|Or not? Image from www.henryharbor.com|
Discouraged by a year’s worth of manuscript circulation, revisions, and rejections by the A-list of editors selected by her literary agent, a friend is pondering whether to abandon what has been up until now her life’s pursuit. She’s already had success with one book and scores of short-length work, but the strain of trying to break through with a second title is taking a toll.
There are practical, logistical ways of addressing her quandary—she could try smaller publishers, work on other manuscripts, self-publish. But her larger dilemma presents itself to most of us at one time or another: Do I keep writing or quit?
I’ve been at this a long time—next year marks the 20th anniversary of the release my first major title, A Distant Enemy. As is the case with most writing careers, it’s been an up-and-down journey of successes, discouragement, breakthroughs, and missteps. I can’t claim easy ways to decide how long any of us should continue to do what we do, but there are important questions to consider:
Why are you writing? For authors such as Marilyn Sewell, writing is a calling. Others have a single project that needs to come out, and once it’s released, they don’t feel compelled to continue.
What does success mean to you? To address this question, I suggest you write for a few minutes about the fantasies connected with your writing life If in five years, each and every one of your writer’s dreams were fulfilled, how would it all look, in terms of income, recognition, your body of work, and how you spend their time. Then take a few minutes to consider each of those areas—income, recognition, body of work, and how you’d be spending time—in terms of what you realistically think you can achieve within five years. Through this exercise, you can learn a lot about what defines success for you: money, fame, awards, the work itself, the creative life. You may also find that some of your ideas about what would make you feel successful are misguided—either internalized from others or skewed toward factors over which you have no control. When measured in terms of what actually matters to you, your writing may be delivering success in ways you’re failing to recognize.
Business or art? Where you place yourself on the continuum between business and art affects your level of satisfaction with your work. Some writers love the business angle and insist that to be successful, all must embrace it. But while it may be impossible to publish and get away from the business part altogether, who says writers must publish at all? Some of the happiest writers I know are those who don’t care about sharing their work beyond a small circle of friends.
Which stories need to be told? If your passion for a particular project is strong, get it out in the world when you’re certain it’s ready. But remain open to the possibilities for sharing it—the process by which readers find it may be different from what you first envisioned, or the timing may be at odds with what you’d hoped.
How would your life change if you didn’t write? If your days would fill with other passions that bring you more joy, your decision is easy. And bear in mind that no matter how long you’ve pursued it, writing isn’t your identity if you can happily embrace the prospect of a life without it. There’s no shame in abandoning a pursuit without having achieved every goal you’d hoped for—that’s simply a fact of life.
Deb Vanasse is the author of seventeen books with six different presses. For more on the writing life, see Write Your Best Book.