Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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To Quit or Not to Quit? Part I...
by Moira Allen
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I can hear gasps and immediate response of 'never,' but let me elaborate a bit. I make a living as a professional nonfiction writer. But what I love writing is fiction - adult and children's stories, poetry, even a novel that earned a bit of local media play and good reviews. Yet, despite a social media presence, website, and word of mouth, it's almost impossible to reach a wide net of readers (unless your book happens to be a soft porn phenomenon and gets mainstream media attention that leads to a movie deal).
Yes, authors can keep on writing because they have a passion for it, but when does it become an exercise in futility?
Should you quit? Should you give it all up as an "exercise in futility"? Should you abandon the field to the soft porn writers of the world? The obvious answer to that, of course, is that no one can answer that question but you. But before you do -- before you try to find a "yes or no" to the question of quitting -- let me pose an alternative.
Instead of quitting, consider changing.
If writing is no longer bringing you joy, and the process of striving for success seems futile, something is clearly going "wrong" in your writing life. It may not be your writing itself (though that's always a possibility) -- but something needs to change. It may be that your expectations need to change. Few things are more frustrating than having expectations that are not being met, or that cannot be met. Ask yourself what, exactly, you expect to achieve as a writer -- and then ask whether, at this time, you are on a path that can lead you to that desired achievement. The answer may not actually be "no" -- the answer may be "not just now" or "not yet."
It may be that you need to re-evaluate your timetable for success. You may feel that the success of your dreams should have happened already -- but, clearly, it has not. Does that mean it never will? If nothing else changes, then -- possibly not. The only real data point that you have, however, is simply that you're not there yet. And that means that the only real question ahead of you is -- where will you go in the future?
It may be that you need to change your priorities. You mention that you earn a living as a nonfiction writer, but what you "love" is fiction. That line suggests that you don't, in fact, love the work you are doing as a nonfiction writer. However, if that's what is paying the bills, chances are that nonfiction writing is consuming a sizeable portion of your time.
However, "writing for a living" consumes more than time. It consumes energy -- specifically, that part of your energy that is used in the writing process. When your work is done, I'm betting that you often find that you have little time, energy or enthusiasm left over for the writing you "love" -- and the writing you love, most likely, always has to take second place to the writing that pays the bills.
It's hard to make a success out of something that doesn't have top priority in one's life. It's also hard to make something "top priority" when it doesn't pay the bills. Sometimes, there's just no quick way out of that trap; the "writing you love" has to wait until other things change in your life. But it's worth examining ways that you can shift the writing you love to the writing that gets top priority in your life -- even if that means finding some other type of job (specifically, not writing) to pay those bills.
It may be that you need to change your use of "non-writing" time. You mention having a social media presence. This often means that one is investing a huge amount of time and effort into promoting rather than writing. I realize conventional wisdom these days insists that you simply must focus on "connecting" with your readers -- but the reality is that you won't have readers to connect with if you're not writing for those readers. Speaking for myself, I'd much rather have a new book from my favorite author than a Tweet or Facebook post! If Facebook isn't fun, and writing is... then ditch Facebook and write!
It may be that you need to change what you are writing. If you've been focusing on adult fiction, consider a switch to YA or even children's fiction. If you've been writing short fiction, consider another novel. Experiment with some different forms and styles. Consider putting aside every idea you've been "planning" to write about, and give yourself time to discover something completely new and different. It can be hard to get excited about ideas that you've been "meaning" to write about for years; sometimes it takes something that is utterly outside your "usual" type of work to spark fresh excitement.
And, finally, it may be that you need to change how you write -- i.e., you may need to improve. It might be that you could benefit from a class, or a critique group, or a book. Writing is always a matter of walking that tightrope between "I am a good writer" and "I can become a better one."
Will making changes like these ensure that, one day, your book will be raking in six figures and movie deals? Of course not. But the one change you can make that will absolutely guarantee that won't happen is this...
You can quit.
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.