Writing is hard. Building a career out of writing is even harder. That’s why people are always telling writers not to give up. You don’t have to tell someone not to give up when they’re doing something easy. When’s the last time you heard someone say “Don’t give up” to someone eating a pizza? Right, never. It’s easy. (Now NOT eating a pizza? THAT’S where the work comes in.)
So, am I here to tell you not to give up? To encourage you to keep plugging along on that book you’ve been writing for the last two years? To tell you to keep pitching the book you haven’t been able to get published while reminding you that Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected thirty times before being published? Nope. I’ve certainly written that type of blog post before because sometimes putting your nose to the grindstone is the right decision. But is it always the right decision? I’d like to do something a little different here and suggest that, sometimes, giving up is the right decision.
Hear me out before you decide I’m a Negative Nellie.
Let’s say you’ve been working on a novel for quite some time. You’ve written it and rewritten it. You’ve taken time away and come back to it and still can’t get it to come together. You’ve had trusted readers take a look but they can't agree on where the problem is coming from. Maybe you love the main character but the plot won’t solidify. Or vice versa. You’ve tried a lot of things to make this idea work, but it just won’t gel. Is it possible that success is right around the next corner? Possibly. The less work you’ve done on the book, the greater the chance this is true. But if you’ve really given it your all and you’re still not getting the result you want, it might be time to consider that your idea isn’t strong enough. Not every idea will turn out to be a winner. Are you better off beating a dead horse or taking the lessons you’ve learned in trying to make this book work and applying them to the next book? To be clear, I’m not saying you should abandon an idea as soon as it gets hard. Even a book with a solid plot behind it will be hard to write at times. But if you’ve really and truly done everything you know how to do and it’s still not happening, sometimes the best idea is to move on. That’s not quitting. It’s learning and taking on the next challenge.
Or maybe you finished your novel and have been trying to get an agent’s or publisher’s attention for some time with no luck. Again, that “yes” could come in the next batch of queries you send out. But if you’ve done due diligence to ensure you’re sending your book to the right people and you’re still not getting any bites, it might be time to take what you’ve learned from the rejections and move on to your next idea. Or perhaps you keep getting responses that the writing is great but they don’t feel the book is marketable. Publishers will find it hard to take a risk on a hard-to-categorize book from an unknown author. In this case, you might want to consider “giving up” on your desire to be traditionally published and self-publishing this book. If your book is a bit different and has gotten good feedback, taking it straight to the readers might be the best option. Letting go of your goal to be traditionally published might be the best way to achieve your goal of having a successful book.
Maybe you’ve been working hard to write a novel that would be categorized as literary fiction because that’s what the “serious” writers write, but you can’t come up with a protagonist or a storyline that interest you. But whenever you stop trying to come up with ideas and just let them happen, a ton of science fiction ideas come pouring out. You’re excited about the ideas and think they sound like lots of fun, but you keep pushing them aside because they’re not important enough. Consider whether you should give up the idea that the only books worth your time are “serious” books. If you don’t love what you’re writing, the chances of you writing something others will love reading is slim. In this case, giving up the goal of writing literary fiction and replacing it with a goal of writing a book you’d love to read might serve you (and your future readers) better than slogging away at what you feel you should write.
I’ll say it again: Writing is hard. And frequently you have to push through the difficulty and force yourself to dig deeper. But telling authors that they should never give up can lead to unhappy writers who don’t have a chance to grow beyond their initial dreams. If you can honestly say that you’ve given your all to a particular goal and still can’t get there, sometimes the best choice will be letting go of that particular goal and focusing on another. Sometimes you have to give up to succeed.