A to Z Day 17: (don’t) Quit!


Click for A-Z blog list.

Click for A-Z blog list.

I was going to write about quatrains today, but this is more important. We can talk about writing in a lot of different ways — as an art form, a means of communication, a medium of expression, a way of socializing — but it’s important to understand writing as a skill. As with any other skill, you get better at it with practice, and you get rusty when you don’t write.

If you want to get better, don’t quit writing, no matter how frustrated you are with the work you’re producing at the moment. If you have a specific piece that you just can’t figure out how to fix, put it aside and work on something else. If you have a big project that’s stagnated to the point you feel blocked, sit down and work on something shorter and easier until it’s done. Completing something — anything — is a good way to build confidence and raise your energy level.

Talent is nice. If you have it, you should be thankful to the universe for bestowing it upon you, but talent doesn’t get you very far. Persistence is more important. So is revision (my topic for Monday). This is, seriously, the best piece of writing advice I have to offer:

Find a way to separate your self-esteem from your successes and failures as a writer. Every writer fails. Having to throw away pieces of writing, or sharing them and receiving overwhelmingly negative feedback, is part of the game. Failures, in and of themselves, don’t say anything about what kind of person you are or about your potential as a writer. It’s how you deal with them that matters. Don’t beat yourself up for more than a few minutes when you fail. Shrug it off and try again. You have to be willing to strike out if you want to hit home runs.

Recently, I heard a successful stand-up comic talking about what it’s like to learn that craft. I can’t remember who it was — it was a television interview I just happened to catch the end of. It may have been Richard Belzer. He said the only way to get good at standup is to walk out onto the stage and fail until you figure out how to be funny.

For most stand-up comics, that means years of failure just to have a chance at success. Writing is like that, too. Especially writing for blogs. I’ve referred to my blogging and networking as a social media stand-up routine more than once since I started.

The trash folders of my blogs are full of posts I wrote and decided not to publish, either because they were just too bad, or because people I trust read them and gave me feedback that convinced me not to run them. I have boxes of paper manuscripts and notebooks full of things no one will ever read if I have any say in the matter. I have a word document on my computer that’s nothing but passages I’ve cut from my fanasy project. I save those because there are good sentences and important character development buried in all that dross. Eventually I’ll use some of it.

When I look back on some of the newspaper stories I wrote in the 90s — or even at graduate essays I’ve written in the last decade — a lot of them make me cringe. But I got good feedback on the news stories and A’s on the essays. I don’t let the problems I see with my earlier work get to me, but I’m glad I’ve improved enough to see them.

There’s no shame in abandoning a piece of writing or setting a match to a manuscript. Every writer does that at some point in their careers. The important thing is, when you have to do it, don’t let it convince you to abandon writing altogether. As long as you’re writing, you have a chance of succeeding one day.

A to Z badge by Jeremy of Being Retro. Pins from Part Time Monster’s Reading and Writing Board.

 

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About Gene'O

Compulsive writer, amateur photographer, and blogaholic. Also an evil genius.

13 thoughts on “A to Z Day 17: (don’t) Quit!

  1. Reblogged this on Natacha Guyot and commented:
    I agree with how quitting doesn’t help at all. Some of my older writing definitely makes me cringe, but sometimes older projects also feed newer ones, when you rework some of them (as it happened when I translated from French to English and improved my recent article about Shabd!)

    I think it’s wonderful to have ideas for different projects, but making sure to take notes and store them properly (when your brain gives you enough time to actually sit down and write/type them of course) helps a lot in the long run.

    Discipline definitely is a big part of writing and without it talent can’t fully be sustained or blossom.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Excellent advice.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I don’t believe in quitting 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  4. […] talked about the importance of finishing drafts on Saturday. Today’s post is all about revision. Understanding the writing process in a general way is […]

    Liked by 1 person

  5. hannahgivens says:

    “Don’t quit”/”writers write” etc. is basically everyone’s advice ever, but it’s still so hard to actually grasp for aspiring authors. I think the myth of inspiration has been basically debunked for anyone who spends a significant amount of time reading writers’ quotes, but what hasn’t been sufficiently addressed is the idea that your writing is this intimate part of you. Yeah, it kind of is, I’m pouring my guts into my project (or at least trying to.) But there’s a difference between pouring my guts into my characters and themes and plots, and in treating the quality of my writing as a personal reflection on my worth.

    I don’t think people are sufficiently aware of the difference between their content and their actual technical writing skills, and that makes it hard to improve EITHER. I think of it as learning to express the magnificent story I’m trying to tell. I’m trying to learn how to convey that stuff in words that will make other people see what I see. I can learn how to write better; I can learn how to make a more sophisticated plot and better characters to better express that piece of my soul I’m trying to convey. So, criticism means I just need to try some new words, or that the plot event I had in mind isn’t having the right emotional effect, not that I should quit or that I’m not meant to be a writer. They’re not criticizing my soul, because they haven’t SEEN it properly yet.

    This comment is going on forever, I just see a lot of young people quitting and I think that’s a big reason why.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great point! There is plenty of focus on lots of aspects of writing – including the obvious “don’t quit” of “don’t quit submitting just because someone turned your manuscript down.” But this aspect, as you say, is under-represented.

      You can often tell a writer who only has one side of the skillset, too… one who has great ideas, or great writing talent, but not necessarily both (or not both yet?). For me, one big name example is Isaac Asimov – I love his ideas, but his writing (of what I’ve read at least) is often a bit more choppy with some cliches, all these characters who get a short run, and then we move on. Because the ideas are huge, and the words were just him trying to get them out there.

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      • hannahgivens says:

        Oh yes, I sympathize with that so much. I’m a themes and relationships person, a high-concept idea generator on occasion as well, but I struggle with putting a coherent plot together. For me, the plot and the words-on-a-page go hand in hand. However, I’m committed to learning how to be a better writer so I can actually convey those lofty ideas the way I want them to be conveyed. I don’t wanna be one of those people stuck in the ideas stage, or indeed one of those Asimovs who are great but can barely write. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  6. […] of writing is just that important. This is the conclusion of a sort of miniseries that Started with Q and continued with yesterday’s post, but really, if you think about it, I’ve almost […]

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  7. […] Week 3: Lyric – Motif – Narrative – Onomatopoeia – Pacing – (don’t) Quit! […]

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  8. […] Week 3: Lyric – Motif – Narrative – Onomatopoeia – Pacing – (don’t) Quit! […]

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