Writing is hard. This we know. It’s also wonderful, but there’s a reason discipline is just as (if not more) important than inspiration. There’s a reason motivation flags and we all have little tips and tricks to keep ourselves going. There’s a reason any finished first draft is worthy of cakes and confetti and celebratory drinks.
Because writing is hard. We know that.
And so there are many, many, many posts telling you, “Keep going! You’ll get there! This is normal!”
This isn’t one of those posts. Not quite.
Last summer, I had an idea for a book. Not even really an idea, more a fancy. I thought, “I should retell Sleeping Beauty.” So I decided to do it. That initial burst of enthusiasm lasted through several rounds of brainstorming and the first pages of drafting. Then it waned, as it always does.
I didn’t keep going. I focused on other things. I wrote a short story. I attempted (and failed) NaNo with a different project. I finished school. I read a bunch.
Then in December, I re-opened the document and decided I was going to do this. For real. I even gave myself a deadline like a bona fide GROWN UP. I would have a finished draft come hell or high water by February 1, 2014.
I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that it was going well. I was writing steadily and soon I had 10K, 20, 30, 40…
And then. Well. And then I got stuck. I figured, “This is normal. I’m in the dreaded middle. It’s dreaded for a reason. I just have to power through.” So I tried. I tried, and I tried, and I tried some more.
Two things you need to understand:
- I have never finished a manuscript of a book. This was the fifth attempt (if you count two somewhat half-hearted NaNos).
- I have fairly low confidence in myself, especially in my creativity (which is another post for another day).
I knew that this was to be expected for someone relatively inexperienced with known confidence issues halfway through a complicated novel. I’d read all those same articles and blog posts you have: “Keep going! You’ll get there! This is normal!” Those articles that say the only way you fail is if you quit.
I’m not a quitter.
But here’s the thing: quitting isn’t always failure. And you know what? You might not get there. This might not be normal. More than that, it might not be healthy.
Those weeks where I was stuck and kept trying to push through were miserable. I cried so hard and so often that my eyes perpetually stung. Seriously. They burned for days at a time. Even thinking about opening the document—let alone actually writing—set me off. I couldn’t do anything except panic about how I was failing. This was failure. I was a failure.
So, I took a break. An intentional one. I thought, “Maybe I just need some time away to clear my head. Then it’ll flow and I’ll finish and everything will be great.”
Yeah…not so much. When I opened the document after several weeks away, I started crying before it even finished loading.
I closed it immediately. Took a few deep breaths, and let myself ask the question I’d been avoiding for so long: “Should I quit?”
I thought about it objectively. Yes, the panic attacks needed to stop, and fast. But more than that, why was I having such a strong reaction?
I think the initial stuckitude probably was a result of inexperience and the dreaded middle. I think I could have forced my way through to the other side IF this had been a story I loved. But I realized that it wasn’t.
I think I was panicking because I couldn’t admit that I actively wanted to quit. Because the only way to fail is to quit, right?
I like the story plenty. I still think it has potential, and there are a lot of elements I do love, but this isn’t this story’s time. And that’s totally fine.
I’m going to repeat that: it does not make you a failure to shelve a project if you honestly believe it’s time to do so.
There could be any number of legitimate reasons to put aside a manuscript. In my case, it was a combination of self-care and an acknowledgment that this isn’t the story I want to tell right now. Am I deleting it? Or saying I’m never going to finish it? No. But I am allowing myself to shelve this book without guilt, because I KNOW it’s the right decision.
There is no formula for when you should push through the hard times and when you should call it a day. If there was, maybe I wouldn’t have gone through quite so many tissues. But I wanted to write this post because we know writing is hard, and we know it takes discipline and dedication. But I don’t think we always know that it’s okay to quit sometimes, too. At least, I didn’t.