When to give up.

I could lead with a bunch of baloney about how I owe you guys a blog post, but really, I’m procrastinating about writing the next chapter of Spark, and I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot.

I’m never going to tell anyone to give up writing. That’s not what this post is about. You become a better writer with every word that hits the page. Even if what you’re writing now is crap, it’s going to be less crappy the next time around. And less crappy when you get a few words past that. When I was in high school, I thought I was awesome because I’d written something good enough to land an agent. That book didn’t sell, and when I read over it now, I wonder what the hell that agent was thinking to have signed me in the first place. Those words are shoved in a box in my bedside table, and they will never see the light of day again.

I’m talking about giving up on your current project.

This is hard to do. Writing is all about persistence, right? It’s not for the faint of heart, and it takes for frigging ever. When you sit at your laptop for hours on end, cranking out something four hundred pages long, it’s really, really hard to give it up.

It’s like raising a child, really. Sometimes your kid is going to hit eighteen years old and be the most fantastic human being on the face of the planet. The kind of kid who carries groceries for the elderly and studies biology for fun or something. The kind of kid who would never sass you or do anything untoward.

Then sometimes your kid is going to hit eighteen years old and run off with a trucker named Joe, screaming from the cab, “Mom, you ruined my life!!”

You want the first kid. Sometimes, despite all your good intentions, you end up with the second kid.

We can’t give up on our children.

We can give up on our manuscripts.

I wrote four books before one sold. If I hadn’t given up on the first one, I never would have made it to number four. I might not have made it past the second one, but an agent sent me a personalized rejection to my full manuscript, with the line, “Hey, Brigid, there’s no plot here.”

It was a kick in the teeth. I had a 125,000 word manuscript that I’d toiled over for 18 months, and she didn’t see a plot?

But she was right. After I dried my tears and whined to my husband, I realized she was absolutely right. There was no real plot.

And I didn’t know how to fix it.

That’s the worst part. As writers, we have all this damn persistence. We have all these hours with our butt in a frigging chair.  Saying, “There’s no plot here,” is like throwing down a gauntlet. I had to revise! I had to fix it! I had all these hours invested; I couldn’t turn back now!

I could have spent years revising that manuscript, trying to figure out what was wrong. Kind of like a bonzai tree, I could have kept clipping away until I had nothing left but a pile of sawdust and fuzzy leaves.

Or I could do what I did: put it away, and started something new.

If you’re stuck, move on. If it’s not working, move on. If you’ve sent out 200 queries and you’re not getting anywhere, move on. Those hours are gone, but the manuscript isn’t going anywhere. You’re not only going to write one book, right? Why don’t you start the next one now?

Let your teenager run off with that trucker.

Chances are, a little distance will give you some perspective.

5 thoughts on “When to give up.

  1. Can I say how much I always love your analogies?

    Sometimes I think, What if I look back on what I’m writing now and can’t believe how cruddy it is? Why should I bother writing if I have to go through this period of crappiness first?. But then I find the persistence you insist all writers have and keep going. And if what I’m working on right now turns out to be a pile of dung, well then I’ll look back to this post.

  2. Really loved this post, Brigid. Makes me realize we’ve all been there. Truly articulated perfectly.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As crazy as it sounds, I think it’s pretty inspirational.

    EJ

  3. That’s good life advice – not just good writing advice. In teaching, I have to be willing to admit that an assignment or activity has just not worked out. Students are savvy enough to have more respect for a teacher who is willing to admit defeat and try something new than for a teacher who stays the course even when it is a complete failure. I’m sure the same has to be true in different ways in every profession. Definitely true in parenting!

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