Some Mondays, I’ll answer a reader question (anonymously). I’m open to anything (it doesn’t have to be writing or book related), so don’t hesitate to send in a question. Email to email@example.com or use the Contact tab.
Q: Do you ever think about giving up?
Yes. All the time.
Does that come as a surprise? It shouldn’t. Think about any time you’ve taken on a monumental task or goal. Haven’t you thought about giving up? We all have. Especially when it gets really difficult.
When you’re a writer, there are all these levels to hit. You feel like everything will get easier when you hit the next level:
If I could only find an agent, it will all be downhill from there!
I have an agent, but it seems like everyone has an agent. I just need a book deal! Any book deal! Then I’ll be a real writer.
Why was my book deal so small? Maybe my next book deal will be five figures.
Wow. Five figures doesn’t stretch very far after my agent takes her cut and I send most of this off to pay my tax bill. I’m sure the next one will be bigger!
Now, that’s not all that bad, really. We’re programmed to chase the next dream once we’ve accomplished one. Even people in retirement need to find something to challenge them, or they start to stagnate. We all want to grow and thrive and seek the next dream.
The problem is when the problem stops being about reaching the next step, and becomes about falling back down the ones you’ve already climbed. Or pacing back and forth on the same step, unsure which way is up. This is where we settle and struggle and grapple with uncertainty. What should I write next? What do people want to see? Maybe I shouldn’t have used so much profanity in my first book. Maybe I should have added more romance. Maybe I should have fought for a different cover/title/whatever. Maybe I shouldn’t have fought for those things. Maybe I should have done that signing. Maybe I should have answered that email. Maybe I should hire a publicist. Maybe I should set my alarm for 4am and write a chapter every morning. Maybe I should stay up until 1am and write a chapter every night.
One of the biggest challenges of being a writer is that everything is so subjective, and everything takes forever. It takes months (or years) to write a good book. It takes time for people to read a book. We’re in a society where people are upset if their Apple TV remote lags for 0.35 seconds, so waiting for validation on a book feels like an eternity.
Meanwhile, you might have a spouse/significant other waiting in the wings. You might have kids or a parent or a sibling waiting for your attention, all while you’re in a back room holed up with your laptop because you’re chasing a dream. I’ve compared writing to playing poker before. Some of it’s a gamble, and some of it is in your control. Other players can win with shitty cards, just like crappy books (again: subjective) sometimes hit the NYT list. Sometimes a pair of Aces get cracked by an unsuited 7-2. Sometimes brilliant writing is overlooked and dies on the shelf. The best we authors can do is control what we can: the writing.
Do I think about giving up? Sure. All the time.
But then I decide to play one more hand.