It’s no secret that most people who set out to write a book never finish. But what about those writers who keep working year after year, penning one book and then another, or one short story and then another, with little to show for it? What keeps them going? Odyssey graduates represent every stratum of writing success, from bestselling author to never published. But one thing most have in common is uncommon stick-to-itiveness. We asked them,
Have you ever considered giving up writing? What kept you motivated despite the rejections, the low to non-existent pay for most writers, and the long odds of ever “making it”?
Sherry Peters, Class of 2005
Ha! I think about quitting all the time.
I remember seeing a big name author on a talk show and the interviewer asked the author if she ever thought about quitting and the author said if anyone thinks that way, they aren’t really a writer. I also remember at Odyssey, Jeanne asking us what would be our breaking point? Would it be receiving nine rejections in one day?
Well, I think about quitting all the time, and I’m still a writer.
I haven’t decided what my breaking point is, though I’ve come close recently.
When I was doing my M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill [University], I thought about quitting every day, mostly because it was difficult writing with the necessary discipline, especially when I had encountered some published writers who did their best to discourage me. Why didn’t I quit? I promised myself I could after I graduated. I’d spent too much on tuition to quit before I graduated. And what would I do with my time? I’d have to be sociable. Best keep writing.
After I graduated? I couldn’t quit, I’d spent too much on tuition to not do something with my degree and all I’d learned. Besides, I loved my novel too much not to be sending it out. And what would I do with my time? I’d have to be sociable. Best keep writing.
Most recently, I pitched my newest novel to an agent whose comment was that she liked my premise and all that, but the first sentence wasn’t clear enough, etc. Fair enough. Honestly. However, thinking about the subjectivity of this business and trying to figure out what agents and editors want, it’s just so frustrating. If I quit, I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore, and I know what I’d do with my time. I don’t have to be sociable; I could read all the books I want.
So I decided to quit once I had this new novel edited and out the door. Well, OK, if it didn’t get picked up, which could take several years, and it might get picked up, so I should keep on writing, maybe some short stories, and outline another novel, just in case.
Yep. I quit writing by writing!
Adria Laycraft, Class of 2006
One bleak winter while struggling with bronchial pneumonia and the stress of a new, rather-too-large-for-us mortgage, I did give up. Completely. Didn’t write for over three months. During that time I also didn’t read, couldn’t focus on television, didn’t go out unless forced to … yeah, looking back, I would count it as a full-blown depression.
Gently, slowly, I began writing three pages of longhand first thing in the morning again, an exercise I learned from Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. Free writing with no expectations. Also, work began to flow in for the copywriting business again. (It’s quite normal to have dry spells … this had been the longest one ever at the worst possible time.) And I picked up a SF novella I’d written and saw clearly what was missing to make it a novel.
What I discovered through all this is how to be gentle with myself, that it’s okay to have bad times, and most importantly the belief that I could always put pen to page just for myself and benefit from it. I also learned that I really am a writer, because I gave myself the option during that dark time to move on and do other things, and I chose to stick with it even when I had little faith in success.
Abby Goldsmith, Class of 2004
Sherry: Whoever said that a writer who thinks about quitting isn’t really a writer must have confused it with a writer who *actually* quits. 🙂
My writing addiction has shaped my career path (in a negative way), my social life (in a more positive way), my dating life, my life in general. It’s a huge part of my personal identity, and every time I seriously consider quitting it, I get depressed. But logically, I know that I would be much more successful in my career if I devoted my free time to that instead of writing. Logically, I know that I’d have a more fulfilling social life if I kept up with social trends instead of going home to write. As long as my novels remain unpublished, I always have some reason to reevaluate my decision to write. Sometimes I feel like I’m spinning my wheels uselessly, and that can be depressing, especially as I add another year (after years) of unpublished progress.
One thing that keeps me going is unwarranted optimism. Everyone I know who’s enjoyed success only gained it after years of unrecognized hard labor. Some people might talk themselves down: “Oh sure, they had success, but it will never happen for me.” I’ve never thought this for longer than a second or two. I see no reason why it can’t happen for me.
The other thing that keeps me going is validation. One kid read my entire novel under his desk in school and finished it in a day … a coworker printed my novel out at work and stayed up all night reading it … a few people who’ve stayed with me for five or ten years, reading each new book in the series … each of them is worth a million readers to me. Without those votes of confidence, I might very well quit writing. I still think my writing needs improvement, but I also think I have something worthy of best-seller lists. So I keep going.
Brian Rappatta, Class of 2004
I’ve never wanted to give up writing. I just want to give up submitting. My most recent round of submitting: I hit up twelve agents. Only two even bothered with the courtesy of a response. I can take rejection just fine; I just can’t take lack of respect.
Jason Allard, Class of 2001
Yes, I think we all have. However, I quickly realize that if I don’t write, I’m likely to go insane.
Colleen Robbins, Class of 2007
I have written stories since I was young. Occasionally life will get in the way of writing, and I start to go slowly crazy until the words burst out anyway… like a story writing itself in my head while I’m swimming my morning mile. I will never voluntarily give up writing.
Jeff Lyman, Class of 2004
Yeah, I consider quitting all the time, mostly because there are a lot of other things in life I should be doing, because I have little time and squeezing writing into it drives me crazy, and because I never seem to be good enough to break into the pros. Another year passes, another year, etc.
I still keep writing. I’m not sure why. I don’t particularly enjoy writing–I find it laborious and painful. I like having finished something and then getting to edit it. 🙂 And yet, on I go. I think it’s in my blood, so even though I consider quitting all the time, I can’t actually imagine not writing.
For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.