When Do I Give Up?

It was my very first writers conference. I waited impatiently for my critiqued manuscript from a well-known and well-respected literary agent. Sitting on a bench under a tree, I opened the large manila envelope and pulled out my crisp, white pages that now ran red with scarlet ink – each red slash a tiny cut to my heart.

It was the moment I gave up.

Deflated and discouraged, I forced myself to stuff my dead work into its paper coffin, and attend the “Turning Your Chapters into Articles” class. I decided I would dismantle my much-loved dream and try to use it still. Being overly dramatic is a literary trait, and I wondered if this was a tiny taste of how the loved one of an organ donor feels. My manuscript that I loved would be used for good, but not in the way I’d hoped.

After the class, I met with the editor who led it. She asked how I was doing. (Apparently, that afternoon, Alice Cooper and I shared the same makeup artist.) She went on to encourage me not to give up on my dream. “This is one agent’s opinion, Joanne,” she gently reminded me. Her words gave me a microscopic ray of hope. (Purchasing an article for her magazine helped my mood, too.)

The agent who sliced my work like Dexter did me a great favor. He showed me how to shape my work in a way that would be acceptable the next time. Months later, I received my first book contract.

Since becoming an official “writer,” I have quit at least six hundred times. As a matter of fact, I even titled one of my emails to my agent, Rachelle, with these very words this summer: “When do you give up?” She immediately called and talked me down from the ledge, and recently addressed this timeless writer-question very eloquently in her blog.

I thought I’d share a few ways to encourage the quitter in you:

Take a laptop sabbatical. My computer recently died, and I thought I would too. Once my laptop was up and running again, so was I! Three weeks was just the break I needed. Giving my right-brain some creative rest helped me look forward to working on my next project.

Shake a leg. Exercise and I are not the best of friends. But whenever I get outside and get my blood pumping, it seems to clear the cobwebs in my middle-aged head. I take my recorder along, just in case I get an idea I can’t ignore.

Make time for someone. Get out of your self-centered word-filled world. Go out and see a movie. Call a writer-friend and vent a bit. Have a quiet night at home with your spouse. Cuddle up on the couch and read a book to your child/grandchild.

Fake your own death. Just wanted to see if you were still reading. Please don’t do this. Definitely not a good career move.

New York Times Bestselling Author, Susy Flory, recently shared a blog post that encouraged her. Agent Steve Laube reminded his many readers and wannabe-clients to never give up.

“John Creasy the English novelist kept at it. He kept getting rejected so decided to use pen names to create a new identity. Fourteen of them! Collectively he received 753 rejection letters. But he didn’t give up. His 754th became the first of his 564 published books. What if he had quit at the 700th rejection?”

This Christmas season, take a winter break and enjoy real life moments. Try to live this life you write about. Love the ones you are blessed to have alongside you, and pray God holds these tender moments close to your heart. A true writer must experience what they wish to convey. Gather up some word-filled ammunition for the coming year.

Regardless of what you do or don’t decide to do, giving up is not an option. It’s never an option. Never.

When was the last time you quit? What encouraged you to write again?

50 Replies to “When Do I Give Up?”

  1. Oofta. I thought about giving up on wednesday night, when I looked at the work ahead of me for the year, gearing up to release our first book. Ugh!

  2. LOL, not quit, but this week I didn’t write – I’ve been taking a class and the instructor told me that, if my book was published she wouldn’t buy or read it, not because it’s poorly written but because the subject matter makes it uncomfortable for her – she doesn’t like any of the topics I’m covering. I realize I’m still getting good advice, but I need to maybe find a different instructor for my next class.

  3. Hey, Joanne. Great to hear from another failure who didn’t let it stay that way. I’m getting my ms out this week to my agent–possibly to be rejected again. But I believe in myself and my writing. I may have to paste your posting over my computer screen. It’s good stuff; I’m sure it will help many writers. Glad to hear of your subsequent successes since that awful day of rejection dejection.

  4. Great advice — especially “Shake a Leg.” Going for a walk always clears my head and keeps me from dwelling on setbacks!

  5. Thank you for talking me off the ledge today, Joanne! Seriously, you’ve no idea how timely this is for me. I’ve been on a writing and social media sabbatical since Thanksgiving, because I realized how discouraged and burnt out I was. I’m trying to use this month to read and spoil my family rotten and rejuvenate my writing spirit. As an added bonus, my post for the WSWC tomorrow dovetails perfectly into your wise and encouraging words today! God knows when we need a break AND encouragement and praise God He sends it to us. Just yesterday I was going some reasearch for a newspaper column and mentioned to the state representative I was interviewing that I’m trying to publish a couple books. “Don’t give up!” he blurted out, then proceeded to encourage me to keep writing not give up on publishing–me, a total stranger to him, and in the middle of his uber-busy schedule!

    You & your words are so precious and needed. So glad you didn’t give up!

    1. P.S. I started exercising regularly, too, and you’re SO right, that IS crucial and helps so much! James Scott Bell also talks often about how much even a simple walk helps a writer with perspective and creativity.

      1. Amy, you are gifted, and don’t you forget it! I’m out of town right now and have limited time online, but I think we need a phone call! Don’t you dare quite, ever. I understand the social media break. Have been taking a break from it, too.

  6. Love your sense of humor, Joanne!

    And “Fake Your Own Death” sometimes sounds rather pleasant…at least for a couple of weeks…

    Thanks for posting!

    1. Right back at ya! You’d better not ever quite either. Too many women need your words, Elaine. You’ve taken dictation from God for too long to lay any of His projects down.

  7. The great thing about giving up is that it doesn’t have to be permanent. And in it we can surrender our hopes, dreams and plans to God. His specialty is taking broken things and making them whole.

    1. Us writers are a skittish bunch, aren’t we Megan? It’s such an isolating gift. It’s easy to be insecure when we are rejected on a regular basis. I don’t know what I’d do without my writer friends to push me from time to time.

  8. I’ve thought of quitting knowing that I never would even if I did fake my own death. 🙂 If I quit then I’d never know what would have happened and that what push over the cliffs of insanity. So I just keep plodding away and of course plotting away. Every once in awhile I look up from my writing and just want to let out a healthy scream, but my husband says I have to save that for when I’m in the car. Thanks Joanne. The exercise helps a lot too.

    1. Jillian, what a precious husband you have. Plodders make the best writers, I think. I’m more of a zealot and zealots run hard and fast and then burn out pretty quickly. I need to be more of a plodder. (Sounds like a great blog post!)

  9. Thank you so much. I feel like the writer bridesmaid with many dresses, waiting for her turn to be the bride. This encouraged me, as I know it did others. Thanks again!

  10. I sent my manuscript into a professional critique service (a Christian one). I knew it would be hard, but I was not prepared for HARSH. Nothing was sandwiched with comfort or encouragement. In fact, I was told that I was using my client’s stories and not willing to share my own hard stories, when in fact, I had been told by another person that I was sharing too much of myself and needed to pull back. I was in a puddle of tears for days. My first agent walked me through the critique and then said, “This is only one person’s opinion.” I’m so grateful she and others believe in me and I finally got a book. Then I went through three excruciating events all centered around my book journey – I wondered is God trying to tell me to quit? I almost did, one month before the book acceptance arrived.

    1. Lucille, thanks so much for sharing this. What a powerful story for us writers to hear. Can I share a secret with you? I failed with my online critiques/partner. Whenever I’d receive their feedback, I was depressed for hours. I discovered I succeed much better with a critique group who I can meet with face to face. LOVE my Inspire Christian Writer friends.

      So happy you didn’t quit.

  11. I have quit a few times and this last week was almost one of them. I just couldn’t open any of my writing emails and so I didn’t get to this one until today. It’s Monday morning and time for start number 3256. How lovely that I happened on this post. Thanks for sharing what is the toughest part about writing.

  12. Fake your own death cracked me up!

    And yeah, I definitely feel like quitting sometimes. Rachelle had a heart-to-heart with me not too long ago. I’m grateful to her (and you!) for dragging me up and out of the pit!

  13. Wow, thank you Joanne- love your crisp writing and sense of humor! Love it! Thank you for blessing me with this post!
    Writer to writer, big hug! xoxo

  14. “Fake your own death.” LOL!

    On a serious note, I quit after one too many “good” rejections. Thank goodness a friend allowed me to wallow in self-pity for a few months, then gently suggested I get back out there and submit my work. Three months later I was offered a contract.

    Bless her, but I also needed that time out. I needed to understand being published and being a writer is important.

    Happy writing!

  15. Jo Ann, I think your article was beneficial to all who read it. Especially for writers who have begun to value the opinions of literary agent above their own. Good job!

    I would love for you to pass on my question and thoughts to Susan Flory, if she will respond:

    Where did she got her information on the mountain of rejection letters (753) that she asserts John Creasy received prior to publication of his first of 564 novels? According to Wikipedia, this rejection battered first novel hit the shelves of bookstores in 1930, when he was twenty-two.

    I think it’s important to give Ms. Flory’s version of his struggle to be published, every benefit of the doubt. With relative certainty, one can make the assumption that he did not begin his manuscript until learning how to write in complete sentences…say at the age of eight? Over the next fourteen years, he or his agent submitted his work 753 times (probably more, as those are the ones who responded). These submissions, in turn, generated the infamous 753 rejection letters. Over 1500 manuscripts and/or rejection letters were flying through the mail over those tumultuous fourteen years. Quite a high level of stress for a boy who began the journey when he was yet to be totally skilled in riding a bicycle.

    Oh, one other thing, how many agents did he go through?

    P.S. He actually authored more than 600 novels.

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