July 24, 2013

On Giving Up

I've been thinking about this post for the last few months but I've procrastinated on writing it.

Part of the reason for dragging my feet is, well, laziness. Haha. But the bigger reason is that my thoughts are incredibly longwinded and jumbled on this topic, and so I've been nervous about crafting a post that actually, you know, makes sense. And that hopefully resonates.

Please bear with me then?

{A picture of pretty flowers! Completely unrelated to the post!}

Right after my book sold in March, I went through a period of elation and excitement and general relief—cue lots of crying and high-fiving! Then when my brain settled down somewhat, I slouched onto my sofa one morning in Apri and I thought about the last six years of my life: of the writing and revising, of the querying and subbing, of those moments of sheer happiness—so fleeting!—and of those long days when I wanted to sell my computer and give up.

I've almost given up many, many times.

Sometimes I wish I could have a heart-to-heart with my younger self, circa 2007. That was the year when I started writing in earnest. That was the year when I kicked off my crazy publishing journey, when all of this began.

When I think about that girl—and I figure I can use the word 'girl' because I was only 24 then. A mere baby!—I smile and wince at the same time. I smile because I was so darn gung-ho about writing and so contagiously hopeful about seeing my name in print. But I wince a little too because that girl will face so much rejection ahead of her, so much heartache. She has no idea how long it will take her to see her name in a magazine byline, much less on the cover of a book.

If I could talk to that girl, if I could give her some advice, I'd tell her something like this:
Focus less on getting published and more on improving your craft. 
Share your work with other writers. I know this idea freaks you out more than a horde of Aragog-sized spiders but—believe me—you need outside feedback. 
There are so many things that you can't control in publishing. That's why you should concentrate on the stuff that you can control, namely staying humble, being patient, and writing the best damn books that you can.
There's a lot more advice I wish I could give myself, like 'Stop comparing yourself to others!' and 'Less TV, more writing!' But there is something that I wouldn't say to 24-year-old Caroline:
I know. That sounds kind of weird, right? Why wouldn't I encourage myself to keep going? It's not like I want to sabotage myself into giving up. So what I mean by this is...

Looking back, as I remember the rejection I received and the dejection I felt, I realize I needed to grapple with giving up. I needed those soul-searching moments when I felt stripped bare, when I wanted to turn my back on writing. Because within those moments, I was forced to ask myself: What do you want? Do you want to give up and do something else? Or deep down, do you want to write?

Sometimes a few days or weeks would pass and I would still think, "I want to get off the publishing train!" But slowly, gradually, my fingers would itch for the push of the keyboard and I'd find myself diving into another round of revision or fiddling with a new story. In the end (so far at least), I've come back to writing. I've come back to my stories. I haven't given up.

Of course, I'm not saying that I'll feel this way forever! Maybe one day another opportunity—another dream—will come along and I'll decide to chase that instead. (Perhaps sloth ranching? Or professional Quidditch?) And that's okay. Dreams can change, after all. But for now, I write because I love it. I write because I feel empty without it. I write because, even though it can beat me down, I just can't stop.

And that's a lesson I had to learn in these last six years. Every time I wanted to throw my hands into the air (and there were a few times when I stopped writing for weeks or even months), I'd end up digging in my heels and pulling on my Indiana Jones hat and saying, One more try! I'll give it one more go!

Maybe I'm just too stubborn?

So I guess this is my very longwinded way to saying: it's okay, younger Caroline, if you want to give up. It happens. Don't beat yourself up over it. In the end, most writers, most artists, will reach a point in their journey where they will ask, Should I keep going? Or should I give up? It's all part of the process, this give and this pull, this stretching of the creative soul.

The hard part is figuring out the answer.

But you will.


  1. Oh Caroline, you are so wise! Thank you for this post. :)

    1. Ah, if only I truly was wise! Haha. (Says the girl who mistook a grapefruit or an orange...)

      But thank you, my dear! :)

  2. A few weeks ago, I was seriously considering taking a break from writing... maybe for several months. Then I went to sleep, and my first thought upon waking up was about whether I could take the strange dream I'd had and turn it into a story idea somehow. At that point, I gave up on giving up, I guess! But I think you're absolutely right that writers all have to grapple with the idea that maybe we could just stop. Art should be a choice, not just something we do on autopilot.

    1. Oh, I love dreams that inspire awesome stories! You'll definitely have to tell me all about it whenever we see each other next!

      I definitely agree that "art should be a choice" too. That's something I've really had to grapple with whenever I struggle with writing. At this moments, my husband will sometimes say, "I just want you to be happy, and it doesn't seem like writing is making you very happy." And that's when I have to really dig in deep and remember that I do waant to write even if it makes me a little miserable sometimes. But I think there's power in this realization--that I can quit but I choose not to!

      I hope that makes sense? Haha.

  3. As a 26 year old pursuing writing (with glimpses of success thus far amongst piles of rejection)...thank you for this post. You pose such important questions for a writer to ask his or herself. Do I really want to give up? Do I want to let the dreams I've had for 20+ years go just because it's hard work? My answer is always the same: I wouldn't have had this dream so thoroughly rooted in my heart if I wasn't meant to do it! Keep on keeping on, Caroline. Congratulations on your success thus far!

    1. Hi Laura! Thank you so much for your comment--I couldn't agree more! I have the exact same thoughts running through my head whenever I want to quit, and I always have to remember that this is my dream and I don't want to give up on it.

      Would love to hear what sort of writing you do!

  4. Did you ever feel like you lost your passion? Different from feeling disappointed by rejection, that you simply did want to write. This is where I am.

    1. Hi Tonya! First of all, HUGS. Writing can be so, so hard and misery-making; and I definitely know how you feel.

      Just this past winter, I lost my passion for writing. Usually I would get down in the dumps for a few days or weeks, but this time I couldn't get out of my funk for months. I started two or three new projects at this time, only to abandon them after a few chapters. It felt like my creativity well had finally run dry, and I didn't know if I could ever fill it again. It was a very confusing time because writing had been my passion for so many years, and so I felt very lost. Completely unmoored.

      It has taken me awhile but I finally feel that spark again. I started a new project just a few weeks ago that I'm excited about, which is a feeling I haven't felt in a long time.

      Anyway, I would just be patient with yourself! Sometimes our brains need a break from making art, and sometimes that break will last for weeks or months or even years. And that's okay. While I was going through my funk, I tried to express myself creatively through other outlets like photography or graphic design; and I think that helped too. I even thought about pursuing photography or web design part-time, but as I delved more into those endeavors I started to miss writing. I found that these other pursuits--while enormously enjoyable--didn't quite fulfill me as writing did. And that helped me realize that I wasn't ready to give up on writing just yet.

      Again, big hugs. I totally know what you're going through, and I am sending lots of good vibes your way. As well as chocolate and wine! :)

  5. This is such a lovely post. I'm so happy YA Highway added it to their Friday blog post. :)

    1. Thank you so much, Christine! I'm so happy that you enjoyed the post!

  6. Caroline! I just popped in after way tooooo long to see the news about your book! When can I buy it?! I am SO SO excited/happy for you. lots of love! Lindsey

  7. Caroline, thank you for this beautiful post. I love its honesty and I love you!

    PS I knew you'd get published, I just knew it. (And I'm not just saying that because now you know too.)

  8. What a beautiful post Caroline. I just had to share it on Twitter, and CC a local author I know.