Today we welcome writer Laura Tabor.
When I was 12 I spent my afternoons concocting plots on my dusty 386 computer. I shared stories with my middle school friends who also wanted to be writers. It seemed to me that there was nothing in the world so lovely as to do this full-time.
However, writing did not remain an uncomplicated love of mine, as people told me more about what it meant to be a writer and more about the scant odds of my book getting published. It was a job that required me to be very vulnerable, to face the quality of my writing all the time, to write when I wanted to be running or reading or travelling. There were times when it seemed easiest to pretend I wasn’t interested, quit, and forget it.
Then I started teaching writing to middle schoolers. Though middle schoolers are incredibly honest and passionate for the most part, I started to see this impulse in them to quit things they weren’t instantly successful at. I found myself becoming a cheerleader, at least in the sense that I rejected their fears and worries and said that they could still write, they could still be writers. I realized that there are a lot of fear- and expectation-based reasons to quit writing. Between my students’ concerns and my own doubts, I’ve come up with these as some ways we chicken out, and I hope if any of them are hang-ups of yours that you’ll take heart and not quit writing.
I DON’T WRITE ALL THE TIME: Talking to friends who are passionate writers and write all the time because they love it can make me think, during those aforementioned dry spells, that I should just quit. But if you aren’t one of the people who writes every day, who finishes a book in a month, or who writes as part of your job, don’t let that be a good reason to stop either. You are a writer when you write; you don’t have to worry about having that identity all the time. You are other things too.
I WAS NEVER TAUGHT HOW TO WRITE: This one goes both ways – first, your unique voice was trained by every story you’ve ever heard and told. So you are already a student of story. Also, no matter your age and location, there are so many resources for you to teach yourself about writing! Checking out YA Highway is a great start and other sources and workshops are available all over the internet. Degrees in writing are easily as much about giving you space in your life to write and cool writers to talk to as you write as they are about actual classroom instruction. If you get the chance to study as a writer, go for it, but don’t let the lack of degree hold you back.
I DON’T GET PAID TO WRITE: I have students who see the only legitimate reason to write is to get paid and become famous for your books. There are so many good reasons to write that really don’t have a vocational tinge to them at all. John Green said write “gifts for people”: gifts aren’t given for payment. You will love your own writing even better if you aren’t seeing it as payment per word; no amount of writing payment will ever be ‘worth’ the time and love that goes into writing anyway, and so don’t worry if you aren’t being paid for it.
I GET REJECTED: Rejection is tough, feels insuperable at times, but is in no way a good excuse to give up on writing. There are a million reasons other than ‘you should stop writing’ why writing gets rejected from publishers/magazines/etc. My current strategy every time I get a rejection is to look at my work again, revise what has changed in my own taste, and then look for another place that might enjoy that kind of work. That way, the rejection is just a trigger to move on, not a trigger to stop submitting for a while. If it gets more rejections than you like to deal with, move on to another piece and work with that one instead. If you like writing, you will discover your audience eventually, if you are open to learning and evolving yourself.
I WANT TO DO SOMETHING ELSE FULL TIME: I actually think this one is an even BETTER reason to be a writer than the average reason. If you are a totally obsessed spelunker, or you are working your way up the corporate ladder in a company in China, or you are working with senior citizens on a daily basis at a local senior center, you are being flooded with material to write a great story. Your everyday life must be textured if you want to write. Will it take you a long time? Maybe. See above reasons not to write, and remember you are the only one who sets your timeline (at least until a publisher starts calling the shots).
MY FIRST NOVEL WAS TOO GOOD/NOT GOOD ENOUGH: After a first novel happens, you can tell yourself one of two things that might make you quit: one would be if you had great success and you don’t feel like that can be repeated, and the other is if you were let down by the reception. Neither reason is a good one to quit. You should only quit if you don’t write ever and don’t want to write ever; if you still love writing, write through the panic about your novel’s reception, and write until you are proud of a new effort (or just ready to get it out of your sight).
MY FRIENDS ARE BETTER AT WRITING: This is such a toxic one, but my students struggle with it a lot. We have to stop seeing competition as a flaw or a reason to quit; good writers should inspire us to keep writing. Don’t ever think that your writing isn’t important or able to evolve. Your writing can coexist with a world of brilliant writers. The world needs all kinds of stories, and the amount of talent your friends have does not diminish your potential; if anything, the synergy of you both working together may create even more strong ideas.
NONE OF YOUR FRIENDS WRITE: There are so many online communities of writers that you can find some new friends who do! Sometimes the isolation of writing without a writing group can help you for a while – embrace that location until you need to seek out a local writing group or an online one.
On your bad days, what reasons have you come up with to give up writing? How do you defeat those reasons? Encourage other writers with stories of bad reasons to quit writing here in the comments!
Laura Tabor teaches Creative Writing and studies English in Ohio. Her studies involve trying to find ways to inspire writers to greater excitement and endurance in their writing lives. Her writing has appeared in Thought Catalog, The Blotter, and InMadrid magazine. She writes the writing and teaching blog teachingwriterstofly.tumblr.com.
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