My friend Leta Blake wrote a great post of writing advice here, and I agree with almost all of it, but, of course, I want to talk about what I don’t agree with. Unlike her, I think that quitting is sometimes the right thing to do.
She opens the piece with this David Sedaris quote: “The only real advice you can give anyone is to keep writing.” And that is true, but keep writing what? Her final advice is “Finish your work.” Which is good advice to a point, but we have a limited amount of time and energy in this life, and always finishing a piece of writing is like always staying in a job until you’re fired or always staying in a relationship. It’s not always the best choice.
Sometimes it’s just not working. That doesn’t mean people should quit without really trying. But sometimes a piece of writing is just an exercise. Sometimes it’s a warm-up for something else. I don’t like short stories very much, so I feel like most of my short stories are that way.
Before I started working on The Viking Novel, I started many other novels. I always got about two-thirds through the story and entirely lost interest. Novels are a huge amount of work–even fluffy romances, even swashbuckling space operas. My calculation is that for every 10,000 new words, the difficulty of managing all the plot threads and characters gets twice as hard.
I don’t think quitting a piece of writing, especially something novel-length should be done lightly, without learning from the quitting. But it can and should be done. Things I learned from the novels I quit:
- Always begin a story with the end in mind, or it won’t go anywhere.
- Just because a genre seems easy or fluffy doesn’t mean it is easy to write. I’m more comfortable writing a door-stopper historical novel than a 220-page light romance.
- Write something you can feel proud of.
- Ask yourself: if you only had time to write one book in your life what book would it be? Write that book.
What would have happened if I’d finished that historical novel without an ending? Or that light fluffy romance? Or that other space opera romance? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be where I am now, working on a final draft of the book that I’ve been wanting to write for my whole life, the book I dreamed about. I would have taken a path that was both harder and less fulfilling.
Most things that are worth doing are hard, but not everything hard is worth doing, and that goes for writing too.