On Writing and Giving Up

Photo credit: Daryl Cauchi on Flickr
As a week of two major pitch contests came to a close over the weekend, it was inevitable that their respective Twitter feeds became a place of polar opposites. A record of ecstatic writers celebrating good news, and an echo of, well, everyone else.

But the truth of every contest is this—while there will always be a handful (or a couple handfuls, depending on the size of the contest) of winners, by and large, the majority of entrants will receive rejections. And many will write it off as just that—another rejection. Most will shrug it off and continue writing, and entering contests, and submitting to professionals with their eyes steadfast on the eventual goal of publication.

But unfortunately not everyone can handle the mounting rejections quite so well, and so every once in a while I see a writer throw their hands up and say, “That’s it. I’m done,” and it makes me sad.

It’s never an easy thing to see a dream die, regardless of whether or not the dream is yours or someone else’s. It’s never easy to see someone give up, to watch other writers buckle under the weight of rejection.

Because the truth is, writing is hard. But beyond that, the whole journey of the writer—from first draft of the first novel to final draft of their final (published or not) novel takes such a toll. Every book you write is exhausting, every rejection you receive—whether it’s a form letter or bad review hurts. We’re told not to take those things personally, but let’s face it—it feels personal. It’s not an easy thing to pour your heart and soul into a book, only to be told that it’s not good enough.

It sucks. Rejection sucks.

It makes me sad to see writers give up, because I understand why. It becomes exhausting to hear strangers and friends tell you to keep pushing on and keep writing when professionals keep slapping you with not good enough. The journey of the writer is an emotional rollercoaster—from hopeful maybe this is the one highs to crushing form rejection lows, and quite frankly, it can be really hard to handle.

The thing is, I can’t promise you that you’re going to be published one day—no one can. I can’t promise you that if you self-publish you’re going to sell enough copies to make those bestseller lists—I can’t even promise you that you’ll get decent reviews. What I can do is encourage, but even that isn’t enough sometimes, because the truth is, the decision to keep writing despite the disappointments has to be your own.

Everyone has the right to give up—and if you decide that the road of the writer isn’t for you, then that’s ok. It’s not for everyone, and deciding to take another path doesn’t make you a failure—it just means that the life of the writer wasn’t for you. And it’s ok.

But if you do give up, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Give up because you realize you don’t really enjoy writing. Give up because there are other things you would rather be doing, because you aren’t happy when you write, because you have other dreams that you’d rather be chasing.

But don’t give up because you think yourself a failure (you’re not). Don’t give up because you’ve received twenty, or fifty, or a hundred rejections (so has every other published writer out there). Don’t give up because of bad reviews (even J.K. Rowling has them), or because you don’t think anyone will ever love your writing (someone will), or because despite your best efforts, your writing just isn’t there yet (EVERY writer goes through this stage). Don’t give up because you think you’ll never be published (no one can see the future) or because you’re tired of hearing “not yet” (“not yet” doesn’t mean “you never will”).

Every writer deals with rejection, some more than others. Every writer feels inadequate or entirely discouraged at times. Every writer gets told “no” and feels like publication is a dream that will never come true.

I’m not here to tell you not to give up. Just don’t give up for the wrong reasons.

18 comments:

E.J. Wesley said...

That's the tricky thing about being connected with a lot of other writers online, etc.: It can make all of this seem like an organized process with clear steps and goals to get to what you want.

You want to be published? Oh, here's how: Read some books on craft, write a few stories, start a blog, query, get rejected, write some more, query, rejected, go to conferences, query, accepted, and publish.

It's never even that straightforward, and it's never the same for any two people. You might have 20 steps in your journey, the next person might have 200. You truly never know when your opportunity will come. That's why I say never give up if you truly want to do it.

Opportunities are made, not given. So keep making them (writing and putting yourself out there). :)

Ava Jae said...

I completely agree, E.J., particularly the bit about opportunities and the steps in your journey. Some novelists get published with their first or second book, some have to wait until their tenth. The only thing that sets them apart from unpublished writers is that they didn't take "no" for an answer--they kept writing and making opportunities until a door finally opened for them.

Jen Donohue said...

As somebody who has only just begun to write that first query letter (though I do have oodles of short story rejections), I wonder how far I'll carry it. In a traditional sense, anyway. I'm not adverse to self publishing if I feel it's the only way it's going to work. But I'd rather do it the "regular" way, if able.



And man, query letters are hard.

James Garcia Jr said...

Thanks for the pep-talk, Ava. You are absolutely right. I work 11 hours and then attempt to squeeze writing, promoting, networking, family, etc., into the few hours I have left every afternoon/evening. If and when I give up, it'll be because I tried hard enough and I'm at the point where I just can't give that much anymore. When I am sitting in that rocking chair and staring out a window with 90 year old eyes, I want no regrets. *waves*

-Jimmy

http://jamesgarciajr.blogspot.com/

Beverly Diehl said...

If you write - and complete ANYTHING - a poem, a short story, a novel - no matter how bad it is (and a few years later, you may look back at it and realize how bad it was), you have FINISHED it. Which is about a thousand times better than all the people who say, "I should write a book (or a story). if you have been rejected, you have taken it to the next level - you have had the ovaries (or the cojones) to send it OUT there, instead of stashing it under the bed.

That said, I have been one of those emotionally crushed by rejection, and put it aside for a while. But I have always gone back, because I *have* to write. I believe I am very close to being close to traditional publication (with the rejection letters to prove it, "this is a very good story, BUT..."). Yet even if I could look in a crystal ball and see that I will never be never traditionally published, I will write, because I have stories inside me that nobody can tell.

Stephanie Poscente said...

I love this post, Ava, because it gets directly to the point of your message, and that point is so important for people to read.

"Don't give up for the wrong reasons".

I think so many people are trying so hard to be "bestsellers" that the struggle to get there burns them out before they have a chance to discover the beauty of being a writer.

Awesome job!

Stephanie Poscente said...

I love this post, Ava, because it gets directly to the point of your message, and that point is so important for people to read.

"Don't give up for the wrong reasons".

I think so many people are trying so hard to be "bestsellers" that the struggle to get there burns them out before they have a chance to discover the beauty of being a writer.

Awesome job!

Ava Jae said...

Query letters can be extraordinarily difficult. As someone who has only just recently started utilizing query pitch critiques, I highly recommend you find someone to take a look at your pitch if possible. It is so helpful to have people look at your query and give you feedback as to what's working and what isn't. :)


And I understand what you mean about wanting to go traditional. I don't think there's a "wrong" answer, but there's definitely an answer more suited for every writer, and what that answer is varies from person to person.

Ava Jae said...

Absolutely, James--and I agree with your no regrets statement. Writers don't have an easy road by any means, but as long as the struggle continues to be worth it to you, I say keep fighting for it.

Ava Jae said...

You have a fantastic attitude, Beverly. Rejections are never easy to swallow, but as you said, those writers putting themselves out there are miles ahead of those who say they'll write a book when they have the time (or something of the like). In the end, it's really not about publication (although publication is a very nice and encouraging bonus), it's about writing stories.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much, Anon! I think you're probably right about the burn-out--if you focus on trying to get published rather than trying to become a better writer, the road will be much more difficult and discouraging.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much, Stephanie! I think you're probably right about the burn-out--if you focus on trying to get published rather than trying to become a better writer, the road will be much more difficult and discouraging.

Frank Williams said...

Every time I sent a query letter, I think "This probably won't be successful." It makes the disappointment so much easier to take. It's a very glass half empty kind of way, but if anyone does every say, "Yes, we want to publish you and put you in Waterstones and release 5 more of your books." I imagine the feeling will be pretty incredibly. And it makes it easier to return to writing after failure. The thought of "Okay, this isn't the one, but I knew that anyway." makes it easier to think "Time to write the one."

Just my way of doing things...

Ava Jae said...

I've actually used a similar mentality at time to avoid crushing disappointment. Sending out query letters I tend to think, "Well, worst case scenario is a rejection, which is no different than not sending it at all." I don't see it as being pessimistic (because I'm not saying it's impossible to get good query news or anything), but I find that it can help take the sting off a rejection.

Scott Moon said...

I agree with Ava Jae, you have a great attitude. And since you "have" to write, it seems inevitable that you will succeed.

Scott Moon said...

I have been writing for so long without an audience, that there is really nothing to lose. I love reading old stories I have written, though I probably cast them aside in frustration initially. In my experience, writers don't need to give up, they just need to give themselves a break. Write something else, or read a book, watch a movie, or just get some air.


The only thin I know is that quitting grantees failure.

Ava Jae said...

Great point about taking a break. The writing life can be overwhelming at times, so taking a step away from it all can make all the difference.

Beverly Diehl said...

That's my plan :-).

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