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How to Know When to Quit Pursuing Publication

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Last week I wrote an article about TENACITY and how that's a common characteristic in bestselling authors.

Authors who hope to succeed in today's modern industry likely won't do it without a strong measure of tenacity.

But that begs the question, WHEN is it time to quit? Does there ever come a point in the life of a writer when it's appropriate to stop pursuing publication?

First it's important to clarify that I'm not talking about throwing in the towel on writing. Most writers who are truly passionate about writing will likely always write in one form or another.

What I'm referring to is reaching a brick wall in our writing careers and making a choice to step away from pursuing publication. Is there ever a time when a writer needs to consider such a move—either for a short term break or even permanently?

Here are just a few of my thoughts of who might qualify for the option of quitting and why:

1. Writers who are pursuing publication primarily to become rich and famous.

I occasionally get emails from aspiring writers who are wondering how to get published "because they need the money." One recent email was from a single mom needing to support her family. She was frustrated with the process of publication because it was so slow and she had to start making a steady income.

The truth is, if a writer is pursuing publication with the goal of making money, they're going to find themselves sorely disappointed. I had to write for years without any income before I was even ready for publication. Then during the first year or two after I was published, the checks trickled in slowly (royalty checks are usually only sent out twice a year for traditional publication). I certainly didn't make enough to support my family of seven.

Let me just say, it is possible eventually to begin bringing in a steady income as an author. My income has steadily grown every year. But . . . those who are pursuing publication for the money are probably better off getting a job at Walmart for a much steadier and reliable income.

2. Writers who are sacrificing personal or family health for the sake of publication.

In the modern publication industry, writers are shouldering HUGE responsibilities. Not only are authors working on novels (sometimes multiple books in a year), but they're also writing enovellas and eshort stories to help with marketing visibility.

On top of writing, authors must also take a large role in marketing their books. Social media alone can suck the life and time from a writer, not to mention all the other more traditional forms of marketing and interacting (like public speaking, book signings, etc).

Yes, it's hard to juggle all the responsibilities. I'm the first to admit I often drop one ball or another. There are times when I don't get enough sleep, or when I can't keep up with the housework, or I have to miss an important activity. But . . . it's not all the time. For the most part, I try to keep a healthy balance between writing and real life.

But there may come a time when we need to evaluate whether the responsibilities are too great, especially if they begin to damage family life or even personal peace of mind. It's all too easy to get overly focused on the destination and forget to enjoy the journey. Taking a short term break (especially from social media) is usually a good solution to regain perspective from burn out.

3. Writers who see the act of writing as nothing more than a chore.

Cooking is a chore for me. I usually rush through the job. Even when I'm baking something I really like, I still find myself mixing the ingredients as fast as I can so that I can be done. The process of cooking isn't something that brings me pleasure. I see it as a necessity of life, and I'd rather be doing something else.

If writing begins to feel like a chore, when we rush through it so that we can get on to something we enjoy more, then we might want to consider setting aside our pursuit of publication.

That's not to say that writing is always easy and fun. No, some days writing is very hard, the words trickle out, and I have to force myself to sit in front of the keyboard. But ultimately, writing is something I crave, I long to be doing it when I'm not, and it refuels me on many levels.

Just because something is hard work, makes us weary, or drains us is not a sign that we should quit. Usually the things worth having take a great deal more effort than we realize.

But . . . if writing is a chore for an author, then usually reading the book will be a chore for the reader. Readers will know when we love what we do and when we don't.

What do you think? What are some other reasons a writer should consider quitting or taking a break? What would you tell someone who is pursuing publication in order to become rich and famous?

P.S. There's still  time to enter the giveaway for an advanced copy of my next book, A Noble Groom! Leave a comment on the Valentine's Post for your chance to win!


20 comments:

  1. That's a tough one! I would say never quit. Just don't quit your day job either because writing (and any kind of creative pursuit actually) might not pay off how you'd like it to. If you don't like writing, then it makes sense to pursue something you do like. However, a couple years ago I read an interview with a successful, well-known author who said he hates writing and does it because he's good at it (I don't want to say who unless I can find the interview again!). It's shocking, but it worked out well for him and lots of people hate their jobs though they may be good at them.

    Still, I'd say never quit!!

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    1. Hi Laura,

      Interesting to hear a successful author say he hates writing. That is shocking! :-) I think there will be parts of the process that perhaps we don't like (for example, for me, I have a hard time with rewrites). But I have to say that each day I wake up and am excited to return to my stories. I love what I do. And if it ever became something I dreaded, then I'd take a break from publication. Perhaps not from writing, but at least from publication.

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  2. 3. Writers who see the act of writing as nothing more than a chore.

    Writing is definitely not a chore for me right now but I have to admit I have considered NOT pursuing publication because I fear this will happen. Right now writing is a hobby, a dream, something that keeps me sane...but what if publication turned it more into a job than anything else? I'm afraid it would suck the joy out of writing. But I'm not stressing about it right now because I'm not even to that point in my writing journey. I've only written 2 books and feel I'm not even ready to pursue publication as of yet. For now, I truly am enjoying the journey!

    Thanks for another great post!

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    1. Hi Shelly!

      Sounds like you have an awesome attitude about your writing! You aren't putting undue pressure on yourself at this stage in your writing career. And I think that's SO key. Enjoy each stage and definitely find joy in the journey! You'll eventually get to where you're meant to go!

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  3. I have made, at least for now, a change in the style of writing I'm pursuing and thus the type of publication. I realized after a long inner, tormenting battle, that maybe, for now, writing fiction isn't what I wanted to pursue. I am focusing on non-fiction (article length) and am seeing more publication doors open for me. In the meantime, I haven't ruled out writing fiction, but realize I need to learn more about the craft and art of fiction before I pick it up again.

    At 48, not that I'm old n' wise (yet), but I have learned there are seasons in life and each are good and serve their purpose. I would tell any writer who decides, for whatever reasons, to ease off the publication goal to relax, find their passion in writing again, and wait on the season.

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  4. Great post, Jody. It's important to know when to quit writing altogether, and when a change of tactics is the better choice. While I will always write and always strive toward reaching an audience who enjoys what I have to say, I would never risk my family's happiness or my health for it. There are always options for whatever we want, that DON'T make us miserable.

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  5. I had a "break" from writing for about 5 years, after over 10 years of heartbreaking near-misses and close calls (inter-mixed with the publication of literary short stories and enough affirmation to know I wasn't totally wasting my time). My kids started school, and I felt it was time to get an actual job to help pay the bills. Reluctantly, I started teaching. Part of me resented this, but part of me was grateful for the chance to do something else--I had hit a solid, soul-destroying brick wall trying to sell screenplays and other scripts. At the end of a few years of teaching, my writing fingers got itchy...I started on, not another script, but on a novel for young people (the YA market had established itself while I wasn't looking!) It took ages to get back into the groove, but that novel was published (after further ups and downs, of course!) I'm so happy that I returned to writing. Do I regret ever stopping? A bit, but the choice was unconscious, and was probably the best for me in the long run. I guess the main point is that "taking a break" doesn't have to mean "quitting." Good luck, everyone!

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    1. So true, Jane. I took a hiatus for 7 years while my kids were younger. I didn't look at it as "quitting" but I also didn't have any plans to return either. In hindsight, I see that time "off" as really valuable. It enriched me in more ways that can I recount. But the writer in me eventually pushed to write again. And here I am! :-)

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  6. You bring up excellent point, Jody. Personally I feel like quitting most often when I'm tired. At the end of the week, at the end of a project I get thoughts of 'That's it; no more!'

    I think it's important to nurture ourselves physically and emotionally by giving ourselves permission to relax, take holidays from writing, push away from the computer in the evening, whatever, so that we don't burn out. I am often pleasantly surprised when, after a break, the desire is there again, along with the creative energy and optimism.

    I sometimes wonder how agented authors, who are contracted to put out book after book, do it without aforesaid burnout!

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    1. Great point, Violet. I don't think we should decide to "quit" based on being tired. Usually what we need is to step back, breathe, take a short break, and then come back at it. If we're still struggling at that point, then perhaps a longer refreshment is needed.

      And as far as continuing to work under contract and meet deadlines, I keep doing it because writing is so much fun for me. I enjoy it immensely. That overshadows all of the other things I don't "like" as much about the job! :-)

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  7. Yay! I don't fit any of those categories! Goodness, if people find writing a chore, why do they write? I'm glad you brought these things up, because what I've definitely learned over the past few years is that writing will NOT make me rich and JK Rowling is the exception, not the rule. Thanks!

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  8. I'd tell someone who wants to be rich and famous that they'd have better luck auditioning for a reality show; a lot of the people on those shows are all about instant gratification, money, and fame. On the other hand, the fame usually only lasts for about fifteen minutes.

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  9. If you don't have some innate talent, then with very hard work, you *might* become a *competent* writer, painter, or musician, but great? No. And there are easier ways to make a buck, as you've pointed out.

    Talent + VERY hard work + catching the eye/ear of the right person at the right time MIGHT = rich & famous. Plenty of people have the first two, but have not (yet) hit the third element, and so they are NOT runaway bestsellers despite gobs of talent and plenty of hard work. That third thing is a factor that nobody can control.

    IMO, you've got to be in love with your craft. It's got to possess your heart, like a lover that you can't stay away from, you steal time to write/paint/play, because you MUST.

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    1. Love your summary, Beverly. Beautifully put! :-)

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  10. Jody, I know you're talking primarily about novel writing, but I have to disagree with you. If a writer is seeking ways to make money, it doesn't have to take years. There are options beyond novel writing that many writers employ to earn cash while also pursing novel publication: freelance article writing, short story writing, blog writing, etc. Honing one's writing skill in these areas might shorten the time to writing and publishing a novel. The skills are different, but all writing helps.

    There are also roles ancillary to the writing, such as editing, website design, PR, etc. that a number of writers are engaged in.

    Yes, it could take a long time to traditional publication, or even indie, depending on the writer, but it doesn't have to. Without an assessment of the writer's starting point, it's hard to say. But indie e-book publishing opens up doors that weren't there years ago, and again, may be an avenue to earning some income. Maybe not to getting rich, but perhaps earning some supplemental cash. (Of course, assuming the writer understands and puts time against the promotion required to find readers.)

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    1. Really great point, Patricia. There are definitely ways to make cash writing by pursuing other avenues. I've shied away from those things, because my passion lies with novel-writing, but I have friends who have pursued other writing career paths. One in particular does copying writing and over the years has made good money at it. That kind of technical writing gives me hives just thinking about it! ;-) But it has been worthwhile to her.

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  11. Great post, Jody. Would it be okay with you if I share it on my blog? (With full credit, of course!!)

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    1. Hi Debra!

      Oh absolutely! You're more than welcome to share it! I'd be honored! :-)

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  12. Okay, Jody - here's the post: And, thank you so much for your ongoing inspiration. xoxo http://debralschubert.blogspot.com/2013/03/is-it-time-to-stop-pursuing-publication.html

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    1. Aw, thanks, Debra! xoxo back at you! :-)

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