In the recent WritingWorld.com newspaper, the following question was posed by a reader named Sheila: At what point should an author give up writing?
After thinking about this a bit, I wrote the following post:
When should you give up on writing? I’ve asked myself that dozens of times in the past twenty years. In fact, I’ve asked that question more in the past five years than the first fifteen. There are so many writers out there, everyone struggling to be read.
Up until about eight years ago, I was consistently getting my nonfiction published in newspapers and magazines. It was fun and paid the bills. But it wasn’t exciting. Like Sheila, my passion was for fiction not nonfiction.
I slowly slipped out of nonfiction (though I still write a weekly genealogy column), and while I occasionally get an article published, I write what makes me happiest: fiction.
I went through the query phase and decided to self-publish. Like Sheila, all the work (blogs, social media, publishing) hasn’t generated a huge interest or a lot of money. Yet I’m satisfied with the experience. I am currently in a position that doesn’t force my writing to pay the bills, or I’d think differently about it.
Will I ever give up on writing? Probably not because I write for myself. It’s my therapy that gets me through this crazy world. I love writing, creating characters and plotting a good tale. I can ignore the world and all its problems when I’m deep into a story.
Will I ever give up writing to be published? Probably. It won’t be in the near future. I will give up self-publishing when I am no longer enjoying the experience, when I no longer have the drive to see my next novel in print.
So what point should an author give up on writing? When they no longer feel that passion that drives them to record the stories running through their head. They should stop publishing (or submitting manuscripts to publishers) when that spark is gone.
But there is no time line to be published. Some authors are lucky out of the gate (before they are 25 years old) whilst some must wait until they’re in their sixties to see success.
Which brings us to the meaning of success: it is different things to different people. Success to me is seeing my novels published in paperback, so I can leave my stories behind for family, friends and readers to enjoy now and far into the future. Selling copies of my stories is icing on the cake.
I don’t need to be published by a huge publishing house and sell millions of copies around the world and have my novel turned into a movie. That’s probably something I wouldn’t want because of the commitments associated with all that sort of success.
If you love writing, keep writing for yourself even if you don’t seek to be published. Some day you might write a story you feel others will want to read, and then you’ll submit it or publish it. Or simply keep on writing.
I think the answer to the initial question is easily found if the answer to the following question is known: why are you writing?
If I wrote only for money, I would have given up years ago. If I was writing to get published traditionally, I would have given up six years ago. If I had been writing only nonfiction, I would have stopped about eight years ago. If I wrote only to have others read my stories, I would have stopped twenty years ago (I’ve been writing off and on for about 38 years).
But I’m writing for myself, and myself still loves to read the stories I put down on paper.
Why do you write? When do you think you’ll stop writing?