Uncategorized, Writing

iLesson: the Do Over

This post is about more than just writing. It’s about giving up on a dream. As in, don’t do it.

Recently I was a writers meeting a someone said: “Well, real life has taken a turn for the crazy, and it’s interfered with writing, and I’m no where near my goal of finishing a book by the end of the year or quitting.”

And I thought… Quit writing? I think I could quit breathing first.

My first printed works of fiction were written on these:
Even before I could write, I was making stuff up. Okay, some people would call it lying, but it wasn’t to get out or to make trouble. It was just to make a better story. Writing books is a job. But telling stories is an art and a passion. And if I am pleasing no one but myself, I will keep writing.

This is not the first time I’ve heard writers give themselves a deadline “or quit.” I’ve heard “If I’m not published in 3 years, I’m done writing.” Or, “If I don’t have an agent by January,” or “If I get one more rejection, I’m never submitting again…”

But that makes me wonder why they’re trying to be published at all. Writing, like all artistic professions, I think, can’t be limited to external measures of success. There has to be internal satisfaction. (See above re: writing = breathing.)

Maybe these people don’t mean quit writing, but simply quit submitting for publication. Fair enough.


Who is to say what a “reasonable” timetable is in a business that is completely unreasonable? It’s driven by reader fads and economic trends and individual editor likes and dislikes.

Why set an end date on a dream? It’s not like we have an expiration date. I was going to write: It’s not like it’s something we can only do when we’re young and fit, like running a marathon or climbing Mount Everest, but even THOSE things are accomplished by people who work toward it their entire lives.

Of course it’s important to make goals. The thing is, so much of life is out of our control. Parents and children get sick and husbands leave and hurricanes blow. Your goal will sometimes have to take a back seat, but you should never kick it out of the car.

That’s the difference between a goal and an ultimatum. You can ALWAYS set a new goal. But an ultimatum is more of a threat, and you’re punishing no one but yourself. If you take your toys and go home, the only one who loses is you.

Remember: Never give up, never surrender. But do overs are completely allowed.

PS– A recent event makes me worry someone will think this is aimed at them, and it’s not. Just this week I’ve heard “Or I quit” from three different writers, but I hear this more often than you might imagine. Hence the rant.

5 thoughts on “iLesson: the Do Over”

  1. The thing about that is, it's not about quitting. It's about how long can you let something that could possibly never happen for you take precious time away from you and your family?Writing's tough… it takes time, energy, effort–what if you could put all that into something else, like raising your kid or redecorating your house? In the end you're sure of the rewards for both of those things, but with writing you may never see your dream come to fruition. When you write, you make serious sacrifices for your craft, and you do it because you love it–not because it makes money or because you want to be published, but if you can't be successful with it after a certain period of time, then it has to be less important than other things.Maybe your family needs extra money, and your writing time could be spent working a paying job, maybe you sacrifice nights and weekends in front of your computer that could be spent hanging out with your husband and solidifying your marriage, or maybe you cultivate business relationships in an industry you will never need them in, and that time could be spent working your way up in an industry where your success is more guaranteed. These are all valid reasons to examine your writing career and decide if it's worth it.Chasing a dream is a good thing, and I think it's an important aspect of life–but chasing a dream forever, when you truly know it will never happen is just foolish.


  2. Those are good points. But it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You can still work a job and write. You can still spend time with your family. Or you can put things on hold for awhile and come back to it. Everyone has to find their own balance. I'm only talking about giving up completely based on some arbitrary deadline or criteria.Also, I object to the word "never." Unless someone can see the future (in which case, I hope they will tell me what will be the hot trend in YA in two years), it is IMPOSSIBLE to say someone will "never" be published. Some people have really surprised me.A. Lee Martinez wrote and submitted for TEN YEARS before he had a nibble. He has something like TWENTY manuscripts in a drawer somewhere. And I've talked to some of the old timers who heard him when he first came to workshop. He was not always the A. Lee we read and love. There's also a degree of sacrifice. I'm not talking about letting your kid go hungry and neglected, or your marriage fall apart. I'm talking about watching less TV at night, or giving up a luxury item so you can go to a weekend writer's workshop. And this: "…but chasing a dream forever, when you truly know it will never happen is just foolish."That kinda makes me mad. If I want to be a prima ballerina for the Metropolitan Ballet, and it makes me happy (mostly) and no one is suffering by my attempt, that is not foolish. Even if looks so to you (and trust me, I would LOOK extremely foolish trying to do ballet at this point in my life), it is not foolish to work at a dream. If it doesn't make you happy, then that's different. You're absolutely right, everyone has to weigh things on their own scale, and find their own balance.I wrote while I had full time jobs, even while I took care of my dying father, and no one ever suffered for it. To the contrary, that hour or two in another world made me a happier person, and helped me get through some really rough times. If had never sold a book, I would only regret if I've never tried. I would not have regretted the time I spent doing something I love.But that's me.


  3. Thank you for this. I've uttered many of those words. In 2006, I got agent representation and thought I was ON MY WAY. Then my book didn't sell. And he didn't like the other book I'd written. Then I switched jobs. Got a divorce. Had money problems like crazy. Moved two states. Got remarried. Job hunted. Freaked out a lot. And decided a billion times that I wasn't going to write anymore.But that won't work. I'm a writer. I have a writer's soul. Maybe I won't be published ever, but the dream is still there. So maybe I will. I don't set goals anymore. I don't follow them. I don't force it; that takes away the love. I'm not writing to put food on the table, so that is helping me get back to where I was in 2004-2005, when I wrote the book that garnered an agent's attention. Loving the craft. Just loving it. If it's meant for me to be a NYT best-seller someday, it'll come. But for now, I just need to keep loving the craft.Do-overs ARE allowed. So funny how often I forget that.


  4. My husband plays hockey. He has since long before we met 12 years ago. He is well into his 30's and the league might as well be called "Grown men pretending like they are in the NHL then drinking beer."He loves it. He is never going to play in the NHL. It takes time away from his family. It takes money. But it is one or two nights a week and he enjoys it. Worse, he gets cranky when he doesn't play. I have never once heard him say,"If I don't get scouted by next season, I quit."Writing is that for me. Sure, I would love to be published (by tomorrow would be nice, or even next week!). But, even if that never happens. I wouldn't dream of quitting. Then what would I do about these random people in my head telling me all their stories?I work full time. I have a family and I deserve to have something that is mine. Writing is mine and I am not giving it up. Even if no one with the power to mass produce the words ever notices.


  5. Thank you, Ronni and Dawn, for sharing your stories. I wish I could remember which speaker at which RWA conference said that our careers as writers aren't like a train, where if you miss it, you're out of luck. It's more like a moving sidewalk. ANd some people will pass you, and some people will move slower–and I'm definitely messing up the analogy, because that doesn't quite make sense. But the important thing was this: You can step off the sidewalk when you need to, but it will still be there when you're ready to step back on.


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