Time To Quit?
by Mike Chiero
Mr. Strathy, is there any type of sign or marker which indicates it's time to give up? I am so "stuck" and frustrated right now because I can't think of anything whatsoever to happen next in my romance novel. My first chapter, I think, is acceptable. I wrote a middle chapter the other day after running into a brick wall while attempting to write chapter two (to stay active and ward off rust). I have a pretty good idea what my final two or three chapters will consist of but other than them I have absolutely no ideas to fill in the blank pages. No clue what the characters will go through or anything. It would be so easy to quit, wouldn't it? But then I'd feel as though I was wasting my talent and be a loser full of terrible regret one day. I just don't know if I am fooling myself or have a real shot to be published one day. Any advice would certainly be appreciated, sir.
I believe every artist and writer wrestles with this problem. It goes to the heart of why we write.
On the one hand, we write because we need to. It's an itch that demands to be scratched. It's part of our natural desire as human beings to make meaning out of life. We do it for ourselves, for pleasure and fulfillment.
On the other hand, we long for success, which means being recognized and validated by other people. We want to receive a living or other types of rewards from our creations.
Unfortunately, we live in a system that rewards and validates only a handful of writers and artists (compared to the total number of people who enjoy writing).
It's a messed up system, because it makes us feel that if we don't get the recognition and validation of success, then our efforts are a waste of time. It gives thousands, if not millions, of people the message that their writing, their art, their inner lives and feelings, the stuff that makes meaning for them, is of no value unless a major corporation (like one of the
big five publishers) decides it can exploit their creations for huge profits. It takes things that are precious and invaluable to us and assigns them a price tag -- and too often that price tag says $0.00.
So what can one do?
First, have a day job. Don't ever depend on selling a story to pay bills. On Wall Street they have a saying that "must money" never wins. Don't put so much pressure on yourself to sell a book that you get frustrated and paralyzed, because that's counterproductive.
Second, embrace the idea of art for art's sake. Write for yourself. Write purely for the sake of the pleasure and the challenge of writing a great story. When you finish a work to the best of your ability, you can look for ways to share it with the world. And if you're very lucky, you might sell it to a publisher or someday be able to quit your day job, but that's beside the point. The point is the fun and fulfillment of writing things that delight the reader (including you).
If you get stuck, it's perfectly all right to set a story aside and work on something else for a while. Very often, when you return to a project after a break the solution to whatever problem was hanging you up will be obvious. Sometimes the subconscious just needs time to work on it, without pressure. Of course, you may want to schedule your return to the project.
There are lots of things you could do for pleasure and fulfillment. If writing doesn't do it for you, do something else. But if it does, don't take the pleasure and fulfillment out of it by telling yourself you must "publish or be forever deemed a loser." Don't beat yourself up because the writing process isn't as fast as you hoped.
Here's a thought...
If you make writing a lifelong vocation, and keep it fun, then even if you never sell a story in your entire life, you will still have had a great life.
P.S. You might check out this article about the different stress states writers experience...