July 07, 2012

Should I quit writing? by Terry Burns

She caught me off guard with that question. She sat down for an appointment and instead of pitching her projects she launched into how her kids were interrupting her writing time, how church and work and just life in general left her no time to write. She listed obstruction after obstruction and said when she did find time to write that it wouldn’t come, that she was getting nowhere with it. Then she hit me with that question.

I didn’t hesitate a heartbeat but just said “yes.”

She was probably expecting a pep talk or at least for me to commiserate with her. I didn’t. I said, “I think anyone who can quit writing should do so. All of the writers I know CAN’T quit. They have words inside them that have to come out. The serious writer simply has to do it.”

Writing is not easy. There is never time to do it, and there is a huge amount of frustration and difficulty involved. Why would anyone put themselves through it if they didn’t have to? Oh, I know there are those who say “When the kids leave I’ll have time to write.” Or when I retire, or if I come into money, or any other factor in their life that will create this big block of time where they can easily write.

Never happens. Life expands to fill the amount of time available. There is always something to take up the time. The serious writer has to carve out writing time and jealously protect it. Maybe there are people who can dabble at it, a fun little diversion that they do here and there, and they don’t stress over it or worry about it not producing the results they want to have. That’s someone who writes as a hobby, and that’s okay. It makes a nice little hobby if they don’t care about getting a lot of books out and can settle for hobby results, a few books to family and friends, maybe a few outsiders.

But if they have to start trying to write better, to reach more people, to get serious about it. Then it won’t let them be, and it can be a hard taskmaster. Sure, if you can quit, do so, and spend your time on something easier that provides quicker gratification.

She left stone-faced, shaken. I saw her the next day and she said, “I took your advice and felt an immediate peace come over me that I could let it go. But it kept coming back nagging at me. Finally I realized that I really can’t quit.”

I smiled at her. “Then quit making excuses and feeling sorry for yourself. You don’t have any more things fighting to steal your time than anyone else. All writers face it, even the ones that seem to be writing full time and that is all they do. Don’t believe it. They are warding off constant things that want to steal their time. They just have to be disciplined and protect that time no matter what.”

She nodded and said she understood. “Everyone else has been feeling sorry for me and telling me things will get better. You’re the first one that has ever slapped me in the face and told me I should quit or get on with it.”

Really? Maybe there are others who need a wake up call on protecting their writing time. Why did I know what to say so easy? Because being an agent has stolen almost all of my writing time. Oh, the job had some help from family, church and life in general, but I made a conscious decision that helping other writers was more important than my own writing and now I get to do precious little of it. I was talking to myself as much as I was talking to her.

1 comment:

Molly Noble Bull said...

Way to go, Terry.
I've considered quitting gobs of times. I haven't sold a novel in years even though the last novel I sold placed first in two national contests.
Maybe the Lord doesn't want me to write anymore. Maybe I don't have what it takes.
Then more thoughts come.
. Why do my novels win contests?
. What would I do if I didn't write?
In the end I always come up with the same answer.
I can't quit.
www dot mollynoblebull dot com