Wednesday, May 25, 2016

When to Stop Writing

A lot of aspiring writers ask the question: "When do I stop writing?" Or, "When should I give up?"

Well, that's a personal question with complicated answers. A lot of writers, agents, and editors have tackled that question, but they all boil down to the same answer (NOTE: Chuck Wendig can be in-your-face, but his advice is good, in my opinion. Click that link at your own risk).

I've thought about walking away from writing many times, especially after I hit that 100th rejection and had yet to get a single request for pages. But pitching, querying, and publishing are things you DO with your writing, they are not, in and of themselves, writing. As Chuck Wendig said (see the link above), to write, you have to sit down and WRITE.

Life around the Beyond the Trope crew is getting pretty crazy. For all of us. At any given point in the last year, we've all looked around and thought, "How much easier would it be if we didn't have this desire to create stories?" Personally, I've hit a point where that'll hit me about once ever ten days. Yes, that frequently. A busy schedule that barely allows for writing time, combined with life complications that have to be dealt with, lead to a desire to simply walk away from the one thing that isn't "producing results." If I'm not writing, I have more time to spend with my wife. More time to consider long-term career options. More time to rest and recover from the daily slog of beating up my body in a warehouse job.

But I don't give up, and there's one simple reason: I love writing. It's part of who I am. The writing itself isn't, but the fact that I can sit down, think of a scenario, and craft that into a story is something special for me. It's hard work, sure, and it takes a lot of time to reach a point where those stories are good enough for other people to enjoy them (still working on that part). My life without writing might be "easier," but it wouldn't be better.

Which begs the question: when should a writer STOP writing? Well, I would say that a writer should never STOP writing altogether, but there are times when they should walk away from a project. And that's when the project is utter trash, or when the time they spend "fixing it" is simply making it different and not better (or worse).

Listen to any of our Trunk Novel episodes. Many of those books are unfixable. They've been hammered at, revised, or just clumsily started. So, like a statue that's been carved nearly to the point of collapse, anything we try to do to fix them will only cause problems. For that and many other reasons, we each made the decision to walk away. And move on to the NEXT project. It's important to finish what you start, but don't waste time on something that will never be "good." The tough part, especially early on, is figuring out when something IS good, when it has potential. And, also, when it's beyond hope. That requires a lot of study, practice, and reading (read inside AND outside your genre!). It will never happen if you give up.

Here's my challenge to you, especially if you're on the verge of quitting: go write something. Anything. And finish the first draft. Then rewrite it. Get a complete SECOND draft. Then find two or three readers you can trust (people who will tell you the TRUTH, not try to be "nice") and get them to read it. They need to tell you what works and what doesn't. Then take those notes and revise again. If, after that point, you don't think the story can be improved, start over from step one. Repeat endlessly.

No matter what, though, if you've reached the point where you revised AFTER beta readers got a hold of it, put that story in a drawer if you decide to walk away. Don't throw it out. Some day, when you're older, wiser, and more skilled, you may be able to use pieces of that story, or even rework the whole thing, and turn it into something great.

Long answer short: don't walk away from writing. Learn when to walk away from projects, then start new projects. This isn't an easy task, but that's why we write, right?

This blog post is as much of a challenge to Giles as it is to his readers. Never fear, though: he will follow his own advice. Eventually.

1 comment:

  1. One of the ways I work on writing, while having quality time with my wife is our evening stroll. For an hour or more, we talk about the day's events. We also discuss impasses that we might have reached in each of our projects and brainstorm ideas on solutions.

    I discovered earlier this year that if you use Google Docs in the Chrome browser, there is a feature that lets you do speech to text. It seems to do a good job. I may have to stop being a Luddite and get a smart phone or buy a digital recorder, that way I can sneak in some words here and there.