Writing is hard work. It may not seem like it to anyone who doesn’t do it, and I’m not comparing it to hard labor or teaching (though writing often IS teaching). But anyone who has done the vulnerable work of unearthing the contents of your own heart and mind, only to receive rejection, opinion and critique, and then have to get right back into it and do it again, you know what I mean.
Writing, particularly first drafting, can be exhilarating and joyful. But revision, where the real work happens, can be exhausting and discouraging. And that’s the first place that writers run the risk of losing hope or joy, of giving up and walking away before the thing is done.
I know; I’ve been there more than a few times. When my first novel didn’t sell, and then my first agent quit representing fiction. When my second novel came very close but ultimately didn’t sell, and my second agent didn’t fall in love with my next book. When new agents said, “We love your writing but…” with my third novel. I decided, at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, that I had no future as a writer.
Four published books (and three more on the way) later, I want to reassure you that you can muster the courage and determination to persist. Recently, after years of small, noteworthy, but not quite-the-big-hit kinds of success she desired, a good friend of mine won a Fulbright and a novel award. Another friend who felt she’d been slogging toward publication for years with less to show for it than she had hoped was just nominated Poet Laureate of her town and signed with a hybrid publisher for all of her self-published books. Another writer bypassed her flagging agent and found a publisher on her own. And yet another only approached agents she could get referrals for and found the perfect fit. All the time I meet writers who nearly gave up, or took time off to lick their publishing wounds, but then got back to it and succeeded.
It’s at the fatigue point that many writers walk away or give up right when they are closest.
You have to remember that everything of quality requires work. And pushing yourself to do more allows you to become a better writer. Stopping before you’re truly done is like flipping a bird to the part of you that worked so hard.
The most common way I see writers give up is in the revision process—you get feedback, you make changes, you get more feedback, you make more changes, and finally you think you’re done. And then you get more feedback. No one can blame you for being tired, even a little discouraged. But rather than throw in the towel and do one of two things—rush it to market, or toss it in the drawer—consider that what you most likely need is time off from it.
Here are ways to keep yourself moving forward rather than quitting:
- When you hit revision fatigue, take a break.
- Considering always having a second project on the burner that you can turn to during a break from the challenging project
- Try to revise for specific things at a time in each pass, rather than take on the whole behemoth at once: Work only on one character’s storyline, make sure the action is tense in every scene, or that your dialogue rings true.
- Learn to see feedback as being about the work, not about your talent, skill or worth
- Consider seeking fresh eyes on a project; try a new editor, critique partner or other source
- Remember that writing is a craft—which means there is always room for improvement.
If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: Night Oracle, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace. For a dose of optimism, read my column, The Persistent Optimist, at Sweatpants & Coffee.
Photo, “Urbanscape_02” by Imtiaz Tonmoy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.