I know this is an odd topic for the post right after my debut novel release yesterday, as my release proves that I didn’t give up. *smile* But I also had a guest post at the fantastic Adventures in YA Publishing blog yesterday that talked about the danger of discouragement.
The context of the guest post was mostly about the kind of discouragement we can encounter if we start writing young. In that post, I share a story about how I was discouraged from writing as a teenager when others treated me as though I’d done something wrong by listening to my characters and following my muse. I was so discouraged, in fact, that I didn’t write again for years and years.
In other words, I. Gave. Up.
That got me thinking about one of the blunt and harsh pieces of advice that floats around the writing community every so often:
If you can stop writing,
you should stop writing.
Er, really? Only those who have a compulsion to write—no matter their life circumstances—should be writing?
Could have fooled me. I went for years without that compulsion, yet I have three books for sale now. According to that advice, I should have remained a quitter and never should have started writing again. *pfft* No, thanks.
As with many kinds of advice, there’s a kernel of truth at the center of the idea. However, it’s too easy for advice like that to be discouraging when it lacks context for that kernel of truth.
The Truth: Writing Isn’t for the Weak
The idea behind that advice is true: Writing is hard, and too many people dive in thinking it will be quick, easy, and lead to fame and fortune.
Those who start writing on a lark or for superficial reasons are likely to give up when they discover it’s not as quick and simple as they assumed. For those, advice to give up sooner rather than later can save them time and frustration.
Also, it’s true that those who write often do feel a compulsion. I’ve joked about how my fingers start getting itchy if I haven’t written anything in a while. But does that automatically mean that if we don’t feel that compulsion—each and every day—we’re not a real writer?
The Context: Writers Are Allowed to Take Breaks
Even as writers, we’re allowed to take vacations and sick days. We’re allowed to have days, weeks, or even months when life overwhelms us. We’re allowed to feel blocked in our writing.
Heck, I know writers who have struggled with severe car accidents, cancer, or other medical issues and can’t write for months at a time. Should they think that they must not be real writers if they’re not tearing out their hair every day because they can’t write?
Or what about those I know who have experienced major tragedies or emotional upheavals and withdraw from everything. Because they could stop, does that mean they should stay that way?
Absolutely not. Even if we don’t have itchy fingers during those times, we’re still a real writer. If we write, we’re a writer. Period. Yes, even if we give it up for a time and come back later.
The Deeper Truth: Everything We Do Is a Choice
My point is that each day of our life is a new day. We get to decide each and every day who we are, who we want to be, and what we want to do.
Maybe yesterday wasn’t a good day. Maybe we’ve had writer’s block for a week. Maybe we’ve had house guests and personal issues for a month. Maybe we’ve suffered from pregnancy-and-sleepless-new-mommy brain for a year.
None of that should determine who we are today, much less who we are for the rest of our lives. Just because we might have given up in the past doesn’t mean that we have to stay that way. We can make different choices today. Or tomorrow. Or next year.
I speak from experience. I gave up writing for more years than I want to do the math for. I felt no compulsion. No need to write. Not even a sense of missing writing.
In my guest post, I state—somewhat tongue-in-cheek—that giving up writing for so long was my Worst Mistake Ever. And yet… I’ve recovered from it.
Yes, it would be a mistake to give up writing for longer than “needed,” but who’s to determine how long we need? On some level, I needed that time to recover from boring-books-required-for-school burnout.
For most of that non-writing time, I wasn’t reading either. (And maybe that’s the real tragedy. *smile*) I’ve also shared that I got my storytelling fix in other ways (mostly Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games).
Once I rediscovered the joy of reading, the compulsion to direct my storytelling instincts into writing returned. Imagine that. *grin*
In short, when I was ready, I made different choices. I started writing again, learned what I needed to know, and applied my life experience to my stories. In other words, I’ve erased every aspect of that mistake other than the “lost” years, and even those brought the depth of my life experiences to my writing that I wouldn’t have had before.
So we shouldn’t think that giving up writing is a “sign” that we’re not cut out for it, or that we should stay given up. Not writing yesterday simply means we didn’t write yesterday. That’s it.
There are some mistakes we can’t undo. Giving up writing for a time isn’t one of them. *smile*
Have you heard that “if you can stop, you should stop” advice before? Have you ever voluntarily stopped writing for a time? Were you ever forced to set writing aside for awhile? Did you worry about whether that hiatus was a sign that you shouldn’t pick up writing again? What made you get back into writing?Pin It