Love of the Writing Craft

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Love of the Craft Q & A

'I Give Up Writing. I Quit.'

Your voice is you, without peer or parallel. You'd better believe that's important.

By Writing Coach David Duggins | Posted May 27, 2010 | Updated July 23, 2019

Many of you know that I answer writer's questions in my column here. A lot of the questions I get are serious enough to compel an immediate response. This is one of those. It's not even a question, really. More of a declarative statement.

It goes like this:

Dear Dave,

I really appreciate websites like yours, but I have finally reached the point where I feel like I can't do this anymore. I've been writing since I was eight years old, honing my craft, practicing, studying form, reading, making notes and dissecting and analyzing and then writing some more.

I've written 117 short stories. I've submitted 117 short stories. And I've collected 117 rejections. This represents five years of nonstop work — I write a draft, let it cool, start something else, revise, go back and revise again, scout markets, submit, and keep writing. I always have three or four stories on the burner at any given time, so I'm always working on something new. This helps mitigate the depressing effects of yet another rejection.

Now, though, I've hit a wall. There are no more stories. Everything's been out and come back, five or six times over. I haven't written anything new in two months, and I don't think I'm going to. I'm exhausted and discouraged and just don't have anything left.

Thanks for all the help, Dave, but this is the last straw. I quit.

I give up.

Signed, Brent

A: Um ... no.

No you don't.

Sorry, but that's not allowed here. That's not an option. I'll give everyone and their mother permission to write, but I will not give one person anywhere permission to give up.

Why? Oh, there are so many reasons!

First: give up now and you'll give up for the rest of your life. You're teaching yourself to fail. So you wrote 117 stories and they all got rejected. After successfully publishing a dozen short stories, I stopped writing them altogether and spent five years writing novels. That was way back in 1993. I still haven't published a novel. Guess what I'm doing when I'm not working on stuff for this website? I'm working on another novel!

Who set this magic number in front of you? "I'll write 117 stories, and if none of them get published, I'll just quit. That's long enough. That's enough effort expended to know that it just isn't going to happen."

But what if #118 is your first sale? You'll never find out if you don't write it. No less a novel than The Great Gatsby — a classic of literature, mind you — was rejected by 136 publishers before it was finally accepted for publication. Wrap your head around the kind of dedication it took to believe in the book enough to send it to 136 publishers.

So here's what: write another 19 stories. That'll bring you up to 136. Shop those around. If you still don't get anywhere, come back here and we'll talk again. You're not allowed to give up then, either, but we'll talk.

When it comes right down to it, we can't give up. We're not in this for money. We're not in it for fame. We're not in it for recognition. Those are just carrots. Mighty tasty, but carrots all the same.

This is love. Have you seen The Princess Bride? This is true love. You think this happens every day?

You have found your passion. This is the thing you do because you love doing it. It isn't publishing you love. It's writing. Heck, these days you don't even have to rely on markets. Publish yourself. Sign up for one of the fifteen million free blogging services and publish your stories in your blog. If you're good, people will find you. It's happened many times already.

If you're not good, you can become good. If you've really written 117 stories and they've all been rejected, there's something you're not getting. Learn. Improve. Take a course. Mentor with me or somebody else (you probably won't want to mentor with me after this diatribe).

You cannot let go of this. It won't let you.

So you're not writing now. Okay. You've been writing solidly for five years. Take a vacation. It isn't going to kill you to put the pen down for a month or two. People take breaks. The Writing Police will not arrest you for it.

It will kill you to put it down forever. It happened to Sylvia Plath. And Ross Lockridge. And Dylan Thomas.

Fill up. Take a trip. Go do stuff. Come back with something to write about. Sit down. And write.

I'm almost done ranting.

Final words:

From this moment forward, remove the words "give up" from your vocabulary. If you're a writer who doesn't write, you've failed. Start writing again. Write one sentence today. Follow it up with a new paragraph tomorrow. Write a new page the day after. Presto! Instant success.

If you're a writer who hasn't published, you're a successful writer whose work has not yet been professionally validated. You're still working. You wrote 117 stories. Write #118. Then #119. Then #120. Validation will come. As long as you do not give up.

Giving up leaves you with nothing. It leaves us with nothing — a big, empty hole in the universe where your voice used to be.

You want a real reason? A good, solid reason you can hang your hat on? Okay. You can't give up because your voice is important.

"But Dave," you say, "you've never even read my work."

Doesn't matter. I don't have to. You are here. You put words on paper. Those words came from your unique heart, your unique mind, your soul, your experience.

Your voice is you, without peer or parallel. You'd better believe that's important.

Go to the beach for two weeks. Then come back and get your butt back to work!

©2010 David Duggins. All rights reserved.

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