If you want to experience every emotion in the space of a minute, just sign up to Twitter. It’s a place where writers can be abused, men can be accused, and a President can spread lies faster than any time in history. The #WritingCommunity on Twitter, though, is also a place for writers to find a support network… and one of the most supportive friends I’ve found is author Michele Sagan, who’s just been agented for her thriller, The Lies He Tells.
And it only took her twenty years.
That’s right: twenty years’ and seven novels’ worth of effort, and typing-trooper Michele kept honing her craft until the right agent noticed. Her message to fellow Twit-sters? It’s an inspirational one, though perhaps unsurprising: “Never give up.”
Which begs this delicate question… when should a writer give up?
Friends, family and other supporters tell us again and again to follow our dreams until the end… to fight through the discouragement over hundreds of rejections and keep the faith, keep our heads, just keep going. But if only for a minute, let’s consider some parallel questions:
- After hundreds of rejected job applications, should an engineer keep going?
- How many hundreds of times should a law-school graduate fail the Bar?
- What’s the number of scathing course evaluations that should bother a teacher?
I think it’s clear that most of us might gently advise these try-hards to, well, you know… maybe consider another field. Somehow, it’s different with writers; our calling keeps us chasing that dream for longer than others. So, with Michele as my inspiration, here are the reasons you might want to keep writing:
Reason 1: You’re a writer without being published
The role is ‘writer’. The dream is ‘published author.’ Chasing the dream, even without reaching it, is one way to keep yourself in the role… and it is important for any person with the gift to communicate with permanence. It is important to record your thoughts, hopes and disdains.
This might be what so many writers mean when they say they “write for the love of it.” It’s not about giving up on the dream of publication, exactly; it’s about letting yourself experience the passion for every page—every phrase, even—without thinking too much about publication.
Reason 2: We live in an age of self-publicity
The digital age is historic in diametrically opposite ways. While we might despair over quality writing getting lost in the white-noise, the fact is that we can put it out to the world without a publisher. We can “publish” our own thoughts, just like I’m self-referentially doing with this blog post.
Of course, some brave souls go that extra yard to truly self-publish a work for sale. To me, that’s like starting my own university and granting myself a degree: it would be many times the effort, and would leave me with questions about whether my work is really good enough. Still, for those with the confidence and the business savvy, it’s more possible than ever to see their book in print.
Reason 3: It’s cheaper than a therapist
No, I don’t mean that. Writing is no substitute for counselling, but it can be a therapeutic regimen. Threading the clean lines of English sentences through our jumbles of thoughts and emotions is sometimes the only way to put them in any kind of order. With luck, it can even unscramble some of that flak for just one or two readers.
Reason 4: It’s a dream that takes longer to achieve
This might be the biggest difference between writers and engineers; we have to expect the process to take years and years longer. Understanding that from the outset can, perhaps, flog back some of those demons of insecurity. Michele was braver than many to keep at it for twenty years, but she reassures us that the learning and improvement along the way is a great education.
It’s difficult to come up with reasons to write that don’t just seem like platitudes. Speaking as someone who’s been largely blocked for nearly two years, the temptation to move on is overwhelming. That time will come for many of us: the time when a former writer changes his goals, because that’s what he wants. The time when a new dream deserves to be dreamt.
So, “never give up” works until the day you actually want to move on. If you need to look to @michele_sagan‘s Twitter feed as an example, I’m sure she won’t mind.