Friday, October 30, 2009

Why don't I just quit? - Nesdoly

No one has to tell writers that they're up against some pretty big obstacles these days. The latest Tsunami to hit the writing/publishing world was the news last week that some online bookstores (,, are wrestling each other down on book prices. One announces a price of no higher than 9.99. Another answers back they'll do better at 8.99. Publishers and agents are predictably in a dither and asking whither.

As a very small writer fish in this increasingly red-ink ocean, that is only the last in a series of discouragements that include:
  • Stiff competition for publication. The internet has outed millions of writers and made them mad for publication. (Go to any agent's blog and take a peek at the number of followers - if they're listed. For example: Rachelle Gardner - 1321; Nathan Bransford - 2375; Pub Rants - 1319. There are a lot of eager, hungry writers  out there.)
  • The need for writers to not only be able to write, but to build a platform, market, speak, network, twitter, facebook, yada, yada.
  • Add to that, personal pressure from realistic family members who see the bottom line and rub one's face in the fact that this writing gig has really only turned out to be an expensive hobby.
It all adds up to (yikes, I never thought I'd hear myself say it) a temptation to quit.

I found my  thoughts articulated rather eloquently the other day when I was reading Nathan Bransford's blog:

"In yesterday's discussion about writers and sensitivity, Gordon Pamplona left a comment that stuck with me:

'...a lot of times the sensitivity about the writing is a stand-in for sensitivity about something else: you spent so much time chasing this pipe dream that you lose your job, your marriage, your kids; your kids don't respect you because you didn't write Harry Potter or Twilight; you charged a lot of money on the credit card for conferences and classes with no tangible results, and now the family is eating beans and rice. For many of us, writing is an addiction, no different from alcohol or drugs or gambling. And maybe people who are angry, bitter, stressed out, or despondent should take a hard look at whether this is something they should be doing--if it's gone from a hobby to something that's ruining their lives and their relationships with others.'

As a society, we often celebrate tortured and struggling artists who finally make it big despite their obstacles, and yet we don't often examine the flip side of this, which is that the vast majority of tortured and struggling artists don't actually make it. We tend to encourage everyone to write (Person 1 tells an interesting story, Person 2 says 'Wow, you should write a book about that'), and there are very few people out there willing to tell any writer they don't have what it takes and should probably try pursuing something else with their time. I'm guilty of this as well - who am I to say whether or not someone will or won't be published?

But is this the right approach? Is writing, especially when the odds are long and the cost to a personal life is high, sometimes akin to addiction? When does it cross the line from hobby to 'habit?' And should we be encouraging everyone to write?" (from "Tell me, when is writing unhealthy?")

I ruminated on that for a while - and then the thought occurred: I didn't have the luxury of just deciding to quit. Though I must never ignore the need for balance, outright quitting is a decision that's not mine to make.  Because the reason I find myself here hasn't changed from what got me here in the first place. Jesus' teaching on the stewardship of our gifts (as expressed in His story from Luke 19) hasn't been torn out of the Bible.

If I quit simply for the reasons above, I would be like  the one-mina servant coming to the master full of stuttered excuses. "Here is the thing you gave me -- this love for words and communication, idea and story, which I have invested for a while, but which I have put back in my handkerchief because... because I've only written short pieces and not had any success with books, and because I wasn't good at marketing or establishing a platform, and because the competition for publication was fierce, and because there were so many five- and ten-mina voices out there, I just knew mine wasn't necessary..."

And He will say to me, "Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant... For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him."

Thus there will be only one thing that can get me to quit -- Orders from Headquarters. Otherwise I'll be here, sowing my words, hopefully for a little profit but not above sometimes giving them away for free because that's my way of obeying my Master till He gives me another assignment or puts a different talent in my hand to invest.

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Peter Black said...

You have squarely hit the proverbial nail on the head, and brought both challenge and cheer to those of us who may entertained some self-doubt. We began to write seriously (at least in part) out of a sense of stewardship, as Christian believers. Your piece -- almost starkly -- draws us back to that sense of commission and call.
Thank you.

Wendy said...

Great post, Violet, with some good points to ponder.

Joanna Mallory said...

Your post prompts two responses from me, Violet:

1- Thank you for articulating the call to use our gifts. We do need, as with any other gift, not to turn it into an idol that harms other parts of our lives, but as long as we keep balanced we need to pursue it. And in this climate especially, we need encouragement like you've shared.

2- You've never been tempted to quit before?? I sense a strong sense of purpose here...

Glynis said...

When God stirs a heart it is difficult to toss away the niggling notion that passion overrides the pain of rejection. Write on, Violet. You are a master in your own right (write!) A great, thoughtful (encouraging) post - thanks!

Dorene Meyer said...

Violet, thanks so much for sharing this. I'm reading it at a time when I very much need encouragement. A big bookstore just emailed to let me know they were pulling some of my titles and had a box of books ready for me to pick up.
It leaves me wondering what in the world I'm trying to do and WHY in the world I'm trying to do it.
But yes, I have been here before. And it really is impossible to quit (I've tried) but not because it's a habit. A habit is something that is easy and tempting and pleasurable. It's not this bashing my head against a brick wall phenomena that is a much more accurate picture of my daily writing experience. Why do we (I) keep doing it? As you've so well written, we do it because when we open our hand, we see what the Master has placed there. It's ours to use - or we can give in to our fears and bury that gift He's given us. The times I am very much tempted to quit, I just can't because it would feel so much like a betrayal of my best friend, Jesus. He's just asking me to take one step and then the next. And He's promised to be with us - and He is - comforting us, guiding us all the way. Success or failure isn't really part of the equation. It comes down to following, or not following, the Master.
Thanks again for the reminder!

N. J. Lindquist said...

See my response in the blog above.

No, we can't quit. But maybe it's time we changed the rules. :)

denisebuddrumble said...

Thank you, Violet, for these points to ponder.

This morning I was reading in I Samuel. Saul had been disobedient and had only obeyed part of what God told him to do. Saul's reason for this was that he kept the best of the sheep, goats, etc. to sacrifice to God. (God had told him to destroy everything.)

Samuel replied, "What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams..."

So, there's the question that I struggle with from time to time. Am I being obedient to God? or, am I sacrificing time, relationships, finances, my sanity, etc. and what He really wants me to do, for something that I want to do but which He hasn't asked me to do?

Hmm, sounds like walking and talking together with the Master is the best way to know...and to live.

~ Denise
Denise Rumble

violet said...

So many thought-provoking comments. Thanks Peter, Glynis, Wendy!

Joanna, I must say that writing to my heart's content was a dream for such a long time, while I worked part-time (always feeling frustrated because my day job took the steam and focus out of writing projects) that when I could 'retire' and write, it was pinch me, is this really happening? How can I turn my back on such a gift?

Dorene, I'm so sad to hear about your email. That is heart-breaking. But as you say, "one step and then the next..." Who knows where this is going?

Nancy, you spell out the current situation well. Wouldn't it be incredible if a new publication model arose out of Canada, in response to current needs?!

Denise, I've asked the same questions. But when I get to Monday morning and I ask God, 'Well, what do I do differently?' so far the answer is, 'Carry on.' A former pastor put it in a way that I grasp when he prayed that we wouldn't miss God's signals. God is very good at blocking one's way. Without obvious road signs to the contrary, I think one just keeps going down the road one is on.

Kimberley Payne said...

Great post, Violet. I've personally had to give up the romantic notion of hiding away in a cabin by the lake to write the great Canadian novel. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just means a change of mind. I'm looking forward to reading Nancy's post :)

Steve G said...

Adrian Plass, on the Story and Song tour responded to the question, "Of all the speaking and travelling and writing, etc that you have done and are doing, what is the one thing you can't give up?" with a simple answer, "the writing."

DJ said...

Thank you for the post. It reminds me that I might not be insane for doggedly pursuing writing. My prayer is that God would work through us to bring light and life to others.

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