On the subject of perseverance in writing, a question that may linger in many writers’ minds is: what is the correct timetable for getting published? If your goal is to publish a book of prose or poetry, sell a screenplay, or land a job at a prominent periodical, you may have already asked yourself this question. What is an appropriate amount of time to persevere before giving up and pursuing a different goal? I will answer that question with another question: when is it a good idea to give up any worthy pursuit in your life? When it comes down to it, there is no ‘quitting’ fairy and no one else can tell you when it’s the right time to throw in the towel. You may receive advice from both friends and mentors, but ultimately the decision to persevere will be yours alone.
Let’s examine some valid reasons for quitting anything, not just writing: it costs too much money, or doesn’t pay enough money. It’s energy-draining, too much of a time-commitment, or you work too hard and the results aren’t worth it. There is a lot of sound logic that can go into quitting. But, the emotional toll of this decision is what must be evaluated. Emotions cannot be ignored here, especially in the pursuit of lofty goals (like writing) that will happen over the course of a lifetime.
I have a story, a parable about writing that stems from my own experience in another lengthy pursuit: the sport of figure skating. Like writing, skating is the epitome of the long game. No one who has ever competed in a world championship or an Olympic Games has spent less than 10 years working daily on their craft—trust me. It just doesn’t happen. I am not sure what age I began skating – I think it was after the 1998 Nagano Olympics, which would’ve made me about 7 or 8. At first, I didn’t like skating at all (as you may gather, it took multiple tries to get the sport to ‘stick’). I will be 26 this year, which means I have been skating for almost two-thirds of my life. From the moment that I began to dedicate myself to skating up until now, I have been married to my sport.
Sometimes, I joke with my family that if I ever get married, I’ll have the blueprint for a long-lasting marriage because I’m already married to skating. Skating is an exclusive relationship: you give up a lot in order to pursue it – birthday parties, tailgates, proms, recitals, boyfriends or girlfriends, other sports. Then, there is the emotional element. If you talk to anyone who has been married for a long time, they usually talk about the ups and downs, the oh-so-sweet highs and the bitterest of lows. I have had a lot of amazing moments in my skating career. But when people ask me if I have ever thought of quitting, I answer honestly. Of course I have.
There have been many times that I’ve thought about quitting skating. To use a very recent example, I thought about quitting an aspect of my skating just two weeks ago. Throughout my career I have been a freestyle skater (which means jumps, spins, and ‘tricks’ are my bread and butter). Two weeks ago, I tried competing solo dance for the first time (imagine ballroom dance on ice but without a partner). It was a completely new venture for me. I am comfortable with saying that I am an above average solo dancer for my level. I was pretty confident that if I skated well, I would place well. Long story short, that is exactly what didn’t happen. I was confident in my skating and expected to be rewarded with a place on the podium. I ended up coming in fifth. The writing equivalent to this example would be: you and your agent send a brand new, killer manuscript out to a publisher who has already expressed interest in it. You’re very confident they’re going to accept it because everyone who’s read it has been very enthusiastic. But you get the email and the publisher has rejected it. And you’re completely shocked.
I wallowed in the feelings of rejection for a little while, and began to think to myself, ‘Maybe I’m not as good at this as I thought I was.’ Is this venture really worth my time, or should I give up on it? This, I would argue, is a reasonable reaction to rejection, especially in industries where you’re competing against so many other people for the same goal. As children, we were always told to pick ourselves up and try again. As adults, how many times are we allowed to get back on the horse?
I can’t say what the right number will be for you. What I can tell you is that you might not be able to quantify it at all. Here, emotions need to play a part in your decision-making process. To use myself as an example, after a day or two of feeling badly about my competition, those feelings were soon replaced with the renewed desire for success. I knew then that I was not ready to quit solo dance. I was ready to try again because I believed in myself enough to risk another rejection. I’m also a very competitive person, which naturally helps. For me, quitting dance was not the answer.
My advice to all writers is: wait until the feelings of rejection subside before you make any rash decisions. If you are truly committed to your art, the desire to perform will come back. Also, a caveat: don’t let time be the only factor. Sometimes you have to get back on the horse to know how you really feel. I recommend it. Take a couple days off and then try again. Start writing something, anything, even if you don’t feel ready. The reasons why you started this journey in the first place will come back to you as you write. And if they don’t, six months later or years later, take a break. Don’t give up, but don’t force it either. Time will always tell the truth.
So please, be married to your writing. Approach it with the knowledge that you’re in this relationship for the long haul. Embrace the highs and the lows, and don’t consider divorce until you’re absolutely sure your life would be better without writing. Enjoy the process as it unfolds, and don’t consider yourself a failure just because you don’t have a bestselling novel or a job at The New Yorker. There may not be a concrete ‘end’ or end goal for your writing, and that’s okay. What can be better than dedicating your life to something for the love of the craft, not just fame or success? I can tell you: not much. Marry your writing and enjoy the good times. Also enjoy fighting with it. Just do something with it, and I promise you won’t regret it.