I know what it’s like to want to give up and quit on your writing. In fact, I have done so. Rejection, expectations that didn’t come to fruition, my own lack of ability to manifest the stories I wanted to tell have all, at various times, pressed me down into the murk where I thought I would never surface.
And not just once, or a few times, but dozens, maybe more. Enough so that when the dark times would strike, my husband of 18 years would pat me on the back and say, “This is what you do. You’ll come through.” This used to upset me. Why wasn’t he encouraging me, telling me I was genius, or empathizing with my despair? Because he knows. He’s watched me go through this cycle time and time again, year after year. He met me when I was 21, and only just starting to put the writing into the world that I’d been doing since childhood. He knew, in fact, better than I did, that there was really only one truth to my artistic life: that I can’t live without it.
Do you feel the same?
It often takes a dark night of the artistic soul for us to understand the purpose of our writing. I had to come to my knees in the dark where I believed that all avenues toward success were done for, cut off, over in order to burrow deep enough into the center of myself to find the truth: I will always rise and write.
Will you rise and write?
Aside from love and family, writing is the only activity that really matters to me.
There will come a point where you no longer need to justify or define your need to write, either, just know that you have to keep doing it, no matter the outcome, no matter the ego-boost, no matter what.
When I reached that point, where I knew that I would keep writing no matter what, I also began to see that writing gave me so much. There’s a magic quality to the process. You set out thinking you know what you want to say and then something takes over—call it the muse, the creative process, or the divine—but there comes a point where it no longer feels like an act of self but a collaboration with something more.
But guess what? If you stop…if you give in to the voices (and there will always be voice, sugar pie, friend, sweetness), you don’t get to find out what more there is. You simply get silence. Despair. Void.
I don’t want void for you. Allow yourself fullness, exponential growth, discovery, thrill.
I would take back so many moments of doubt and despair if I could. I would hold that young, fragile self and say, “Sister, just keep plodding forward, it’s going somewhere, I promise.” I would tell her what I will tell you now:
Everything matters. Everything counts. Every scrawled note on a napkin, every thought flung into a journal by the half-light of the moon at your bedside, every rough draft and crumpled, every attempted novel and submission that didn’t land, every poem and essay that burbled out of your gut like a burp, every moment of sharp clarity, every half-formed idea—it’s all leading you somewhere more.
I don’t know what “more” is for you. But I have seen it in writer after writer, myself included: when you keep working, striving, struggling, improving, seeking feedback and always come back to the writing, you receive rewards. Those rewards may be in the form of personal insight, or outward approval, or a job or project you’ve long desired. I can’t tell you. You can’t even tell you until you’re there.
There is goodness on the other side of struggle. You must not give in to the voices that tell you to quit. It’s almost as if the writing tries to haze you. And the more you give in, the less you give to your writing. You have to go through the ugly grappling to learn what I say. Like a forest that returns more lush and full after a fire, so does the writing prosper if you stick with it at its hardest.
All I know, and it’s a knowing so deep in my cells that I will never again doubt it is this: Your words matter. But they don’t come free. You have to work to bring them to fruition, but the work will always repay you tenfold, a thousand fold. I swear.
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.
The Second Annual Plot & Scene Writing Retreat with Martha Alderson happens at the Mt. Madonna Retreat Center, May 1-3, 2015. REGISTER HERE.
Photo, “Sunset through the windows” by Sarah Reid is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.