25
Aug
2016
1

Should You Quit Writing?

I said I wouldn’t write this blog. PitchWars results are announced today, so a lot of people are writing encouraging blogs, and I bet they’re better at it than me. I excel at encouraging authors I know, because I won’t lie and they know this. Lying about writing serves no one. When I try to encourage people as a group, I can hear them in my head saying, “Listen, Lady, you haven’t read my book. So shaddup.” Plus, I always feel like I should have clouds and a soaring eagle in the background.

dream-big-demotivational-poster

This was *my* encouraging speech:

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.28.17 AM

 

A preview of this outcome:

Scary clown

 

Unfortunately, then I wrote a few encouraging emails to individuals I DO know, and I realized I have something to say. Two somethings: one about my husband’s grandma. One about a terrible book.

Once upon a time, I was in the endless process of hawking one of my books to people, and I was sad that they didn’t want it (agents, publishers, CPs, can’t remember what stage I was in right now and it doesn’t matter). I was talking (whining) to one of my best friends. That friend happens to be my husband’s grandma. Shut up.

Because I trust her, I was really honest. Like, ugly honest. I said, “I don’t know why I’m so freaking sad. I’m not one of those people who cares what strangers think of them. Maybe in my twenties I was, but now I could give a sh*t. Why do I care so much if they don’t think my book is good enough?”

She said, “You don’t.”

I glared into my soggy Kleenex and said (possibly with a small amount of sarcasm). “Um, you sure about that?”

She said, “You told me you write because you feel called to do it. When you get inspired, it feels like fate, like something you have to do.”

*loud nose blowing* “Okay, yeah. Maybe I said that once. So?”

“You don’t want someone to think your book is good enough, you want someone to tell you that your instinct isn’t wrong. That you’re doing this for a reason. That you ARE supposed to be doing it and when you feel inspired, it’s not ego or delusion, it’s real.”

Oh.

I could go on to tell you about how you never know the impact you have on people when you write, and especially when you publish. I could tell you about reader emails I’ve gotten (sometimes not even in English) years after posting stories for free on the internet. Emails from people pouring their hearts out about how I made them cry. How I changed their life. How they never forgot my words. YEARS after I wrote the words. Years during which I didn’t think anybody cared about what I’d written or how hard I’d worked.

But I won’t. Because the point is, you don’t know what you don’t know. You enter PitchWars because, as Mike Mammay put it, you want to know if you’re any good. You want to know if you’re wasting your time and emotional energy. The answer is no.

I know I sound like an asshat saying that to someone I don’t know, so let me tell you a story about a terrible book. This isn’t about working hard and learning beat sheets, blah blah. Just listen.

Back before I was an editor, before I was a book coach, before I was a contest mentor. Before I had graduated from college or even started writing fanfiction. Way back then, someone asked me to take a look at their pages. I had never even heard of a beta reader, I was so green at this point. I said, Sure! They’d seen an essay I wrote and thought I might know something, and my ego very much wanted to believe them. I looked at their pages. They were not good.

They broke every rule of writing in those pages. Some of the rules, they stomped on before tossing them out the window. I could scarcely tell what was going on. I didn’t know where to start. I thought the person should probably take up golf instead. But I couldn’t say that, because I didn’t want to be a jerk. So I told them one or two things to improve, and pretty much washed my hands of the whole deal. They came running up to me a few weeks later with printed pages in their hands, and I cringed when they asked me to read them. Again, because I didn’t want to be a jerk, I read them.

Reader, the pages were amazing.

Not perfect, no. But so much better than the last set, I couldn’t even believe they were written by the same person. They had gone way above and beyond changing things according to my feedback. Their writing was evolving. Something was happening. So I thought up a tip or two more and passed those over (God only knows how, I didn’t know half a thing myself at the time). They printed out some more pages for me weeks later and WOW! This time I legitimately couldn’t wait to read more.

I cringe to admit this, because it shows me for the horrible person I occasionally am (Reader, I got better, I swear). I didn’t think this person should be a writer at first. I was wrong.

That moment changed everything for me, because I realized that if you keep writing, you don’t just learn things. You figure out grammar, sure, you learn structure (*snores*) but it’s more than that. You get more ideas, better ideas. Deeper ideas. When you start reaching, something reaches back. Something real.

Do I believe some writers have natural talent, a mojo that can’t be taught? Yes, I do.

But I’ve also seen writers that I didn’t think had “it” keep writing and suddenly GET that mojo, and that I absolutely 100% cannot explain.

After that first writer, I started editing for everyone who would sit still with a pen in their hand. I bullied people who didn’t even write into writing books (Sorry not sorry, Hoku!) I bullied people who didn’t want to write books into writing blogs (super not sorry, Sandra!). I volunteered myself blue in the face mentoring for contests, because I wanted to CHASE THAT FEELING. That moment when a writer believes they have something, and so they pursue it, and it gets bigger and stronger and more sparkly until maybe someday, it’s a book on a shelf that touches peoples’ lives who will probably never email you to tell you about the key you turned in their heart.

That something is Tinkerbell. It’s God. It’s a muse. It may very damn well be my life’s purpose and even if I can’t grasp it, if I can find a way to stand in the same room with it, I will.

It’s why I started freelance editing. It’s why I turned myself inside out getting Author Accelerator to hire me and begged Brenda Drake to let me mentor months before this year’s PitchWars even opened. It’s why I’m blogging now instead of following my own magic and writing my own books.

Guys, you’re never going to feel that magic if you quit today. And if you’re not sure you’ve really got it? Believe you do. That belief becomes truth.

13 Responses

  1. Yes!
    This is so perfect that I’ve tried 5 times to say why and nothing is good enough. I will say this, my experience in the writing community has shown me that it defines community. The way people encourage one another to be the best version of themselves, even if they never get published, is inspiring.

    1. admin

      UH, that was a really gorgeous thing to add. So obviously the whole trying five times thing worked out for you. Also, I have to agree because you are part of my writing community, and you are superlatively awesome. *tackle hugs*

  2. Really enjoyed this post, Michelle! =)

    At times, I have to remind myself that I am not stuck in “today” with my abilities (whether writing, water skiing or cliff jumping), because in 10 years, I will probably be a very different place, perhaps with new abilities, or simply much-improved abilities. So easy to forget that everything changes, and sometimes for the GOOD!

  3. Mrs. Smith

    Hi,

    Whatever you choose to do in life please keep at least doing these things you wrote about. Helping and encouraging others to be writers I think is very honorable. The written word can have such an astounding effect on others that I think it’s vital that there are people out there helping make that possible.

    I’ve read books for so many different reasons throughout my life and I am so thankful to have found books I could get into reading. Of all the reasons I’ve picked up a book to read right now has proven to be the most significant. I’ll borrow some of your courage and say what’s happening with me with the hopes that it encourages editors and authors not to give up.

    I miscarried a month ago and almost died from hemorrhaging. As if the grief, physical pain, and self hatred were not enough my body feels like it’s quitting on me. My nervous system is not working properly and god knows what else is wrong with me, I still have more doctors to see so do not know exactly what is causing what. All I can say with certainty is that I am scared out of my mind and the only thing that’s helped me though this is reading books. I physically can not do much more than walk short distances around my home and I don’t have the coordination to get anything done around the house or even just while sitting. Even though I started to lose my vision in one eye I will not give up on reading. It feels like it’s all I have left the availing to read. I desperately have been searching for new books to read during this time. Reading stories are the only thing keeping me from going crazy. To have gone from being a homemaker, artist, photographer and wife to feeling 90% disabled is awful on so many levels.

    Books can be everything to someone who feels they have nothing. They provide hope, courage, entertainment, distraction, joy, happiness and a sense of not being alone. I hope authors realize that for those of us who are the readers it can be intimidating to write to an author because we know we don’t have the skills to write anywhere near as well as you do. I’m a high school drop out who is self taught in everything thereafter so it can be embarrassing to think of our basic writing skills being possibly laughed at by someone we admire such as an author. Please keep writing books and not only editing because for me reading your stories have helped me get through each day and for that I can not thank you enough. It’s been gruesome randomly clicking on books on Amazon kindle trying to find something interesting to read.

    Before this summer I never wrote a review or sent a note to an author. I thought it was silly to be just another one of the masses flooding an authors inbox with essentially the same words as everyone else before me. Now having read your blog I felt it worth it to take a chance and say something. Thank you for being awesome and having the courage to write publicly. I have a few dozen stories written on my PC that will likely never see the light of day because I know I’m not educated in the fine art of writing and don’t think I have the capacity to learn how to rewrite them properly. Maybe one day though. Thank you again for doing what you do, you seem like an awesome person.

    Sincerely,
    Mrs. Smith

    1. admin

      Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry for your experience. For the pain, and the loss, and the horrific recovery because it really is so hard to not know what’s happening with your body, and not be able to do the things you want and be all the things you want to be on a daily basis. I hope the recovery is fast, and gentle, and that you find lots of incredible books to ease the time in between. Thanks so much for your kind words about my post–they mean a lot. And never, never think that your reviews or comments go out into the void. As authors, we pour our hearts into every word, and it means everything to hear something come back. To have any hint of if what we’re doing is working. Thank you.

      1. Mrs. Smith

        Thank you for your response and what you said about recovering. 🙂 I think one of the hardest parts about being sick like this is not sharing all the things I feel with my husband. I don’t want to scare him anymore than I already have.

        You’re welcome. I felt so silly after I submitted my comments. It’s good to know that they meant something. I’ll work on writing more reviews and comments. I think Facebook is what gave me the feeling that words just disappeared into the void and I’ve kinda applied that to all my writing on the Internet.

        I hope to find more books too. I just started to reread your stories. 🙂

        If ever you want someone to read a story you’ve written for feedback let me know I’m totally game. 😀 I assume you have my email from when I submit my comments.

  4. Ella

    You are amazing. I love this post (it made me cry). A few weeks ago a coworker handed me a short story he wrote. It was… well, not the best. I couldn’t tell him that, of course. I just pointed out that the first section seemed really disconnected from the rest of the story. He fixed it, and his next story didn’t have that problem. 🙂

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