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May 21, 2015

What Does It Mean to Give Up?

White flag with text: What Does It Mean If We Surrender?

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*

P.S. I have two giveaways for print versions of Treasured Claim going on this week. One is at my guest post at the AYAP blog, and the other will run on Goodreads this weekend.

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?

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Carradee

I’ve heard that advice before, and I did attempt to stop for a brief time (an attempt to make my family happy). They forbade me from writing for the summer I was…15, I think it was. I’ve also had to take breaks due to illness, etc. The only times I worried that I wasn’t meant to be a writer was when my family was twisting it into something rebellious and/or waste of time and/or … I think you get the picture. But when I think about it, my mother says I told “stories” from the time I could talk (though that might be part of her propaganda to keep people from taking me seriously when I speak of things I’ve actually witnessed). In elementary school, I embraced creative writing assignments. (I still have a book I did for class in 3rd grade.) And there was some story I started somewhere around 7, though I don’t remember starting it, because I remember the few “Oh, yeah—I wrote this” finds and attempts to salvage it. I don’t think of that as “writing”, though. As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t start writing until I was 14. But I had active fanfic daydreams (based on Star Trek & Star Wars) from the time I was 9. I started writing because I was struck by an idea for an original story. Somewhere among the missing memories from my childhood, there could be a little girl who wrote a story or five and got harassed…  — Read More »

Allan G. Smorra

I was also a youngster when I stopped writing. I was told that even though I was good at it, I would never be able to make a decent living doing it. Life happened and now, 50+ years later, I am retired and once again starting to write—for myself this time.

As far as “Surrender” goes, a wise person counseled me that it also means “to stop fighting”. For those of us who cannot “give up”, this is a breath of fresh air.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

No, I’ve never heard of that advice before, though I think you mentioned it in a previous post. And I must say I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve never been discouraged in my writing and reading; I’ve never stopped reading or writing except for short periods of time; people have always been very encouraging of my reading and writing, uh…to the point that some of them seemed a bit obsequious. ^_^” However, I have experienced a kind of giving up for my drawing! Drawing had always been one of my favorite things to do, comparable to my love for writing though now writing has become the greater love; people had always been pretty encouraging and often to the point of flattery for my drawing too. BUT somewhere in grade 9-10, I was discouraged by my school’s art teacher, yet it was for a pretty stupid reason. In the exam, my mock exam grade was a B+, which made me mad because my friends got A+s when I felt that I was better at drawing than they were. (Sorry, youthful arrogance. 🙁 ) My teacher told me that I got a B+ not because I was bad at drawing, but because I didn’t care that much about presentation in my sketchbook. Not that it was very scruffy or anything, haha, but that I didn’t feel the need to make the presentation “pretty”. I.e. I only cared about the drawings themselves, and didn’t care about decorating or doing something aesthetically attractive about…  — Read More »

Jon
Jon

I’m “only” a male reader. Ava Louise liked your blog. Your comments on Alpha females (and then beta characters) were spot on. That lead me to Kala.

Wow. Within the first page I knew I would like her. (Would you please consider finding a plot for her to further inhabit?)

I’ve just started Treasured Claim. Sad to discover it has a billionaire in it but your virginal dragon has promise to continue self sufficient. I’m just not sure I like the feisty / flighty person she is now.

Thanks for being so creative.

Angela Quarles

I heard this from a big name SF author at a writing panel at Dragon*Con and it stuck with me and has nagged me, because ultimately I CAN stop. It’s not a compulsion for me and so every once in a while, a little voice makes me question whether I’m a ‘real’ writer. To be fair, what he was saying was perhaps valid from his experience, because I think this advice is bandied about by traditionally published authors, because with the bad contracts and measly pay you really HAD to have it as a compulsion in order to put up with that. At least that’s how I came to interpret it. I remember him just flat out saying, “If you can quit writing, do.” And it was his bitter chuckle that led me to my interpretation. I actually avoided writing fiction after childhood because of a variation on this theme–that if you didn’t have literary prose coming naturally from your fingers, you aren’t a real writer. For a good portion of my adulthood, I’d have ideas or dreams where I’d go wow, that would make a cool plot, too bad I’m not a writer. I did dabble in some fan fiction, but never planned to take it further. Finally, after one idea wouldn’t let go, I said screw it, I’ll write for myself and thankfully one of the first craft books I picked up was James Scott Bell’s book “Plot & Structure” and he called bullcrap on that myth and…  — Read More »

Pam

Jami,

Your post always resonate with me. Maybe we are like third cousins or brain twins? 😉 I had a very similar experience with the whole, “If you can stop, do.”

What I’ve found is no matter how far I’ve roamed. Nothing ever gave me the same satisfaction, the same joy, the same contentment with myself as writing.

When I was young, I didn’t think (unless you were a capital L-literary)writer you could make a living from it. So I dabbled in between banking, accounting, and sales jobs 20 years . Never happy. Then the internet gave me a window to the world and I slowly (oh so slowly) began to think I could write for my supper.

Many times I could have stopped writing, and I did. But I kept coming back. So I guess in the end, I could stop, but I choose over and over again not to stop.

Congrats on your releases. You are a real inspiration! 😀

Sophie
Sophie

I’ve never really heard that. People around me are supportive of my writing, so I never have had a reason to give up. I guess I’ve been lucky in that respect.

Of course, when you have exams draining you, then you don’t exactly have that compulsion to write. But it’ll come back, I know that. (The fact Fuyumi and co. have hung on in there tells me that much–Fuyumi in particular is very good at trying to get me to write when she feels I can. She can be helpful, just a tad annoying at times.)

In any case, I’ve had to cage ideas up, and of course I’m not writing everyday, but that doesn’t mean I should stop. Sometimes advice can be unhelpful…

Julie Glover

Thank you, thank you, thank you for covering this! It drives me nuts when I hear others say that you must want to write as much as you want to breathe, or that you must write every single day, or you’re not a “real writer.” I know some people who write constantly but never finish books, and others (like me) who stopped writing for years but now have several finished manuscripts/books. It also makes me crazy to think that writers cannot have a vacation day or a sick day or a mental health day. I’d had friends facing major life issues (cancer, death of family, disabilities, etc.) who must stop writing for a while, but I know they will return…when they can. Storytelling is in their blood.

As for me, I love to write! And this is the career I’ve happily chosen. If tomorrow I couldn’t write again, it would be frustrating, yet I have so much else in my life to be happy about. I would go on breathing.

Candace Colt

Perfect timing! I needed to hear this advice right now. You have to keep plugging along no matter what comes up, right? Great new book I bought that has helped shake me back into the writing saddle: Jill Jepson’s Writing a Sacred Path. Writing isn’t always about selling. It’s the song from the soul. Thanks for another awesome post.

Gloria Oliver

Years and years ago, I’d heard the advice that you shouldn’t read while writing as you might pick up their style rather than make your own. For for a year or more, I gave up reading. Bad move on my part. When I did go back, I binged! It also gave me a ton of ideas. Movies, TV, books, I find that those that excite me will push my creative juices flowing. I must read!

The day job got in the way of writing and reading last year though. For a full 6 months, I wasn’t able to do any writing except for what I could sneak in during conventions (which wasn’t much). Trying to get it back in on a regular basis. I missed it terribly. But sometimes things just have to go on hold. I just kept telling myself eventually it would all slow down and I could get back to it! My poor little SF manuscript has been in progress for so long. This year, I swear, this year! Heh heh

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Joanna Aislinn

I loved this article, Jami. I miss my back-in-my-early-days writing routine, but my life has shifted and/or fed me its “stuff” in the 11 years since I started writing on a regular basis. Not that my muse has been terribly cooperative these past 36 months (or so), but I made a conscious choice to put the fiction on hold in order to fully develop a parenting workshop I’d been working on simultaneously. I’d also been asked to present on several topics at work, so those workshops needed to be put together too.

Trying to juggle all my projects in the limited, disorganized time between a day job (that often requires work at home), a stay-at-home hubby who loves company and keeping a two-teenage-boy household going left me feeling as though I were lacking. So…I let go fiction and just recently ran my first parenting workshop! You too, know that promotion takes time, so I’m working at. It judging myself for letting fiction simmer for a bit.

Far as I know, blog posts do count. 😉

All the best with your new releases!

Joanna Aislinn

Always a pleasure, Jami–mine! Your blog never fails to deliver. Wish I could keep up with all the things that grab my–squirrel!!!!–interest 😉 , including all the awesome bloggers and all they have to offer. Be well!

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[…] of our writing life is emotional. Jami Gold explores what it means when we quit writing—does it have to mean quitting forever? Caroline McGraw shows us how to face our fears and write, […]

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