Today I Resign from Writing (well, maybe)

I’ll start by sharing a recent “brick & mortar” journal entry, dated January 18, 2013:

Geoffrey Whiteway → in Paper & Books

“…this publication and that publication and ebooks and agents and I’ve had it! What if I were to just stop? Give up on the notion of ever becoming an author? Get my manuscript back from [freelance editor’s name here], pay her, thank her, and then put the damn thing in a drawer somewhere. Forever.

 I could focus on teaching, creating a nice house, and preparing to become a mother. That’s it. No more nonsense. Would I be happier?

Would this writing dream chase after me anyway?

How much more satisfied would I be if I STOPPED writing?

Maybe I should consider this.

I’m serious. What if I were to simply…give up???

What do I really want anyway?”

I have been toying with my resignation letter of late. What I find puzzling though, is who would I address it to? My muse? My readers? My future agent? No one?

Yesterday I received my tenth rejection letter for a short story I’ve been sending to various literary magazines. I didn’t even care. I shrugged. Tossed it in the trash and set about feeding the cats.

Ed Davad → in Toys

What’s wrong with me?

I don’t feel discouraged per se; I know the writing business left and right—rejection and uncertainty come with the territory. It has more to do with my personal happiness. My identity. How much of myself do I associate with writing? What percentage of my brain is solely focused on “making it”?

If I were to strip myself from all writing obligations, what would I be left with? Is this why I push myself to write? To be something? As if I’m nothing without the possibility of becoming the next Jodi Picoult?

How many hours of my day would clear up? Suddenly doing laundry would be nothing more than doing laundry. A day off would mean I could climb in bed with a book or watch the entire third season of Beverly Hills 90210 without feeling guilty because I’m “not writing.”

Intrinsic Writer?

The term “intrinsic” suggests something that is built-in, inherent, natural. As in, I was born to write, no one taught me how (not initially anyway) and no one suggested that I write—I just did. As a kid I wrote stories abound, filling countless spiral notebooks with tales of haunted houses, conniving best friends, and handsome boyfriends. In fourth grade, I won the “Best in Storytelling Award” for my fictional piece about a talking vacuum cleaner. Back then I wrote because I liked it. It was organic. I had an idea, so I wrote it down.

Then I got caught in the fog of adolescence and forgot all about my talent.

But in college I rediscovered my insatiable need to write, only this time my priorities were different from my childhood days of scribbling stories and poems. I started using writing to identify myself, to impress others, to become something I never was before. That’s the way it’s been ever since. I push and push and practically delude myself into thinking that I’m already a New York Times # 1 Bestseller. The pain of it all occurs when reality hits: I’m still plowing through a sixth, seventh, eighth draft of my novel, quietly—by myself—in my upstairs office.

Maybe I’ve been doing this for all the wrong reasons.

So I hereby resign from this practice on the grounds of reclaiming my sanity, my morality, and my overall well-being…

Wait.

Nicolas Raymond → in Objects

I’m suddenly reminded of an episode of Mad Men:

Ken Cosgrove, an account man at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, is a fantasy writer on the side. He keeps it on the down low. He’s supposed to be focusing all his energy on the firm, and a side practice—of any kind—is simply forbidden, and many of his superiors have told him just so. So Ken, not be discouraged, uses the pen name “Ben Hargrove” to continue his writing and manages to find some success.

One day, Peggy Olson, one of the ad agency’s copywriters, spots Ken in a diner with his editor. She promises to keep quiet.

Later in the same episode, Ken is at a dinner party with some colleagues—including Don Draper, main character and one of the four partners of the agency. Ken’s wife accidentally spills the details of his writing, along with his pen name. Don eerily questions him on the plotlines, themes, and characterization of his fantasy stories. Ken answers respectfully and calmly, but it’s clear that he’d rather not be having the conversation.

In a later scene Ken admits to Peggy that after having dinner with Draper, he’s decided to “resign” from writing. Ben Hargrove is no more. He shrugs it off, chalks it up to a silly hobby and goes on his way.

However…at the end of the episode, there’s a quick shot of Ken sitting in bed with a pad of paper, writing a story under a new pen name, Dave Algonquin.

I think the point comes across here. Can a writer ever truly stop writing? Is there a force that won’t let us resign—even if we want to? Maybe I’ll keep going for a while. See what happens (rips up resignation letter).

I think there is one line in my journal entry above that is louder than the rest: Would this writing dream chase after me anyway?

You too?  Tell me all about it.

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31 Comments

Filed under The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Why We Write

31 responses to “Today I Resign from Writing (well, maybe)

  1. I think the answer is to take a break and not think about writing for a while. Then keep taking the break and think about it–whether or not you miss it and how much, what your goals really are and whether or not you’d be willing to change your path.

    For example, is getting an agent and aiming for the Big 6 (5) the only thing you’d accept? Or would you consider going with a small press or (gasp) self-publishing to get your foot in the door?

    It’s well established – especially with the current state of the publishing industry – that just because a writer’s work gets rejected doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

    • I think that’s a good idea, actually. I may do just that. A break may be exactly what I need. I go back and forth so much, and with all the turmoil going on in my head some time may be needed to clear out all the junk!

      Big six has always been my plan, but I’m also aware of the self-publishing (yes, I know, gasp!) is an option. I also realize that this may be, in fact the future of publishing. Which both scares and soothes me.

      And thanks for your reminder about rejected work not always being “bad.” Nice to hear! 🙂

  2. A long time ago, my inner critic go so bad while writing first drafts that I eventually quit writing and didn’t pick it back up for about 20 years. Now that I’m writing again, I wish I had kept it up over the years, and that I could somehow get that time back. Actually, getting the last 20 years back would be awesome for all kinds of reasons 🙂

    I haven’t submitted anything for publication yet, and I’m likely to start off by self-publishing, so I can only imagine how discouraging it must get sometimes when a rejection comes. But I do know that rejection happens to pretty much every writer. Maybe it’s part right of passage, and part forge that hones us into something sharper than we were before.

    Maybe taking a break like Melissa suggested would help. You could end up deciding that you’re happier without writing, and that’s okay. You could also find a new strength to help carry you forward, and that’s great too. Sometimes we just need to step back and reexamine the path we’re on to make sure we’re still on the right one for us.

    I agree with Melissa on another point–a rejection doesn’t mean the work isn’t good.

    • Thanks for stopping by Mike. Twenty years is definitely a nice, long hiatus from writing! Thanks for that advice though, I certainly wouldn’t want to regret ending my writing “career” somewhere down the line.

      I’ve submitted many pieces for publication, and the vast majority get rejected. I have had some acceptances as well, but unfortunately those are few, far, and in-between. Still, even one acceptance makes it all worth it and that’s what I have to remind myself.

      I think taking a short break would help. I’ve been playing around with how long and I’ll probably just start with a few days and see how it goes. Already I can feel the pull tugging at me, so I may simply have to go back.

      What I should focus on more is my writing priorities…not so much whether or not I want to keep doing it.

      Thanks again for your advice! It really did help.

  3. Certainly we’ve all felt this way. But I think writing is in our veins. I walked away for several years, only to return to it and be more content than I have been in a long time. I wish you well, however you decide to proceed.

    • Yes, I think writing is our veins too. I know it’s in mine. Nothing I can do about it! It’s both a blessing and curse! Thanks for your well wishes, but when it comes down to it, I know won’t quit. I just need to re-prioritize my goals. Thanks for your help! 🙂

  4. Thank you for this post Katie, because it came at exactly the right time for me 🙂

    I too have been considering resigning 😦 I’ve hardly written a thing in weeks, I have deadlines and pressure, but I can’t get motivated. I’m not enjoying it like I use to, and I desperately need a break (but can’t due to the deadlines). I’m pulling my hair out, wondering if really, I should give up. And then if I don’t write the guilt creeps in ARGHHHH!

    I want to relax, read a book, enjoy my life, but instead, I’m worrying about writing and how I’m feeling about it at the moment.

    I don’t know the answer, I just wanted to say you’re not alone and to offer (((((hugs))))) 🙂

    I could say “don’t give up honey” but then I’d be a hypocrite wouldn’t I 😉

    Good luck in making your decision and remember, when it stops being something you enjoy….. *gulp*

    I’m not being very helpful am I? Lol

    Xx

    • Yes, you are being helpful! Because it’s great just knowing that someone else is feeling the same way I am. I agree…it has gotten to a point where I’m no longer enjoying writing and the task itself just seems like…work. Like a chore. I understand that real writing is WORK, but it should be work I enjoy and when I’d rather be scrubbing the bathtub…something’s wrong.

      I may just need to re-evaluate my intentions (maybe you too??). Why do I this in the first place…? Lately I don’t even know the answer to that. So perhaps that is what I need to set about doing.

      Thanks for your comments and I hope you feel better about it all as well! 🙂

  5. I also think that you should take a break, but not from writing–from writing for publication.

    I had this happen to me about five years ago. Upon the advice of a rabbi (Rabbi Noah Orlowek), I decided to write a few things just to give to other people, for their use or their pleasure.

    I wrote poems for my grandmother.

    I wrote a story for one of my kids about a particular issue she was having and gave it to her for Chanukah.

    I wrote a funny holiday newsletter to make friends, family, and neighbors laugh.

    I wrote letters.

    The objective was just to bring pleasure to all those people. It worked. And then, I got pleasure from my writing again. Now, I think about who my audience is–and I write to them. What do they want to know? What will make them smile or laugh? I focus on the giving. Eventually, I started getting more acceptance letters, but that was a side benefit.

    • This is simply fantastic advice! I actually read your comment a few days ago, but haven’t had a chance to respond until now. But I’ve been thinking about what you said and it makes sense. You have a great Rabbi!

      The idea of “not writing for publication” alleviates so much stress, it’s amazing. That’s how I used to be…I reveled in writing because it helped me discover new things…about myself and life in general. I loved sharing my work with writing groups, grad classes, etc., and I never felt pulled by the notion of publication…until recently, when I decided that THIS is the only way I can identify myself, THIS is the only reason I’m worthy.

      That’s just plain wrong.

      And that’s why I had to write this post and the responses have been wonderful. So thank you so much for this tip. I need to rediscover why I started writing in the first place! 🙂

  6. Ah, Katie! Well, you have to write because you love it, but I can totally identify with long stretches of “Do I really want to do this and do I really love it?” in my life. LOTS of them. It wasn’t until I injured my wrist and realized I might not ever get to write again that I woke up and found my solid answer was yes, yes, yes, with or without publishing (though of course I’m always hoping I’ll get to that stage, too). Regardless, you have to do it because YOU love it, so some time away sounds like it might be what you need. And…coincidentally, I just nominated you for a couple blog awards because I love your blog. 🙂 Do what you will with them (even if that just means patting yourself on the back before a long writing vacation) and if you’d like to find out more, head to my site. Either way, and whatever decision you make, know that we all love your work, and your spirit! Take a break and see where it leads you!

    • Thanks Eva! For your advice and for the awards! 🙂 It always feels good to be acknowledged!

      And you’re right…I DO love writing, but I’m tired of the pressure of “making it.” I realized that for years now I’ve been writing the idea of “making it” in mind, and I’m only discovering now that that is NOT the right reason to do it.

      I know that I”m not going to stop writing…I don’t think I can. But I AM going to stop putting so much pressure on myself to succeed, because I truthfully think that that is what’s holding me back. I also need to discover my other strengths and not put so many proverbial eggs in the “writing” basket 🙂

      Thanks again for your advice 🙂

      • Gosh, no problem, Katie. I admire all your thoughts on writing and I hope you don’t stop, but ultimately you have to do what’s best for you. I agree that “making it” isn’t the right reason—I’ve totally been there—but finding that it’s your passion and it doesn’t matter if/when you make it is a wonderful, beautiful thing. I recently made some changes in the projects I’m tackling myself, and instead of writing what I think I should be writing, I started writing what I love to be writing. Turns out, I’m now glued to the keyboard even more than before. 🙂

        Find what you love, and do that—writing or not.

  7. Quite simply, writing did chase me down.
    I’ve been thinking about your post a lot, but finally have a chance to respond. 🙂
    In college, I had decided that writing stories was something I just wasn’t meant to do, and chose instead to be sensible, study science, work a steady job …
    That worked out fine I suppose, except for this restlessness, that I was meant for something more. I tried music, then art, and after much delay, I found words (or did they find me?)
    Anyway …
    I understand your impulse to put it away. When it becomes all about identifying oneself as a writer, defining yourself by what other people think–validation– it might be a time to step back and decide what one really wants out of this. I think that child who wrote for the fun of it had something right. Writing IS fun! When it stops being fun it’s time to take a step back and ask why not.
    Sometimes all it takes is a day or two away. Sleep in. Watch that third season of 90210. Clean the house, finish all the laundry.
    I think you’ll find there is an empty space in your life that needs words to fill it.
    I don’t doubt for a minute that you were meant to do this!
    And, for what it’s worth, Stephen King had a wall full of rejection slips before he finally got published.

    • I think writing found me as well. I’ve actually walked away from it several times in the past and it’s always come back to reclaim me! But sometimes I pounce on it, and don’t leave myself any breathing room. It’s like I create these disasters scenarios in my mind. I tell myself that if I’m not a writer, I’m nothing. It’s finally dawned on me that this is simply not true, and in some ways I need to rediscover the parts of myself that AREN’T writers while still cultivating that side of me that IS a writer…make sense?

      I know I’m not going to give it up completely. In fact, I’m going to keep writing that novel (you know which one 🙂 ) because it’s a part of me…but it’s not ALL of me, and I was fooling myself into believing that it was. Already I’m starting to feel a lot better about this whole endeavor.

      I’ve heard that about King as well as other authors…and I think what upset me most about my latest rejection letter was the fact that I DIDN’T CARE. I literally shrugged it off and tossed it in the trash. That was what got me thinking about this whole thing to begin with. Then again, maybe deeper down (a place I couldn’t or wouldn’t reach) I was upset.

      Oh, and I already started watching 90210! Thanks for the encouragement!

  8. Triple AMEN! to everything beccakinla said above. After four decades of writing (nearly two of which were closeted because I was afraid to even admit to most people that I wanted to write) I can tell you that for some of us, it will never leave completely. In my case, life often intervened to prevent me from writing much, but the drive to write never left even when it was dormant due to other circumstances. And even when I wasn’t writing, I was drawn to writers who talked and wrote about writing. Reading and writing have always been my preferred way to connect to others, and the joy I get from it doesn’t depend on publication, although that’s always great.

    Years ago I met and talked with Michael Blake, who wrote the screenplay for Dances with Wolves. I told him “I don’t know whether I actually want to write, or whether I just want to BE a writer,” and he told me that lots of people have that problem. Seeing my preschoolers with me, he gave me perhaps the best advice I could have gotten at that time in my life: “Just keep a relationship with the written word. Write something every day, whether it’s a short note or long letter to someone, a journal entry, a letter to the editor, whatever. Then writing will always be there for you if you have the time and desire to go back to it in the future.”

    If being read is what you seek, you have that with this blog and other possibilities. My published pieces have all been nonfiction, where it is much easier to break in, so you might try nonfiction. Have you published any of your short stories online? I find the marketing aspects of writing to be sort of a turn-off, but things are changing rapidly in that regard, and those who have been the traditional gatekeepers are losing their monopoly on power. So I hope you will not give up completely, but maybe ignore all the pressure to sell, sell, sell and just focus on connecting.

    • Hi Julia…what wonderful advice! I realize that I do connect with the written word nearly everyday..whether it be my blog, journal, an email, etc. However, I tend to go into anxiety mode when I don’t write my novel, or other potentially publishable pieces. But it shouldn’t be that way. It should be more about writing for me and for the people around me who enjoy my work, etc. I’m gaining a lot of insight after having written this post.

      It’s funny, the pieces I’ve had published have also been nonfiction pieces. Interesting. I do enjoy writing personal essays, but I’d really love to break into fiction–not so much short stories, but novels. But I do have inklings to write nonfiction…which maybe I should consider more, thanks to your insights.

      That’s wild that you met the screenwriter from Dances with Wolves! What an experience that must have been. Thank you so much for spreading his wisdom. 🙂

  9. Writing is therapy. Writing is creating. Writing is destroying. Writing is breathing life to imagination. Writing is a drug.
    If you feel you want to quit, maybe it’s time to start a new chapter in your creative life. Start a fresh novel, all you need is pen, paper and somewhere calm, somewhere you can think & just go with the flow. You never know, you might come up with something truly genius. And as for the novel you’ve been working on for ages, you can always go back to it, that’s the beauty of writing, time doesn’t really matter.
    I know how you feel though, I also know that you know that you won’t be the same if you “quit” by the way, the blog title almost gave me a heart attack.
    Good luck 🙂

    • LOL, sorry for the scare! Though I’m glad someone cares that I continue to write! You’re absolutely right though, everything you said. I actually have started my novel over–not a new one, but many changes are being made, so in sense it feels like a new novel, which is in fact, therapeutic, like you said. Writing is a such a permeable, flexible thing, I can morph my story anyway I want and that in and of itself is enough reason to keep going!

      Thanks so much for stopping by with some encouragement 🙂

  10. lucewriter

    When I feel this way I think “a walk in the woods will make me feel better and re-arrange my mind.” Sometimes it really works. Sometimes just the thought of the walk makes me feel better. Takes the pressure off the writing somehow.

    • Great idea! I actually love taking walks. There’s a park nearby my house with a beautiful rose garden–I often go there to clear to my mind. Thanks for the reminder…I actually haven’t been walking in a long while.

  11. Oh, do I hear you. There are days when I imagine all the wonderful free time I’d have if I didn’t write. Of course, in reality I’d be bored out of my mind. I agree with one of the comments above about taking a break, even just a walk in the woods, but I especially agree to start writing for other reasons than publication. Take a step back; put things into perspective. Also, why not self-publish? Even traditionally published authors are doing it with short stories.

    • Yes, I think that’s true about the free time. When I take breaks from writing I often find that this much else I’d rather be doing. But sometimes the breaks are necessary, because it gives me time for reflection…what do what from this, how should I go about getting it, etc. And you’re right about all the different publishing venues out there. Sometimes when I think of that it serves as a comfort to me…guess it’s something I should think about more! Thanks for your advice…I’m glad you can relate 🙂

  12. Katie – This post really strikes close to home for me. I deluded myself for years that I could ignore this call to write. I didn’t lift a pen in over fifteen years. I was depressed, anxious, unsatisfied. We cannot resign our writing life, any more than we can resign from breathing. It is part of us, rejections and all. So now when I get to thinking about walking away from it all, I walk away from the process of submission and rejection for awhile. I let myself remember that we do not need others to validate our dreams. We do not need to be published to be real writers. And as much as we would love to have our work out there in the great big world, that is not what makes us write. 🙂

    • Hi Cheryl, good to hear from you! First of all, I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one with this “problem.” Second, I love what you said here! You’re absolutely right…I don’t need validation from anyone that I’m writer. That’s important to remember because for so long that’s what I truly believed. I felt that in order to be considered “worthy” I had to be a bestseller, etc. But writing this post gave me a chance to get it all off my chest and then hearing these wonderful comments (yours included :)) it’s almost like having one epiphany after the other. I see writing as a completely new enterprise. It’s great! Also, I agree with you…I’ll never be able to not write…just won’t happen.

  13. Pingback: Ten Days in the Life of a “Non-writer” | theintrinsicwriter

  14. You’ll be a writer, writing, even if you choose to simply write in your journals. I don’t think the writing “bug” leaves us alone, once it’s bitten us (or once we were born with the writer’s mind/soul). Writing is a process, an unfolding … to some, even a spiritual practice. A book is a product. For me, it’s about the journey more than arrival at a particular place. My writing teaches me about the world, about myself, about my relationships. It helps me make sense of things. Perhaps it does so for you, too?.

    • Thanks, Terri. You are very right! The bug won’t go away…like a pesky mosquito 🙂 I agree about the journey being more important than the process, but sometimes I simply lose sight of that fact. I have to keep reminding myself over and over. And yes, my writing also teaches me about myself, the world, etc. It’s a place for me to escape to during the hectic-ness of everyday life

  15. Abrielle Valencia

    Katie,
    I hate to sound so cliché, but I agree with the other bloggers. I think a break is a realistic idea. Although the choice is ultimately yours (at the end of the day), I would hate to see someone as talented as you put their skills on the shelf. I can’t speak for others, but Katie you are truly an inspiration to me. Whatever you decide, you’ve got my support. ..just as long as YOU are content with your decision. xoxoxo

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