Encouragement for Writers Who Don't Know If They Should Keep Going

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I had the recent privilege of doing some paid critiques at a writer's conference. Ahead of the conference, writers sent me twenty pages of their manuscripts which I then read and carefully critiqued.

As I met with each writer one-on-one at the conference, many of them voiced their concerns, saying things like, "I just don't know if I should keep going" or "Should I really be spending so much time on my writing?"

I only had fifteen minutes with each of the writers which I quickly realized wasn't enough time to encourage them the way I would have liked.

So today I thought I'd share everything that I didn't have time to say–a special encouragement for those who've written a book, but don't know if they should keep going . . .

1. Finishing a first book is a HUGE accomplishment. Anyone who does so should be proud of the feat. There are a lot of people who talk about writing a book, who have all kinds of great ideas, or who may even get a few chapters written . . . but for all the good intentions, they never complete the book.

I always applaud anyone who actually makes it to "the end" of the first book or two. It shows that we have the endurance and self-discipline to persevere.

My first books were my hardest to write. Half the time I didn't know what I was doing or where the story was going. I was filled with all kinds of self-doubts and didn't really know if I had what it took to be good.

But isn't that true of anything we just begin? For example when I first started running a year ago, I wanted to puke and die every single step of the run . . . even though I only went around the block (which is barely a mile!). I can't say that I run effortlessly now, but it sure is a LOT easier than when I started and I can go a lot further.

The same is true of writing. If we can write the first book or two (or three), our writing muscles and skills grow stronger. And while writing may never be totally effortless, it will get easier.

2. Don't get overwhelmed with well-intentioned feedback. I have to be honest, I was never brave enough to get feedback on my first few novels. I never let any eyes but my own ever see them. So I admire those writers who can take critiques on early manuscripts.

I would just caution against getting overwhelmed by all of the advice. I've seen too many writers who spin their wheels editing the same chapters (or same book) over and over and trying to perfect it. While there's nothing wrong with improving a manuscript, sometimes being in editing mode for too long can zap the joy out of writing.

It's best for "younger" writers to keep the writing hand moving and the creative part of the brain unfettered. If we apply what we're learning as we write the next book, we're bound to take greater strides forward than if we simply keep nitpicking an old manuscript. After completing several manuscripts we'll be able to look back on our first ones and see how far we've come.

3. Finally, keep the dream of publication alive. We can't let it die because we think it's too hard to get an agent or land a book deal, or because there are already too many books out there, or because of the uncertainty of the market.

The good news is that publishers and readers still love discovering new authors. There will always be a place for an author who has honed her writing craft and is able to tell a riveting story. But that means, however, that we can't rush the process, that we have to make the effort to actually hone our skills and learn what comprises a good story. Taking the time to "do writing" right still works best in the long run.

My Summary: Should you keep going? Do you have what it takes? If you love writing and if you're passionate about story-telling, then keep fanning the flame. Don't let the dreams of publication die. Maybe you won't find extreme riches and fame, but you'll find extreme satisfaction in a story well-told.

What about YOU? Do you ever struggle with knowing whether YOU should continue writing? What's helped you to keep going?

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  1. I recently paid a published author to critique my manuscript at a writer's conference. It was an eye-opening experience for sure. I had garnered several critiques from authors and editors on the opening of that novel. They confirmed for me that it really wasn't ready to be marketed. Even though I had made it the best I knew how, it still fell short of the mark.
    I agree that it's important to keep creating new things. I get very discouraged during the revision and editing stages because I'm a perfectionist. I could rework the same sentence dozens of times and still think it wasn't exactly right. I know writers who love the editing phase more than the creating phase, but that isn't me. When I'm creating, my imagination soars and I don't worry so much about saying things just right. When I edit, I see how glossy my first draft wasn't, regardless of my starry eyes as I wrote it.
    My advice is to move to something new rather than beating the old manuscript to death. Since "finishing" the manscript I had critiqued, I have finished two other first drafts. They are both executed with more finesse than that early novel. If I return to that first novel, I will probably scrap the whole thing and rewrite from a blank page. But I am convinced to continue writing to see my publishing dreams come to fruition.
    Thanks for this encouragement.

  2. I've struggled with it, especially when I've seen younger writers become wildly successful in less time than I've spent writing. But this post is very informative and helpful, as your other posts are (and we appreciate them!). I especially agree with your first point about how finishing a book is a huge accomplishment; I started and never finished several manuscripts before I finally finished one, and that last one felt so good to complete. It made me feel like a real writer.

  3. Thanks so much for this article Jody:)) I finished my first submission for Harlequin (LIS), they sent back some edits, I've corrected and resubmitted and now I'm just waiting to hear back (hopefully good news!) while I'm waiting, I've started my second novel. You are so right about the doubts and fears and questioning myself at every turn. I believe God out this dream in my heart for a purpose and it's all in His hands. I just know I need to put forth my best, keep learning, keep growing and keep writing. Thanks for your words of encouragement...they mean the world!

  4. Thanks, Jody, for well-written advice that I needed to hear. Thank you also for being an encourager.

  5. I don't struggle with whether or not I should continue writing, only with whether it's worth continuing to pursue publication. I love the writing aspect, but the dream of publication gets pushed into the background because I prefer to write and not query. :)

  6. I recently read an article that caused me to rethink my whole writing career . . . or lack thereof. My first manuscript is with an editor, and I haven't heard a peep for quite a while. So in the meantime I started a new WIP. I was ready to scrap my second manuscript four or five chapters from completion because of this article. I feel as thought I can't hit all the points an editor would be looking for according to that article. Your advice will help me #finishthebook and I appreciate that so much. Thank you for the encouragement, I needed it today.

  7. Hi Everyone! So glad that the post was truly an encouragement to everyone! The publishing world can be somewhat brutal at times, especially tough for newer writers. But don't let it suck you under! :-)

  8. Awesome advice, Jody! I think it's important to not lose the joy. Whenever I let myself get stressed about writing and publishing, I remind myself that this is a choice. I do it because I love it. If I let the stress and worry zap the joy, then I'm defeating the purpose. Writing = joy!

  9. I'm a new writer. I have a book that has been finished for almost 2 years. I even cried when it was finally completed. I also write poetry. Unfortunately, life and uncertainty has pushed it to the side. I have thought about self publishing but I'm not sure how to go about it and how much it will cost me. I hear horror stories about agents and self publishing and I'm a little scared. I know I have a great story for adults to read. I would also love to hear it as a audio book. After reading your blog, I'm more determined to find a way to get my book out to the market. Hopefully, to bookshelves everywhere.

    1. Sabrina, self-publishing is possible without spending money. It takes research and due diligence, and look for people you can barter skills with.

  10. Well, my first comment got devoured by gremlins, so I'll be brief.

    Everyone needs help at some point. The trick is to admit to needing it and then swallow your pride and ask for it. That applies to life in general as well as writing.

    That's not to say that you should be completely dependent on feedback and advice, but in some cases it shortens the lifetime of the problem considerably and lets you move it to 'resolved' sooner.

  11. So many encouraging sentences in here, especially how the first few of your books were hard to write and how not to over-edit. I'm midway into my second, with a bit done on my third as well. It's tougher than I imagined, and yet more joy-infusing as well. Though I'm moving toward publication, I think if I never get published I'll still be so thankful I've written novels. Thanks for being a mentor to all us younger writers.

    I also appreciate your comments about receiving critiques. I love to be critiqued and become a stronger writer. I have to admit though, sometimes I wonder about the advice I'm given. It's hard to know which voices to trust. Even those in the industry have different ways they look at a manuscript and evaluate it. We need to be careful, I think, not to take one critique as the expert advice, but rather look for the patterns of what people say about our work.

  12. I've actually felt pretty down about writing lately. I've written four books and I thought I'd get accepted by an agent this year, but it didn't work out and since then I've had a lot of trouble pushing on. Thanks for the encouragement. :)

    Stori Tori's Blog

  13. So inspiring Jody. Thank you! Keep being honest with us newbies. Its the only thing that will help us! And to the other newbies who may read this - Pray before every crit you read. Ask God to help you receive it in the spirit its written and how to apply what you've learned to your writing! I don't think I could have opened any of them without prayer!

  14. Jody, I've written about this a number of times (including a post for the recently-completed Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt). The true author can't NOT write, as we've both been told. Sometimes we get discouraged, sometimes we seem to have hit a stump (as we say in Texas), but I agree with you on the points you've made. Sometimes, God has ideas He hasn't shared with us, so we plug on.


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