Early on in my career, I was surprised when my fellow writers gave up. Some quit before they even began. Some quit right after getting their MFA in creative writing. Some quit after they started publishing short stories. I think what kills me now is how many great writers quit after they’ve published their first, second, third novels …
I’ve read many beautiful books that were rejected by agents, or accepted by agents and then rejected by editors, or even accepted by editors but subsequently lost in the shuffle of published books. And I know many writers who’ve published a first novel and a second, but then were cut loose from publishing — because of dim sales figures — and they felt fired. They felt like it was over.
It’s not over.
At certain points along the way, it felt like time itself weeded out the crowd, but of course it’s not just time. It’s the long unpaid hours, the brutal truth of the industry, the wear and tear on the defensive armor, the disappointments, the blame, even a natural aversion to the supposed literati scene…. Why am I here? Why am I doing this?
Sometimes it’s even the paralysis that comes with success and hype.
Sometimes your life allows you so little time that you decide it’s better not to want to write than to want it and be denied the page. You stop wanting to write.
Writers lose heart. They lose nerve.
And we lose a lot of great writing.
But it’s not over – this is what I want to say to these writers who have stopped. Come back.
Here are the two questions that naturally emerge: How do you get back to the page? And, once there, how do you protect that relationship with the page?
Well, therapy is often good.
But here are some other ways you might try to begin again:
- Stop criticizing literature. If you exercise your critical voice too much, you risk building up the critical muscle so much that it strangles the creative voice before it has a chance to get through a paragraph.
- Instead read what you first fell in love with. Go backward and pick up the thread you lost. Why are you here? Sure as hell not for the company of the supposed literati – they’re a boorish group. You’re here more likely because you read someone’s words and those words bloomed in your head in a transformative way. Find that again.
- Pretend you’re someone else. Seriously, just write A NOVEL BY and then make up a name. Write under that name, in that other voice. You might choose to send this book out under this name or your own. Don’t worry about that now.
- In this way and in the metaphorical way, lose yourself. This might allow you to write something more poetic or more commercial – this other person who is not you doesn’t have to have live under the same expectations.
- Get rid of all notion of audience except for one person. This one person might be a friend, a child of yours, or a younger version of yourself. Now whisper the story you want to tell into this one ear – urgently.
- Find urgency. Tend to that urgency. Keep it stoked.
- If your feed is filled with friends winning prizes and getting book deals, test yourself with it. After reading this kind of news, do you feel more fired up or deflated? If the answer is B. Deflated, cut yourself off from Facebook (and other social media). If you use it for one-on-one communication, only go to your page – don’t ever hit to home.
- Insulate yourself in the manner you need to. It might just be too noisy to hear your own voice. Turn the noise off – literal and figurative.
- Set aside time to write even if you just gaze. (Choose the time of day when you’re the most energized as possible.)
- Want to write again. Allow yourself to desire the page, the words.
Have ideas of your own? The floor is yours.