Certain words keep writers up at night. They live in the darkest corners of the dictionary and carry with them anxiety and dread. For me, one is particularly ominous.
Let’s be honest. Writing is swimming upstream with a thousand pounds of hope, expectations, and manuscripts strapped firmly to your back. Publishing is a subjective industry at best and more akin to Russian roulette on the worst days. Great authors take forever to get published. Mediocre authors hit the sweet spot and snag six-figure deals. Inspiration is fickle. There are moments when being a quitter feels more realistic than being a writer.
In times of doubt, I like to turn those nightmare words on their heads. I offer to you five times when throwing in the towel will help your writing so you can quit like a champ.
1. Quit comparing yourself to others.
Social media has turned this hobby into a full-on Olympic sport. Someone is always snagging an agent, debuting a book, or inking a dream deal. While it is important to support your writing tribe, it is equally healthy to recognize when this is damaging.
Remember, most writers don’t Instagram the fiftieth rejection email they received that day. We internalize the losses, which makes social media a breeding ground for jealousy and playing catch up. Your path is your path, and it is the right one for you. If success stories cause perspiration instead of inspiration, step away.
2. Stop trying to resuscitate a dead manuscript.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome. In other words, let go of the work that just isn’t working. I spent the better part of a year writing a short story collection, convinced it was destined for indie chapbook fame, but editor after editor said the same thing to me. The stories worked on their own but didn’t hold together as a collection, and never would.
I considered self-publishing. I listened to my critique group who loved me too much to tell me the editors were right. Finally, after putting the collection away for a time, I reread and realized it was time to pull the plug.
Just like a good relationship shouldn’t be terribly hard work, a good manuscript shouldn’t make you pull your hair out. Listen to feedback. Don’t be afraid to let go. Another idea waits around the corner or at the bottom of a giant cup of Starbucks. If you are brave enough to step away, you deserve the Venti.
3. Quit letting classic rules of writing smother you.
Studying those tried-and-true writing maxims may be a good starting point, but particularly in the world of writing, no one rule is set in stone. The beauty of being a writer is the limitless possibilities a blank page offers and the rewards for venturing beyond the norms.
When I started writing, I was paralyzed by write what you know. I grew up in a small, uneventful Pennsylvania town where what I knew filled approximately three teacups. Thankfully in college a wise professor gifted me four magic words: Write what you feel. She also told me that rules were training wheels, meant to be removed once I found my voice.
4. Stop letting little wins escape you.
Bring your finish line closer. If your idea of success is publishing a New York Times best seller, take a number and have a seat. It’ll be awhile.
Unrealistic goals overshadow the daily steps that are required to reach those big wins. I found myself collaging enormous ambitions onto ridiculous vision boards without ever giving myself credit for the little moments. I also made those wins solely about my journey. Once I expanded them to include the wins of the amazing women in my writing circle, every day felt like an achievement.
Possible wins you are overlooking? The new book idea that you will write when you have time. Cutting out the character you loved like family. Discovering a new journal to submit your work. Attending that virtual conference and making contact with an agent. Finding the right word after toying with all the wrong ones.
5. Quit chasing trends that you will never catch.
A huge mystery fanatic, I was thrilled when Gone Girl and the likes started flooding the shelves of my local Target. I hadn’t written a mystery before but felt like this was the time to start even though it wasn’t authentically what I enjoyed crafting.
First, I struggled because I was trying to match my voice with the greats ranging from Agatha Christie to Tana French. Then I discovered to my horror that every other writer on the planet had the same idea.
The people who benefit most from trends are the trendsetters willing to step out onto that island alone and dare to be different. You are just as likely to catch a trend as you are a unicorn. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do your research and consider what agents are looking for. But rather than catering your writing to someone else’s vision, look for those interested in what you’ve got to say.
It isn’t inherently a bad thing to quit, particularly when you grow as a writer and learn what is keeping you from sitting down, pen to paper (or laptop) and writing. As long as you don’t stop doing that, you are on the path to success.
Sarah Clayville teaches high school English in the wilds of central Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in several dozen journals, and she is a freelance editor and ghostwriter in her spare time as well as a writing mentor for middle and high school students. View her work on her website and follow her on Twitter.