When You Feel Like Giving Up
by Marg McAlister
Whenever anyone unsubscribes from this Tipsheet, they are invited to let me know why. Last week I received an
email forwarded from Aweber, the mailing service I use, with a comment from someone who had unsubscribed. This
short email simply said:
"I no longer have faith in my writing."
I stared at the email, shocked - because I'd heard from this person several times over the past year. I knew
that she was a keen writer; that she had even finished a book. Only four weeks before, I had heard from her - and
she was still convinced that one day she would be published.
So what had happened? SOMETHING must have prompted this, I thought. So I wrote to her in support, and then asked
her "What was the straw that broke the camel's back? Without telling me anything too personal... can you tell me
what it was that caused you to lose faith?"
The answer made it clear that it was an accumulation of things that had caused such despair. This is the text of
the email (which had, I might add, the subject line of "Haystacks"):
The first straw that broke my back...? It was the complete and utter nothingness, just sitting
staring at the last line of my kids novel and wondering what I was doing there. I deleted the entire
story and put everything in the bin. Needless to say, after yelling at me for being an idiot, my
beloved husband rescued it all.
It took weeks to get back into writing, and it was then I decided to join a writing group. I found
it hard to relate to the eight or so members, but I still went to the meetings. My work was never read out or
commented on, and after several months of trying I vowed I wouldn't return.
Some months later, I joined a group in the UK, and on a reciprocal basis was sending a chapter to a fellow who
had no idea about 'kids venacular' or even what my story was about. His chapter, on the other hand, was
so gruesome that I couldn't cope with the amount of heads and limbs he severed. I have since let the link
go, preferring to carry on alone.
The last straw came without warning several weeks ago. I sat in front of the computer reading through
what I'd written the previous day. It was just words, words that said nothing, and went nowhere - utter
tripe. I have never ever felt so alone. I opened my emails and found your tipsheet, it was so positive,
it was the last straw. I wasn't any good at writing, and I vowed I would never write again, and
then cancelled my subscription. Next morning I found your reply Marg, and the lifeline you offered.
I still feel inadequate, but now I know you are there should I need a shoulder.
I am absolutely positive that this writer is not alone. I am sure that most of us have felt as though not a
single word of what we have written is worthwhile. I am sure that many of us have been disappointed - and
unsupported - by a writers' group that is not a good "fit" for us. I am sure that we have all felt, at times,
So what is the cure? In this case, just a word of support and some sympathy from another writer was enough to
decide to keep going. (Although I'm not sure how I feel about my 'positive' tipsheet causing someone to give up in
despair... THAT was certainly not the intention!) But how, I wondered, did other writers cope? How did they keep
going, week after week, year after year? What made people pick themselves up and carry on?
So I asked this question of the very strong and supportive Career Booster graduates' discussion list. Many of
these people did not know each other when they originally did the Career Booster program, but have become firm
friends over the years. I think the answers I got are probably typical of what many of you face - and they might
just offer someone out there - someone who is about to give up - the words of encouragement that they need to stick
These are the answers I got when I put this to them: "Can you remember a time when you were ready to toss it
all in? And if so, what made you change your mind, or what happened to bring you round and make you decide to keep
writing? Was it an unexpected breakthrough? A kind word? A new writing buddy? Or just time out? I'd love to
I haven't identified anyone concerned - just quoted their replies.
Several things have kept me in there, Marg. The Secret made me believe anything
was possible. Having Jason Sitzes do a line edit showed me EXACTLY what I was doing wrong.
Joining the Romance Writers - such a lovely and supportive group of women - helped
with the art of story and character motivation. (Several of these women took 8 and 10 years to get published
and have now won awards.) Knowing I'm so much happier when I write. Wondering how the hell I'd fill my days if
I didn't write. Just missing out on the final round of the recent RWA single title comp (but getting some
lovely comments). And last, but definitely not least, having [three good friends] critique my work.
It really helps to have writing buddies who believe in you and who are constantly
there with encouraging emails whenever you feel down. Oh, and one more thing; believing in myself, despite all
these bloody years of getting nowhere!
For me, Marg, it was one of two things. The support of understanding friends who knew
where you were coming from as in the CB/ACJ group or a success no matter how small - an editor answering an
email, pitching an article or even just emailing an editor to ask if they take unsolicited articles. No matter
how small it always gave me a boost.
When I felt that way I did stop writing but eventually, whatever you're naturally
inclined to revives, and I soon felt I wanted to write again - so I guess 'time out' worked for me. I felt
fresher and able to take a newer approach that I possibly couldn't see before. I guess it's like the old
sayings; 'beauty from ashes' or 'unless a seed falls to the ground and dies there is no life.' I also find, as
the previous writer mentioned, talking with another writer about writing helps a lot and stirs up the urge to
write as well.
My father has always been a great encourager and he is famous for quoting a line out
of Ulysses (among other things) whenever any of the family are down (actually he recites the whole poem). The
line is great - 'Tho' much is taken, much abides; that which we are, we are. (Alfred Lord Tennyson) This is
part of a speech Ulysses made to his crew when he needed to rally them after their close brush with death on an
island they were shipwrecked on. Rather dramatic but the guts of it is ever true.
I remember saying to someone that I had decided to take up knitting instead - at least
I could sit out in the sun and do that. Whoever it was gave me that kind word and I picked up again - just the
There have been a few times for me in the past few years when I really felt like
quitting and it was a combination of mental tiredness from other things happening in my life plus not really
enjoying writing, as I was trying too hard to write when the creative fire had burnt out
What worked for me was a combination of taking the pressure off myself by writing for
myself rather than a publisher (I eventually submitted the stories successfully later) and the positive
encouragement from other writers who reassured me that of course I couldn't give up writing.
So, for me it was time out which I used to write for pleasure, rather than
publication, plus encouragement from other writers.
For me it was a 2-step process. I somehow knew that I had to get my body and mind
right before I could write. So I started on an exercise program. Not to lose weight, which did happen, but to
increase all those good little things in my brain, called serotonin - which started the mind thinking in the
right direction and made me feel good.
Then I went seeking help in the right places, with people who knew about writing, who
could tell me that I was good at what I did. I clung to those positive comments and encouragements and
gradually things came back into focus and I actually said out loud 'Yes... I do want to write again.' so, on
with the exercise and on with the writing.
I used to have at least two serious episodes a year where I wanted to quit. Then I had
a breakthrough a couple of years back when after much deep thought I discovered it wasn't the writing I wanted
to give up, just the publishing industry - the submitting and inevitable rejections (not to mention all the
other disappointments, which I won't go into). When I thought back over my writing years, I discovered that
what made me happiest was creating and how I'd been at my most happy in my first year, writing my first novel,
before I'd experienced rejection or been told that I wasn't 'doing it right'. So, what I did was stop
submitting to publishers for a time.
Originally it was going to be 12 months of writing, creating without submitting, but I
don't think it lasted that long. It worked. I no longer feel let down by rejections. These days I write solely
for me. I write when the urge strikes without any thought to which publisher might want it. I write because it
It must be said that what works for one doesn't work for all. I remember when I first
read somewhere that writers MUST write every day without fail! If I missed a day, or if I didn't write
something worthy, I'd feel so useless. Thankfully I put a stop to that. Yes, writing regularly does help
hone the craft, as does doing anything - the more we do it the better we get. Makes perfect sense. But I now
know that I can't force myself to write otherwise I'll hate it.
I also realised that ANY written expression counts as writing, including emails. I
probably write over 500 words in emails every day. Putting thoughts into the written form is what writing is;
it all counts.
I have often been there, wanting to give up because I've dicided I'm no goood at
writing and haven't had anything published for years. But then I remember how kind people have said I'm
talented when critiquing my work and I know that it's not right to waste a talent. So I press on.
Like the previous writer, too, I do it for enjoyment now and try not to worry about the rejections.
Five years ago my 'budding writing career' (ha ha) was interrupted when I took on a
more time consuming role at my 'paid job'. This change gave me a good excuse to put my writing on hold.
Over the previous few years, rejections had tempered my enthusiasm as I became enlightened to how much effort
and perseverance was needed, then through the submission and rejection horrors - often with no feedback, or
worse, accept what I'd written was rubbish and start again.
What the heck - I'd had a go and now I had a good excuse to toss in all in.
BUT, I was still a member of the CBers group. Each time I opened my inbox there
was a cascade of CB emails spilling down my Outlook Express page. I couldn't keep out, didn't really want
to, so became a sideline lurker who felt included as the CB'ers put their feelings on the line, their writing
rejections and successes, their life's good times and bad times.
So the reason my enthusiasm was renewed is because of the knowledge I've picked up
from this dynamic group - in knowing I'm not alone trying to come to grips with this frustrating, sometimes
rewarding, industry. The CB'ers have shown me that while it's a hard slog nearly all the time time it's ok to
keep writing just for the pleasure it gives me.
From what you see above, take away whatever works for you. I think what comes through very strongly is that just
a kind word and some understanding from other writers makes a huge difference. So does a decision to take time out
if necessary, and to write for the joy of it, rather than just for publication.
Believe in yourself, and write what is meaningful for you. It's important, too, to seek out other writers
who like to write in a similar genre (or at least who enjoy reading it) so you can get or exchange critiques that
are knowledgeable and helpful.
© Marg McAlister