There are times – many of them – when I wonder if it would be easier. Easier to sit back, turn off the computer and admit I’m never going to make it. I’m never going to hold that finished, published copy of my book and file it, weepy-eyed, in pride of place on my shelf. I could save myself the heartache of trying, and put the time and effort I spend staring at blank pages and flashing cursors to some other use.
Then there are times when I wonder how much of those thoughts of giving up are rooted in depression, the ever-present bully on my shoulder who wants me to believe I am worthless. There’s no sure-fire way to tell, even after all these years of living with the bully and learning, slowly and painstakingly, how to be kinder with myself.
Because the odds are long. Every one of us who sits down at a keyboard or with a pen and seriously commits to the idea knows how much luck is involved, how few people who say “I want to be an author” actually make it. Where lies the line between realism and pessimism? Wherever it is, I know it’s a thin one.
Time to get like Dumbledore
He might be morally dubious at times, but he knew what he was talking about. The easy choice isn’t always (isn’t often) the right one.
Giving up on writing is giving up on my dream. The one I’ve had since I was 12 years old, when I Mary-Sued myself into a portal fantasy with not insignificant similarities to The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce. I’ve learned a lot about writing since then, through practice and research and practice and reading and practice and lots more practice. About the craft of it, but also about the work involved. The sheer, sometimes endless, sometimes soul-destroying slog of stringing words together on a page.
Whether I like it or not, I have stories in my soul. Characters in my head who won’t shut up and fade away if I simply refuse to write about them. Anything from a car advert to the latest inanely addictive game on my phone, to a book I read and loved to one I hated can spark another scene or character or ENTIRE THREE-BOOK STORY ARC DAMN YOU in the recesses of my brain. Before I know it there’s a queue of fifteen plot bunnies waiting not-so-patiently for their turn to be taken into the light, examined and hammered into shape.
What does not quitting look like?
For me, it sometimes looks like simply showing up at the keyboard, and adding a few words to my WIP, despite the mental fog telling me I can’t do this. As few as ten, as many as two hundred. It’s still a commitment to the book. To the process.
Sometimes it’s scheduling time to write – fifteen minutes here, twenty minutes there – and instead of getting angry with myself when I can’t do it, simply scheduling the next session and committing – there’s that word again – to try again.
Sometimes it’s as basic as not deleting the whole draft in a fit of anger and belief it will never be good enough.
Sometimes it IS deleting the whole draft – after careful consideration leaves me no choice but to acknowledge its shortcomings and that the story I’m trying to tell needs to take a different shape.
A lot of the time, it’s forgiving myself for not living up to my ridiculously high standards. Trying (often failing) to shake off the all-or-nothing mentality. Finding a way to keep going through the rough patches instead of wondering if this time I’ve broken whatever it is that the writing stems from. Allowing myself a break, time to heal like a wounded fighter from the stories I love who needs to regroup in order to fight again another day, and knowing the difference between that and defeat.
Maybe it looks something like that for you, or maybe it’s something completely different. Either way, it might be pointless to say I hope you don’t have to face the monster in the dark that preys on all your worst, most self-hating thoughts and fears. Many of us do, and there’s no controlling it. But if (when) you do, I hope you’re able to hold onto your dreams and remember that one bad spell, bout of self-doubt, or failure to meet your own expectations doesn’t have to be the finish line.