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To Quit or Not to Quit, Part II: Understanding the Writing Continuum
by Moira Allen
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So I decided to turn them into this issue's feature article instead...
First and foremost, I'd like to use this space to thank everyone who responded. Twenty-eight readers spoke out with advice, encouragement, understanding and support for Shiela's dilemma. Many had similar experiences of their own to share. But throughout the responses, one theme emerged loud and clear: To these writers, "quitting" is not an option!
Another factor that struck me from the replies was that, for many respondents, Shiela already seems extremely successful! Many respondents had not yet achieved the degree of publishing success that Shiela has achieved, and many have not yet been published at all. Yet, not one seemed to feel that this represented "failure" or "futility." Many felt that publication, though certainly a nice thing, was not really the ultimate purpose of a writer -- or the only measure of "success." Most respondents weren't fretting over not achieving the "success" of M.E. James -- I suspect many would have been more than happy to achieve the "success" of Shiela!
And this brings me to a concept that, once I grasped it, made all the difference in bringing ME peace of mind with respect to my success in the writing sphere, or lack thereof. That concept is "continuum."
A "continuum" is defined as "something that keeps on going, changing slowly over time." It can also "describe a range that is always present." This particular definition used an example of high school students - just as students are always graduating from a school and moving on to other things, new students are always entering, so there are always roughly the same number of students in every grade, but individual students move through those grades.
Writers exist on a continuum as well. We begin as beginners. We learn the ropes, hone our skills, discover what we are good at, discover what we have a passion for. If we are serious about writing -- and about improving our writing -- we move forward. Perhaps we get published; perhaps we don't. Perhaps we get published in areas we didn't anticipate when we started. We continue to get better. Some of us move on to increasingly levels of success. Some don't.
But here's the thing... No matter where you are on this continuum, there will always be writers who are, by some definition, "further along." No matter how successful you are, there will always be writers who are more successful. No matter how much money you make, someone will always make more. No matter how many books you publish, someone will publish more. (Unless you're James Patterson, at which point that almost doesn't seem physically possible...) No matter how good you are, someone will always be better.
At the same time, no matter how unsuccessful you are, someone else will always be doing "worse." No matter how poor a writer you might be, you can bet there are many, many writers with far less skill than you. No matter how "new" you are, someone is newer.
You, as a writer, are always moving forward along your personal continuum - getting better, one hopes, coming closer to your goals, learning more, gaining more experience, and, perhaps, garnering increasing success. If you spend too much time looking at the writers "ahead" of you, it can be depressing. "Look where they are, and I'm not! Look how far I have to go!"
Instead, look back. Look at how far you have come. Realize that somewhere back there are hundreds of writers starting out at a point where you once were -- but where you are no longer. They are looking ahead at you, and thinking, "Wow, look where she is, and I'm not! Look how far I have to go!"
Now look ahead once more, at that writer who just made the bestseller list -- whether it's with a title that you think actually merits such recognition, or one that does not. They, too, have traveled this continuum. At some point in their careers, they were where you are. At some point, they were where you were. At some point, they probably thought they'd never reach the point where you are today -- and when they did, they probably wondered if they would ever go any farther.
For me, recognizing this continuum put my writing life into perspective. It enabled me to relax, to stop beating myself up over not being somewhere I wasn't. Once I realized that the continuum never stops, no matter how far I travel, I stopped worrying about precisely where I was and when. And once I realized that every writer has journeyed along the same road, I stopped feeling envious of those who had traveled farther than I had. With luck, and perseverance, and skill, I may get there. Or, I may end up somewhere completely different, because there are to my mind more important things in life than hitting the bestseller list (though it might be nice!). But I don't have to fuss and fret over where I am, because where I am is simply where I am today, not where I'm going.
As kids on a long road trip, we would bounce impatiently in the back seat and ask, "Are we there yet?" The reason we asked was because we were not in control of the journey. Those who were -- the adults who had the maps and the wheel -- knew how long it would take to get "there," so they didn't have to keep asking. In the journey of writing, we have the maps and the wheel, but sometimes we forget that we are the ones in control. And sometimes we forget that, in every journey, we need to stop from time to time and take a look around at where we are. Because on a continuum, there is no "there" -- the journey never actually ends. If we're not enjoying the ride -- if we're not able to be happy where we are -- chances are, we won't manage to stay on the road long enough to find out where it can take us.
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.