Happy Endings?: Quitting Writing

Behind every finished book, short story, poem, or play, is a timeline of seemingly endless revisions and edits, and countless nights of frustration trying to finish a draft. It’s no secret that writing is more taxing than it looks. It’s not just about writing, but articulating, and articulating effectively.  And there are a lot of times when you believe that what you’re writing is not good, and what you’ve articulated isn’t engaging. And these are the times when we think that it’s better to quit writing. Do something else, perhaps, and put writing aside.

The question is, though: should you really quit? There’s no single correct answer to that question, definitely. The first thing you might do is weigh the pros and the cons of quitting writing. But then you’ll also have to ask yourself what it means for you to quit. Do you quit trying to be a “serious” writing, writing to get published? Or do you quit writing as a hobby, and focus on other things instead? You may ask people for advice, but it’ll vary, of course. And it won’t be easy when you try to decide.

In his article “How De We Know When It’s Time to Quit Being A Writer?“, Chuck Sambuchino shares his own story. It’s worth reading, certainly. However, what stuck to me was his parting words. He places us in a position where we’re compelled to think about whether or not we should just quit writing. And then he says:

The answer, of course, is simple: Can you quit? Chances are, you probably cannot. So keep writing, Dear Writer – because that is what you are. Whether or not you have a novel in bookstores. Whether or not the whole world has read your writing. Whether or not anything of yours is ever published, as long as you live, you are still a writer. It is part of who you are. Keep writing. It is never time to quit.

It is definitely nice advice, and one that we’ll want to follow. You’ll probably not want to quit if you’ve always loved writing, anyway. But while you may soldier on, there are some who do not want to continue. Lisa Kerr shares her own experience in the article “Why Quitting Writing Was the Best Thing That Happened to Me:

Quitting gave me what I needed to feel healthy again; it gave me the distance from what (and who) was unhealthy for me. I needed to enjoy writing again without the self-imposed pressure to publish with a leading agent. I needed the freedom to drink a beer and sew some crooked triangles on a quilt. I needed to get dirty with watercolors in my studio—splashing paint around, digging in the colors with my fingers. I needed to stop being worried about the cutthroat people I’d worked under.

For Lisa Kerr, trying to force herself to write was already becoming unhealthy for her. It wasn’t a question of being passionate about writing. It was a question of whether or not writing was still something she enjoyed. And distancing herself from writing gave her the energy she needed to get back on track.

In the end, it is you who can decide whether or not you want to quit. You should weigh in pros and cons, and decide if you want to quit for good, just plain quit, or distance yourself from your writing for a while. In the end, choose what’s healthy for you, and things may fall into place.

To end this post, here’s a link to an article: An Open Letter to Writers Struggling to Find Their Courage. May it give you help and hope.

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What It Takes to Write

It goes without saying that the world today has achieved the level of technological advancement that allows us to do virtually anything at a pace that people long ago, perhaps, had only dreamed of. While we are, of course, already in the year 2015, and flying cars are nowhere to be seen, it’s still impressive to think about how much civilization has managed to achieve in the span of a few decades. To put things into perspective: about eight years ago, memory sticks that had 1GB were already big. Today, we have sticks with around 32GB of space. 1GB is not enough for most of us.

But of course, the march of technology – and the purported advance of civilization towards the future, with this march – is also terrifying, as much as it is fascinating and exciting. Everything is wired and seen, people know when you read the messages they send you, and if you are ignoring these messages. New crimes spring from new technology. New pastimes and preoccupations, as well. The point is, everything’s fast, and there’s a burgeoning, active, pulsing culture that capitalizes on the visual and the piecemeal. In short, the world’s spinning too fast, and while the machines have no problem keeping up, the people do.

Now, let me share a quote from one of my favorite authors, the late, great, science fiction/transgressive fiction writer J.G. Ballard:

I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that’s my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again… the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul.

– J.G. Ballard

Doesn’t that sound rather unnerving? Does our day and age, our considerably modern time period, embody what Ballard had prophesied back in the 80s? Think about it. If you spend your day running in routines, talking about the same shows, the same things, the same books, the same jobs, over and over, and thinking the same thoughts as everyone else, wouldn’t that hit Ballard’s mark? Our culture’s fast, our technology is fast, all-seeing, virtually godlike if you knew how to manipulate it. Anything – or anyone – that can’t conform to the standards set by our ‘futuristic’ society will sink into obscurity.

So what does this have to do with writing?

We’re living in a world where eye-popping visuals are the order of the day. We’re living in a world where ease is valuable, where comfort and convenience are things that are supposed to make people feel happy. We’re living in a world where a lot of people are finding it hard to find their place, trying to catch up. This places writing – the process of, and the writers themselves – in a tenuous position. An interstice, if you will. Writing has always been a very valuable skill, and ages ago, very few people knew how to read and write. When you get to read and write, you’re literate. But today, a lot of people know how to do this, and it’s almost being taken for granted. Meanwhile, we are bombarded with material that strives for originality and freshness in execution, but everything can be boiled down to general skeletons that embody general plots. It doesn’t matter if it’s the television or what. Take away the special effect of movies and you’re left with the plot to work with. It’s certainly easy to get lost in virtual culture and the visual realities presented to us.

Now, what does it take to be a writer in the modern age, considering that writers occupy an uncertain position? And how relevant is writing? Following Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga is Fifty Shades of Grey, which started out as Twilight fanfiction. It seems anyone can just churn out underdeveloped fiction and become bestsellers. And people flock to this.

It’s interesting, because people are starting to read a lot, but while the readership is there, there’s an important ingredient missing: thought. Substance. A collective consciousness thinking of the same shallow thing stagnates a society that ought to be marching forward. And sure, books become bestsellers, and sell enough and the writers themselves get paid nicely, but if satisfying readers’ whims is all the writer does, then the writer is escaping a very important responsibility. That is, to enrich readers intellectually, perhaps spiritually, morally, and socially.

Again, what does it take to be a writer, in the modern age?

One, awareness. Writing substantial content is not an exercise that can be done with only half the mind working. Likewise, writing substantial content cannot be done if the writer exists in his or her own bubble, shut off from the world and suspended in his or her own consciousness. To be able to write something moving means to know what makes people’s hearts and minds run. What genuinely moves them. What genuinely terrifies them, and what genuinely opens their eyes.

Two, patience. Especially today, everything’s going really fast, and people favor a lot of cut-up “fast food” material running their way. But writing cannot be “fast.” Whatever you write assuredly won’t be perfect the first try, because that’s not how things work. That is, if you even manage to finish what you’ve been writing. It takes a lot of patience to write. It’s not a walk in the part.

Three, discipline. It’s easy to throw off your routine, it’s easy to dismiss and forget the purpose of writing. But if you want to write, and if you want to write good, you have to develop your discipline, and master yourself.

Finally, four, courage. The writer should already be aware, and if that is a given, it’s very valuable for a writer to be able to expose what he or she is aware of, in such a way that potential readers will be able to accept, understand, and digest. Reality shifts a lot, and it’s true especially nowadays. It’s true, when you move from the middle-class area to the slums. It’s true, when you see how corruption seeps into the daily workings of your office. It’s true in a lot of aspects, but it’s easy to forget that reality changes, and there is no absolute reality. And so the writer’s job is to re-shape that reality, and expose the many threads of reality to people.

That’s what it takes to write, I think. And it certainly sounds like a challenge. Writers meet all kinds of people, and many of them may prove resistant to new or unnerving ideas. But that is what it means to be a writer in the modern age, yes? That’s what it means, to be a writer, period. To challenge and unsettle, to shape and reshape realities, to disorient and reorient, because a writer’s purpose is to make people think, and expose the truths people are afraid to look at.

I’m ending this post with another quote from Ballard, and hope you take it into heart:

I admired anyone who could unsettle people.
– J.G. Ballard

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Get Back Up Again: Why Staying Physically Healthy Is Important for Creativity

No one likes getting sick. Okay, maybe there are some people, especially if it gets them out of responsibilities – school, work, you name it. But the hardest thing to do after recovering is getting back up and going with the flow again, doing your best to catch up and fulfilling obligations that you’ve neglected because you were physically unable to. It shouldn’t be too hard if you had all the time in the world, or if no one relied on your work output. But the world doesn’t stop for people who get sick, which makes illness rather problematic.

The “real world” aside, getting sick is also problematic when it comes to working on your creative projects. You may already have hit that gold vein, may have found a lot of interesting things to fuel your fiction, and maybe you’re already on a roll. But then comes a rather debilitating illness that forces you away from your laptop, or your tablet, or what have you. Basically, you’re away from your keyboard for a few days, and perhaps during those few days you’re thinking about what you’re going to do when you recover. If you recover. Finally, that fated day comes, and you’re allowed to get back to your normal routine. Except when you sit in front of your laptop, and look at the documents you had to leave hanging for a while, nothing comes. The jolt of inspiration that should have built up over the past few and pretty much unproductive days is not there, and you’re left confused.

It’s a problem that a lot of people experience, but for those who are in touch of their creative side, getting back into the groove can be more difficult. Creative work already involves touching a certain mindset, and one already struggles with that kind of work even without illness. Meanwhile, recovering from an illness just makes it all the more difficult, because the body is still not strong enough to let you pay attention to your creative project. You may have heard of artists engaging in unhealthy habits to get that creative mindset running, but go overboard and you may not be able to get that mindset running, at all.

So what am I getting at? It’s important to stay healthy. Whether it’s your eating habits, or sleeping habits – and both are questionable things, where a lot of famous artists are concerned – make sure that you’re getting the right amount of sleep or the right kinds of food. Junk is easy to eat, sure, but it pays to eat the right food. Among other things, of course. Find time to get away from your keyboard for a few minutes to an hour a day, maybe have some exercise – and exercise will help, because physical activity will help get the mind running. There’s no problem getting back to your creative project after a quarter or a half-hour of work out, compared to getting back to work after you get sick.

Finally, as much as you’re making a habit of writing a lot, make it a habit to follow physical work-out or healthy eating habits. You might be surprised at how these will all work together to help you actually deal with your creative work.

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Knowing When to Reject Yourself

A friend once told me about a short story he had been writing. He’d had the piece revised over and over, no doubt had invested a lot of time just writing it, and was incredibly – and reasonably – proud of it. But he brought the piece over to a group of friends who happen to be writers, and they – so he told me – crushed the piece and left it bloody. When he was telling me about it, he looked understandably forlorn and frustrated, but relieved to have a group of honest, critical people, who were willing to tell the truth about his piece. Which was that it wasn’t working for them.

Rejection is a reality, and it will hurt if your piece gets rejected. Different people have different tastes, and constructive criticism comes from people whose views don’t gel perfectly in harmony with yours, and therefore may have different ideas on what ‘good’ writing is. I realize that ‘good’ is hardly a helpful word when it comes to trying to place your work on a spectrum of quality, but different people have different ideas of what ‘good’ is, and what you think is good may not be what good is for others. So you think what you’ve written, worked hard on, and nurtured, is good. Great, even. But then you get friends to read it and they just turn it over and inside out, and you’re left hurting.

The reality is that yes, it’s probably not as good as you think. The thing with getting someone to read your work is that you’re asking – maybe even begging – for criticism, and if someone invests enough time, energy, and critical thought into putting your piece through a workshop, then you should at least be ready to consider what they’re saying. Often, critics – even if they’re just your friends – are ready with a sharp tongue and a careful eye, pointing out the holes and the cracks in a piece you’ve worked so hard on you’ve become blind to them. And you must be ready for the criticism, because – and especially if you consider the important things they say, and not take them personally – it will help you improve. Perhaps you might want to get back to that piece. Perhaps you might want to write a new one. But the bottomline is that getting criticism is important.

Now, if you’re like my friend, whose work, it seems, wasn’t simply just critiqued, but aborted, then that’s another level of difficulty right there. My friend had a hard time accepting it, of course. But it pays to know, accept, and even look at that kind of rejection as a blessing. You might have been doing something that didn’t click, and your friends – hopefully writers, too – just thought you’d be wasting time if you kept on working on it. Then again, maybe it’s a piece that’s not for them. But another thing is that you need to learn to let go of a piece you love if it’s not working as well as you thought it would work.

Criticism, rejection, and letting go of something you’ve written and loved is a part of the writer’s life. Published or not, a writer should be able to recognize where good, constructive criticism comes from. A writer must be able to accept that a piece is already becoming toxic, and that friends would be able to point that out. In the end, this is for self-improvement. And who knows? Maybe the piece that everyone didn’t like might find a different, more accepting audience someday.

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If It Ain’t Broke: On Revising Old Creative Pieces

Writing is hard work, and finishing something and feeling satisfied about it is one of the most rewarding things a writer can ever experience. Questions of publishing and getting exposed are things that come after in the logical sequence of events, of course. Sometimes, though, there’s the tendency to get back to the work, and re-work it. On your own. No pushing from someone who’s edited it, no modifying because of the feedback received from friends and family. Just the incredible urge to edit it yourself, and with good reason: you’re not completely satisfied with what you’ve done.

If you have the tendency to do that, that’s okay. Chances are, you’re not alone.

The urge to modify your own piece will probably come when, for example, you dig up a few old poems or stories and find that they’re cringe-worthy things written by yourself from five years ago. In short, it’s embarrassing. Age and experience have tempered your vision, and that epic love poem you’ve written years ago – brilliant, then, absolutely brilliant – makes you sick. Or, you find ridiculously obvious plot-holes in short stories you’ve done.

It’s certainly tempting to go back and revise many things, especially when your life has gone to a different direction. However, I’m here to tell you that it’s wise not to discard the original. Revise it, sure, it’s okay. But to throw away the original is something I don’t advise. And I have a few good reasons for that:

  1. It acts as a time capsule of sorts. Old pieces written show you what you were thinking back then, what you were feeling, glimpses of what you were going through. Small things may be remembered just by going back to your old poems. Old struggles that probably seem trivial now were monumental then, and if you wrote them down, chances are you would still be able to remember how hard it was, preparing for that Math exam, or how nerve-wracking it was trying to pick out a major in college.
  2. It has its own value. Don’t invalidate the value of what you’ve written before just because you think it’s not good now. It’s important that you be able to judge your past work independent of what your work is now, or what that past work can be if it’s refined.
  3. It plots progress. Keeping old pieces, hiding them, and coming back to them later can help you plot your growth as a writer. It shows progress, or change, in how you write, what you write about, the lucidity of your language, and everything else that comes with the territory. There’s no reason not to look at old pieces just because they may be, at least your eyes now, “primitive” in essence and sentiment. Perhaps, more than just your growth in writing, it also can help you show growth in yourself as a person. So keep those things.

I’ll end this post by leaving you with a quote (and briefly putting it into context, of course):

“To pore over literary shortcomings of twenty years ago, to attempt to patch a faulty work into the perfection it missed at its first execution… all this is surely vain and futile… In order to correct [defects in the text], I should have to rewrite the book – and in the process of rewriting… I should probably get rid not only of some of the faults of the story, but also of such merits as it originally possessed.”

– Aldous Huxley, from his foreword to a later edition of Brave New World

Aldous Huxley says it best, I suppose. Though I do not deny that it’s a rather lengthy quote.

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