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.
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.
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.