Tuesday Toss-Up

When is Giving Up a Good Thing?

Acrobat Squirrel Raids Bird Feeder
After 312456.2 attempts, Tito finally makes it to the bird feeder…almost.

Growing up, many of us were probably told “never give up.” We were probably surrounded with stories about people who refused to quit and achieved their dreams. Thomas Edison never let failure (after failure after failure) stop him from trying again until he  finally invented the long burning light bulb. Orville and Wilbur Wright never gave up on flying. Stephen King was rejected dozens of times by publishers but kept on writing. Nemo just kept swimming.

If you’re a writer, artist, actor, ec, these exhortations to “just keep trying” often alternate with not-so-subtle suggestions to “just keep trying” at something else, anything else…but that’s another story.

By the time you reach adulthood, these “never say die” ideas are probably deeply ingrained. You know perseverance tips the odds in your favor…the question is: what kind of perseverance?

In college, I thought I had to keep plugging away at a major I loathed because I believed I had to finish what I’d started. Eventually, I  adjusted my major slightly and added a second major I loved and finished both. I can’t say I regret keeping the first major but, if I knew then what I know now, I would have switched to the second major alone as soon as it became clear that the first was not my path. That would have saved me a great deal of time, stress and student loan debt…of course, life is too short to waste on regret and I did learn a lot.

Kitten Sleeping on Computer Keyboard
Sometimes you just have to sleep on it.

When it came to my writing, it seemed I needed to learn this lesson all over again. When my WIP became a constant uphill battle and I dreaded nearly every writing date, I gritted my teeth, girded my loins and went at the story again and again. I thought I would break through. I knew (and still do) that the story had to be written but I just couldn’t find my way in.

It seemed like a choice between banging my head against my manuscript and giving up the notion being a published author (yes, my inner four year old goes straight for the drama) until Kristen Lamb reminded me that winners quit all the time. And giving up my manuscript didn’t mean I had to give up writing. I couldn’t keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Recently, Lara Schiffbauer made the same point, that life changes and our goals can too.

The idea was to change my strategy for getting to the top of the mountain…not walk away from it.

First, I had to remember why I wanted to write in the first place. Yes, I want to be a successful, published author but getting published isn’t my primary motivation for writing. I write because I love to tell stories. I loved that as long as I can remember. If I forget it, there’s no point to writing at all.

Second, I had to accept that maybe my first manuscript wasn’t going to be my first novel. There’s even the possibility that it won’t ever be a novel. Heck, maybe my current WIP won’t be a published novel either. The point is not to fixate on any individual story but on creating a story that works.

Dogs Dancing on the Beach
Just when his ballet career dreams seemed smashed, Smidge discovers an unknown talent for sand dancing.

Third, we can learn from every failure and we grow when we take what we’ve learned and apply it to a new strategy. When we fail again, we learn, regroup, adapt and try again. In adapting, we often have to give our preconceived notions, our ideas about what success really is and what we have to do to get there.

My current WIP, a novel inspired by my flash fiction pieces Postcards from Hell and Ants in the Mailbox, is screaming along. My former WIP, a dark fantasy, is simmering on a back burner, hopefully to be turned back up to boiling at some point in the future. As I work through snags (because doubts and snags still crop up, of course), I keep reminding myself that the only quitting that’s bad is quitting on my dreams out of fear.

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t quite but were stuck trying to get a different result using same strategy? How did you overcome it? When has quitting been good for you?


Image Attribution (In Order of Appearance):
Acrobat by Vicki & Chuck Rogers, on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
The Sleeping Geek Kitten – Angers – by Nathonline-Beta, on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Dance, dog, dance! by Ricky Leong, on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We’re saying goodbye to the Life List Club. It’s been an exceptional experience and I’m profoundly grateful to have been part of it. Thank you to all of our readers and to the wonderful writers. Mosey on over and join the final conversation.

17 thoughts on “When is Giving Up a Good Thing?

  1. Fabulous post, Sonia! I wrote a similar one (not the LLC one – thanks for the shout-out, by the way!) on my personal blog.

    I realized that writing and publication can be a long road and there was no way I could sustain my emotional roller coaster through it. I had to take a step back and determine why I wanted to be on the road on the first place. Once I decided I like to write and I like to be read, a lot of the pressure I’d been placing on myself disappeared.

    1. Oops – darn return button! Anyway – it turned out to be a good thing for me, too. Pushing through is important, but I think it is always good to recognize when something isn’t working, and try a different direction. 🙂

  2. If something is making you unhappy, I think it’s time to quit. Life is way too short to keep plugging away at something that is making you miserable.

  3. There comes a time when the energy to continue may be too much to lose. If you reach that point you have to decide whether the book is worth it. No-one can make that decision except the author. No-one has a much to lose, or to gain.

  4. After fooling around with the same novel for over 15 years, I finally decided it wasn’t going to work, but then I thought about how to divide it into a series of novellas. Working on the second one now. Will publish the first one when I finish the second. Just figure out what works for YOU.

  5. I’ve been working on my WIP (also my first novel) for. Ever. I can’t give up on it though. I don’t want to. I have changed strategies along the way. I found an on-line critique group and that’s helped tremendously. I’ve cut, rewritten, and I feel confident that I’m on the right path. I’ve never reached the head-banging stage and I’m constantly learning more about my craft all the time. Until that changes (I become frustrated, totally blocked, or I’ve learned everything I can from the experience) I’m going to keep at it. Some might think it’s foolish, but I’m not sticking with it because somebody else told me to. The desire comes from within.
    I agree with the other commenters though.
    If you’re doing something that’s making you miserable, stop.
    Find out what works best for you.
    I wish you all of the best with your project, whatever your heart turns you toward 🙂

  6. Funny coincidence, you posting this on the same day that I posted about pursuing and marrying the same woman who had sent me two “Dear Johns” while in the Army. I just wouldn’t give up on her. Should have, don’t you think? But, the truth is that if I were to change anything in my life, anything, I would not be where I am today (which is a helluva place to be – married 35 years to my soul mate, wonderful children and grandchildren all wrapped up in a close family relationship). Yeah, it’s just not my nature to give up, and it hasn’t worked out too badly for me.

  7. Thoughtful post, Sonia. I’ve reflected on this topic whenever I become frustrated with final revisions on book 1. I have moved onto writing wip #2 and #3 while plotting #4 and #5, so I don’t feel like I’m stuck or stagnant when I squeeze in revisions time. That may work for you. Let book 1 simmer, as you say, and it may just start clamoring for your attention with ideas where to go with it next. It’s the journey. 🙂

  8. This is a great blog post and it really touches me. I wrote for 13 years before I made my first book sale. I was in a state of utter disbelief when the editor called to let me know they wanted my book. I’d honestly given up ever having a book published! But let me make it clear, that was not the first novel I’d ever written. I had written five full manuscripts and had several starts on others. I’d had two agents and a lot of rejection. I belonged to a good writers group that helped me stay motivated. If I had continued to try to rewrite the first novel I ever wrote, I never would have moved forward with my skills. None of those unpublished books were a waste of time. In fact, each one taught me something and helped me polish my writing. Another thing to remember; even after getting published, writers face further rejection. It just happens, and it happened to me. Though it was frustrating to look for another publisher, now, and my career is going forward again. That’s how this business rolls, so NEVER QUIT WRITING. Keep plugging away, keep learning, and keep believing in yourself!

  9. I had to learn, always the hard way it seems, that at certain times in a life, one’s greatest strength become one’s greatest weakness. Those are the times when backing away is the greater wisdom.

  10. Phew! My first two finished novels will likely not see publication until I’m a rockstar and can make it so on the power of my brand name alone. (Cough. I can dream.)

    Naw, but seriously, they need a lot of work. My current book is a lot stronger, and I think sometimes we have to write those first couple books and put them aside in order to learn. I also started reading craft books and learning from experts between draft 1 of book 1 and draft 1 of book 3ish — and it shows.

    If it’s not working, try something else. That’s my theory.

  11. @Lara: It’s so easy to get focused on the wrong thing. Once we reconsider what it was we really wanted in the first place, things fall into place.

    @Emma: Very true! Sometimes it’s just a matter of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

    @J.D.: Also very true. For me, I think the story was worth it but I was locked into battle with it, which wasn’t worth it. I’m hoping the time off will let me come back to it with fresh eyes. In the mean time, I’m enjoying my current WIP.

    @David: Excellent! Definitely an example of stepping back and coming at it from a different angle.

    @Melanie: It’s not foolish to stick with it if you love it and you feel you can make it work. It’s when it’s locking you up that you need to step back and review. 🙂

    @Jack: Nah, I don’t think you should have given up. You obviously felt something in your heart that told you to stick with her. Listening to your authentic inner voice is the most important thing.

    @Jolyse: That’s a great idea! Keeping more than one project going would let you switch back and forth whenever you feel blocked.

    @Cindy: Excellent, excellent points! And very encouraging. Every “failed” story is a learning experience and we always have to jump new hurdles. But those hurdles make us stronger.

    @Carson: So true. Well put.

    @Caleb: I guess it all depends on wording. 😀 Of course, our use of language makes a huge difference. If we call it a “learning experience” instead of a “failure” and “changing direction” instead of “giving up,” we can can see the possibilities.

    @Claude: Thank you. 😀

    @Emmie: I feel like I’ve learned so much from my first novel too. I hope I can finish it someday but, even if I don’t, I’ve got a wealth of knowledge. It’s one of the things I love about writing. It can’t get boring because there’s always something new to learn.

  12. I live by the motto: The only thing that will get your book written is bum glue and fingers moving. I also set public release dates for my book that put me under the gun. Scrivener also has a great progress meter that you can set that keeps you motivated and reminds you to write and whether or not you are reaching your goals.

  13. I think that trying to turn a hobby or passion into a profession inevitably leads to moments of “This isn’t fun anymore. Do I really want to keep doing this?”
    I like to have several “projects” available to me, though I use that word very loosely. I often have one main project that is actually approaching done, and then I have random ideas I’ve jotted down, and sometimes I’ll just wander through those, let my creative mind spin.
    Or I might just let go and start rambling on the page, using a prompt like “What I really want to write about is…”
    Sometimes, like you said, you just need a break from “this project”, or from writing. The idea terrifies me at the moment, but who’s to say there won’t come a day when that is the answer.

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