Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Don't Give Up

I had a recent conversation with a fellow writer that bothered me enough to post about it. I was asking her how her writing was going and she said she hadn't been able to work on her project ever since receiving her last critique a few months ago. When I asked why she said, "What's the point?"

Me - What do you mean?

FW - What's the point of continuing to work on something that will never get published?

I admit that I got mad. She is a genuinely gifted writer who has a way with words that I truly envy. Her characters come alive on the printed page. But she was just going to give up? Not try? Because she got one negative critique?

Girl, please, get over yourself.

First of all, the opinion of a reviewer should not be treated like Moses bearing the Ten Commandments. It's one person's opinion and they could be right or they could be wrong, but they are not the gospel. A critique is only as good as what you take out of it. Filtering through it is the job of the writer. You take what sounds right to you and discard what sounds wrong. The writer is the final arbiter, not the reviewer. When you give too much credence to a negative critique, it can paralyze you.

Second of all, publishing as a goal for writing is a good thing. Publishing as the only goal of writing is not. You should be writing because you love it. You should be writing because you want to improve your skills. You should be writing because the voices in your head won't quiet down unless you put it on paper. Whatever the reason it is, you should be writing with passion. But if you are only writing because you want to get published, this is a mighty harsh industry that may ultimately end up breaking your heart.

I remember reading an article by a famous author who spoke about how she had graduated from her MFA program with several writers who were more talented than her and yet she was the only one published from her graduating class. She said that the only reason she achieved publication and they didn't was Perseverance. She never gave up writing. She never gave up trying.

Someone else once said publishing is as much about luck as it is about talent. That perfect storm of luck and timing - the right people in the right place at the right time picking the right story. Chance, luck, fortune - none of this is in our control. The ONLY thing in our control is the writing.

So I say to anyone else out there who might be feeling that sense of hopelessness.

Don't give up.

If you have a passion for something, be it writing, singing, acting, saving the world, investment banking, whatever it is.

Don't give up.

If you believe you have what it takes to make your dreams come true.

Don't give up. Because once you give up, the dream will die.

14 comments:

Patti said...

♥ smooches to you ♥

writers can't hear this often enough, especially when coupled with a loving kick in the budunkadunk.

Bish Denham said...

Excellent post! It can be hard to separate ourselves from our work.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have in the past thought of giving up, but I realize I never will. And it's for exactly the reason, that I love writing more than I worry about publication

Matthew MacNish said...

Amen! Well said, thank you Ello.

jjdebenedictis said...

There's actually science to back up what you say.

It was found recently there's a 15-minute writing exercise that raises the school grades of inner city kids to match those of kids from more affluent areas.

The same exercise raises the grades of young women in science classes to match those of young men.

All the exercise involves is giving the students a list of human traits (like "courage", "perseverance", "imagination"), asking them to choose a few and then write a short essay on why those traits matter to that student.

What it does is it encourages the students to be self-motivated, self-directed. It reminds them that they're striving for their own reasons, to reach their own goals. It de-emphasizes the expectations of others and any sense that the student is competing, or trying to measure up to some benchmark.

In other words, it helps undo the toxic influence of all the societal expectations we tend to saddle ourselves with.

When a person focuses too much on external reasons to perform a task (like getting published), that tends to demoralize them and they don't function at their full capacity. So, as you say, we should all be writing for self-directed reasons--because we love to write, because we're proud of the stuff we can create, to improve ourselves.

Science says: You reach your full potential when you're focused on reaching your (individual) full potential. Don't hang your ego on external benchmarks; it's demonstrably counter-productive to your goals.

Jess said...

Fantastic post, Ellen! More and more, I'm trying to think of the future in two halves: as my publishing career and as building a sustainable, happy creative life.

Larissa said...

This is why I adore you.

Erin Bowman said...

Ellen, this is such a wonderful, honest post. Well said.

"Publishing as a goal for writing is a good thing. Publishing as the only goal of writing is not." <-- Yes! If you're writing just to be published, if the passion isn't there, this industry will likely stomp all over your heart.

Write because you can't stop. Write because you love it. Write because it makes you. And with a little luck and good timing, maybe you can add "write to share the story with the world" to that list.

laughingwolf said...

very well said, el :)

Ello said...

Thanks everyone! I really appreciate everyone's comments back to me. They mean a lot.

Whirlochre said...

Been there, done that, worn the T shirt, suddenly found myself suffocating, tugged on the T shirt to no avail, phoned the police, phoned the fire brigde, phoned the Very Sharp Teeth Hamster Patrol Hotline, wondered why I 'went there', 'did that', 'wore the bloody T shirt', then phoned the hamster people again just to make sure it wasn't a spoof — all such a waste of time as it happened, but if I hadn't spent even more time writing it down the whole gamut of experience would have been irritating, soul-destroying and useless.

Nandini said...

What Patti said ... <3
Thanks for the pep-talk!! Helps to have a sense of humor, and a bunch of upbeat writer friends who "get it".

Rena said...

Great post, Ellen.

Jonathan Auxier said...

My mother is a painting instructor, and she raised me to believe that the most essential skill separating artists from dilettantes is the ability to take a note. Because of that, I've always taken pains to seriously consider every note I'm given (even the ones that are patently bad). Generally speaking, this is fantastic, as it pushes me to explore unfamiliar/uncomfortable territory in my stories -- it's also probably the reason I've been able to make a living off my writing. However, the downside to this behavior is that it leads to a LOT of reverence toward outside opinion ... and when that opinion is negative-but-true, it can be seriously discouraging. You're a good friend to snap your colleague out of her doldrums.

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