence at a time--we keep going. We are mighty beings formed of stubbornness, creativity, and caffeine.
Perhaps you could jot down a version of that mantra above and tape it up in your writing space. When in doubt, just keep going. You've got this. You can do the hard things like a boss.
You're a creative badass. You always have more to say.
I have a very good friend who is a well-known musician. I talked to him about creativity a while back in this post. He's put out 20+ albums and always feels like he's said all he has to say. And then his manager books him some studio time and tells him to go write 15 songs. Somehow, he always does.
When I asked him his secret, he said:
"Jen, every year when it’s time to record a new album, I feel like I’ve done it already and those are all the songs I have to write."
He paused a moment and added, "Then I’ll hear my mother’s voice in my head like she’s right there talking to me: 'You said you wanted to be a musician; it was what you trained for and practiced at. It was the only thing you EVER wanted. So, get off your a$$ and write some music, and quit crying about it.'"
Sometimes, when you sit down to do the work, that beautiful song (or story, or character) will just spill onto the page. But only if you've dragged your uninspired self into your place of work to be ready to receive the gift.
The one absolute in the writing life is that things will change. Quickly and often. Publishers will merge, agencies will fail, algorithms will shift, social platforms will wane. Marketing on those platforms and managing Amazon is enough to send many writers screaming.
In last week's post, "Marketing, How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count the Ways," Piper Bayard shared her immense marketing woes. She's talented in a million ways, but technology isn't her favorite thing. She'll work long and hard to master it. Now add in that technology changes all the time? It made her crazed.
Finally, she bit the bullet and hired help because, as she explained to me, it was either that or quit the writing life.
Even without technology adding to the changing landscape, today's publishing world is vastly different from what it was five, ten, twenty years ago. It is a lot for a writer to keep up with, on top of getting their stories ready.
It is normal to hate criticism, just like it's normal to be afraid that you're a hack. It's even normal to compare yourself to others. But when you start prioritizing other people's opinions or performance over your own, it's a surefire way to ensure a bumpy writing ride. Comparisonitis, as Johnny Truant calls it, is a sure way to take a fast trip to Anxiety-ville.
Especially because many of our fears aren't real. Fae Rowen, one of our founders at WITS used "fear" as an acronym to express this concept to her logical mathematician brain:
She put that gem up where she'd see it every day to assure herself that most of her fears and worries were not real. We ALL do that -- worry about things that aren't real -- because we're so afraid that they might be true.
As hard as it is, you have to believe in your own story. You have to know with everything you have that it is valuable. If you don't believe it is worth telling, and that you are the only one who can tell it, it's a pretty solid bet that your story will never be told. And that would be a shame.
Back in 2004, I was a wide-eyed newbie. I'd been scribbling for a while, as we all do, but I didn't even understand the craft workshops I was attending enough to apply them. Eventually, it soaked in, but twenty years ago I was clueless.
I was lucky to attend an all-day event with uber-agent Donald Maass. He was so dynamic that I hung on his every word, knowing this was important material for me to absorb. But when he said, "Tension on every page was the key thing his team looked for" when they were acquiring books, I had absolutely no clue what he meant.
I snuck a few looks around the room, and all the more advanced authors around were nodding and chattering with one another about the brilliance of it all. I felt like an idiot because I had NO IDEA where to even start to understand.
Fast forward a decade to an Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson where she shared Power Words and "how they bring tension to the page." I remember thinking, "Ooooooooh, this is what The Donald was talking about." I re-read all his books and I finally got it.
That's how this writing life works. Every learning experience and critique you get mortars another brick into the foundation of your writing craft. One fine day, the connections and information coalesce into knowledge that you can use.
All you have to do is persevere for long enough.
Have you ever thought seriously about quitting your writing life? Was it for one of the five reasons above, or something else altogether? Do you remember an a-ha moment when a complicated writing concept became clear and changed the way you write? Please tell us your story down in the comments section!
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By day, Jenny Hansen provides brand storytelling, LinkedIn coaching, and copywriting for accountants and financial services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
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