When do I give this shit up?

I must have asked myself that question a million times, and I keep asking it without getting any real answers. How many unanswered texts will I tolerate? When is one email too many? Should I call or shouldn’t I? Is ‘no news’ really ‘good news?’ How long is too long?  When do I stop soliciting advice and just fly on my intuition? Is it true I simply have to be patient? If that’s true then how long should I wait? Because when is enough actually enough?

To be a writer is to question your resolve over and over again. It goes along with questioning your ability, your stamina, your judgment, your self-esteem. You’re told you really can’t call yourself a writer until you start racking up the rejections, fill your inbox with humiliation, papering your wall with talent assessments from strangers. I once had an award-winning writer dress me down during a manuscript evaluation at a nationally renowned writers conference, literally screaming at me for wasting his time. “Who told you you could write!” he yelled at me, while I stared at him aghast and cowering, too flabbergasted to respond. At least my mind had the good sense to conjure up ASSHOLE! ASSHOLE! over and over again, but that didn’t stop me from fleeing to my room to collapse in teary self-doubt. Little did I know at the time that pre-published incident simply set the stage for more disappointment to come, more rejections, crappy sales, proposals that went nowhere, savage reader reviews. (A word of advice to newly published authors: stay away from Goodreads. The first glowing reader reviews will have you dancing on the ceiling. The first terrible ones will have you wanting to hang from it. Reviews are always subjective. If you want to read any, stick to the movies coming out this week.) Getting published doesn’t wash all the self-doubt away. It just ascends it to a professional level.

You wonder again and again why you do it. Why anyone would put themselves through such a wringer of scrutiny only to fall flat on their face 99% of the time.  You wonder as you work through the dark of the night, or amid the first shards of light before waking the kids, as you slip in your flash drive to write at your desk during lunch, or as you tap that perfect passage into your phone on the train ride home.  You wonder through the first chapters, through the call to adventure, the sagging middle, the dark moment, finding the elixir. Through that brief moment of absolute serendipity when you type THE END.   As you hit SEND to sail your query through to an agent’s website, as you approach an editor at your first pitch session, or tweet only the most essential 140 characters into  #MSWL. As you wade through the rejections, as you forget the last to go forward, as the law of averages and the law of even a blind chicken gets a piece of corn now and then, somehow you hear a click and there’s a request for more, then a proposal, then the whole manuscript, then–the unthinkable. Then all the planets line up and the sun finally comes out, and you find out that maybe, just maybe. Maybe you’ll get it right this time.

Then again, maybe you won’t. Maybe all the doom in the world will descend on you, you talentless guttersnipe, your presumptuous amateur, you hopeless fool. After all, who told you you could write?!

Then again, maybe you’re the only one in the world who doesn’t know you can. And then you do it anyway.

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One thought on “When do I give this shit up?”

  1. Hi Gwen! Such passion in this! When I read ‘“Who told you you could write!” he yelled at me,’ I flinched. Ouch! Good for you for picking yourself up and telling yourself to ignore him … and it’s natural to still feel that emotional toll. Wow. – and thanks for the tip to avoid Goodreads – or at least to be prepared.

    “You wonder as you work through the dark of the night, or amid the first shards of light before waking the kids, as you slip in your flash drive to write at your desk during lunch, or as you tap that perfect passage into your phone on the train ride home.” – super-inspirational. Loved this slice-of-life moment.

    What are you doing these days to reward yourself for writing, or to encourage your writing, or to do self-care while writing? I’d love to hear.

    Kudos on a raw and very moving piece!

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