Have you ever considered giving up on writing?
I know I have.
Though I’ve been writing stories as long as I can remember, I consider myself as having two true starts.
1) When I was eleven, my mom died unexpectedly, and I told myself that day I would spend my life pursuing my dreams, no matter how short my life would be.
2) Around my senior year in college, I decided I wanted to pursue publishing again after a major break from writing. For a few years after that, I wrote for two indie publishers, and then made the decision to try to get an agent. I got one! Then I lost one.
Now I’m out here writing again. Dreaming again. Wondering where my future will take me.
Over the past few weeks, I have had a lot of serious decisions to make. Do I want to write in the same genre? Age category? Pursue the stories I’ve trunked or left otherwise unfinished? Do I even keep writing?
That last question is one I know most writers think about at least some point in their career. I certainly have, though I admit that I eventually realize that the question isn’t whether or not I want to keep writing. I always write. Even when I don’t want to, I find a pen in my hand. Writing is my gravity. The real question is if I want to continue pursuing publication. And that’s a whole different can of worms writers have to contend with.
Do I want to keep pursuing traditional publishing, or do I want to find another method? Do I want to share my words with the world at all? Why do I feel the need to?
These questions are important for all writers to ask themselves. Why? Well, because of surrender.
Giving up isn’t a giant Aha! moment, where you throw your pages in the trash and set it on fire, declaring your rage-freedom.
It’s a culmination of a million little moments, where you prioritize this over that, miss deadline after deadline, trunk project after half-written project, until a striking amount of time has passed without much done. It happens. Sometimes, it happens again and again and again until you no longer remember the last time you gave yourself an afternoon to weave words together. Maybe one quiet morning you find time to sit, only to find all your old weavings in tatters, old files corrupted, versions unsaved or lost. Time now shows the errors you couldn’t once see. Which is just more reason to sigh and click delete, delete, delete until you’re staring at a blank page and have no self-confidence to begin anew.
Why write, you think, when you can buy perfectly good books at the store? There’s no point in making your own. It’s a waste of time and resources. You can simply enjoy what others have made. And yes, maybe you would be happy with that. And entertained. But would you feel pride?
That’s what I am chasing.
Pride. Not ego. But rather, feeling proud of myself for pursuing the life I always wanted. The dream I cultivated. Worked hard toward, year after year, no matter what stood in my way.
Writing takes a lot of momentum. For me, it’s not difficult to take breaks, but it is difficult to get started again. Which is why I’m so weary of pauses, especially long ones. During those pauses, I sometimes wonder if I’ve been chasing the dream so long, I don’t even know if I’m dreaming anymore. Have I gotten so used to this chasing that it has become an accepted chore? Is writing more habit than happiness?
Writing used to bring me such joy. Such high. There was nothing like sneaking pages of my romance novels between taking notes in biology class. Nothing like passing pages along to my best friend and chat-giggling about them over the phone late into the night. It was fanfiction of my own imagination. Wild ideas and even wilder characters. Dreamy as they were flighty. Emotions high. Secrets higher.
The structure of what I’ve learned over the years has broken that all back down.
Now I look at the Timely Death trilogy—a series I first wrote when I was 14—and wonder if I’d create two-faced, sword-dwelling, Midwest magic teens now.
Too bizarre, I’d think. Not in line enough with the market.
Besides, my teens skip school, and students are on lockdown nowadays. Not to mention the homework on paper rather than take-home laptops.
I feel so out of touch sometimes, I think, who am I writing for?
Years ago, I set out to write for kids like me, but do kids like me still exist? Not really.
Even the book I am currently writing—a personal story about a child affected by the opioid crisis—would hit differently now than when I was young and needed it. When I was eleven and my mom overdosed, it was unheard of in my neighborhood. I got picked on for it. I didn’t know another classmate whose parent died until I was 16, and that was from cancer. I didn’t know another classmate whose parent died from a drug overdose until I was well into college. And by then, my classmates were overdosing, too.
Most recently, I’ve written poems about her skipping from pharmacy to pharmacy to fill the same prescription over and over again—and now, there are laws in place that prevent that. (Thank God.) But by God, my truth died with her. Of course there will always be universal truths—grief and all that. But the details of the moment are so dependent on the environment that I fear being unable to connect with the audience I once promised myself I would go back and write for.
I was 11 and lost in the bookstore. There are still 11-year-olds lost in those stores. But can I help them? Reach them? Will it matter or make a difference?
I have to believe I can. I have to believe in myself. I have to believe that I’ve turned writing into a habit, because it takes dedication to succeed. And honestly, it still brings me a lot of joy.
Most importantly, to this day, I have yet to find a book that was made for a kid like me. (Though I’d highly recommend “Hey, Kiddo” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.)
I cannot put into words how much it would’ve meant to me to see a book in the middle grade section that covered what I was going through. And though I still made it in real-life without those sorts of books, I wish I could tell you about the many kids I met who didn’t make it. But their stories aren’t mine to tell. I can only tell mine. And for now, I haven’t given up.
I am still writing. I am still pursuing publication.
For 11-year-old me. For other 11-year-olds like me. For that college senior who knew she wanted something different out of life. For me now, who still enjoys the written word over much else. Who now chat-giggles about her work over ZOOM with her writer friends.
Giving up may not be a giant Aha! moment, but neither is deciding to continue the pursuit.
It’s a decision you make every day. It can be undone. It can be remade.
The choice is up to you.
For now, I am still here, writing, dreaming, doing my absolute best. Tomorrow, I hope to make the same decision to continue.