Okay, I’ll come clean.
I gave up.
Despite the number one piece of advice from writers, editors and agents, which is never give up. In fact, it’s usually in caps:
Like it’s shouted across a vast chasm filled with the souls of all those who quit. Don’t be one of those poor fools! NEVER, EVER GIVE UP!!!
I gave up.
I rarely give up. I’m the person who slogs through the muck, to the bitter end, come hell or high water.
Stubborn? I suppose.
I began writing fiction while also starting a photography career, which was equally as difficult a field in which to succeed. But on a whim, I wrote a short story. I wasn’t sure why, but the idea seemed fun. When the story was accepted for publication in a pretty good magazine, I thought, well, that wasn’t so difficult. Maybe I should write a novel.
So, I wrote a novel. Which got the attention of a literary agent and was shortlisted for an award for unpublished writers. And again, I thought, well, that wasn’t so difficult.
Then things got difficult.
The book never sold. I changed agents. Several more novels were written over several years. None of them sold.
Frustration at the mysteries of the publishing world squeezed the joy from creating and giving life to the people on my pages. By now, GIVING UP was edging over the horizon. Still, there was further muck to be slogged. More hell. More high water.
More novels written.
And finally, finally, I GAVE UP. After the rejections and ‘almosts’, the thought of more turmoil was, honestly, not worth the trouble. The cold hard truth was this: the world did not need another novel. Least of all mine. Declarations were made, plans cancelled. Words laid to rest.
Goodbye writing. Good riddance.
For a few years, I was happy without writing.
Relieved, in fact.
An idea. Kind of a whim. I didn’t ask for it to appear in my head. It just did.
I ignored it.
Soon a voice whispered, ‘How about scribbling a few words about the quirky idea rattling through your brain? No harm in that. You know you want to….’
No, no, I’d GIVEN UP! This was not a dry spell. I was a reformed writer. I wasn’t going back.
But the idea scratched and itched until it demanded attention. Could it hurt to put pencil to paper? Maybe an hour here, an hour there? No need to research agents and editors or devise a global marketing plan for a ten book series.
I was done with all that.
I didn’t mean for it to happen, but the idea became something else. A story. Then came another surprise: I discovered the craft.
My old writing process was this: throw words on the page and move them around until a story emerged. But the craft showed me a better way. I became nerdily obsessed with narrative structure, character arcs, outlining, pinch points and mid points, endings and Saving the Cat. My Kindle was jammed with books on hooks and dialogue and film theory. Gimme me a movie, any movie and I’ll spot the inciting incident – even with my eyes closed.
Unlike the publishing world, craft made sense. Craft and I became best buddies. When craft tried re-introducing me to writing, I wasn’t interested. Writing was all about expectations and rejection. Craft didn’t judge.
But craft was, well, crafty because that idea soon became a novel. And with each draft I crafted, I had the same feeling as when I wrote that first short story years ago; it was fun.
So, here’s what I know: GIVING UP was the best thing I could have done. Craft and process are what turn my gears. When the expectations and rejection of writing rear their ugly heads, craft is there to keep me grounded.
For the record, writing and I have become sort of reaquainted. We don’t have much to say to each other yet. We’re taking it slow, old wounds healing. Though, writing is starting to ask this: does the world need another novel?
Yeah. Maybe one more.
ANDREW TOLSON is a photographer, videographer and competitive tea drinker. He also writes books full of adventure for young readers. He divides his time between East York and Toronto. Say hello here: http://www.twitter.com/andrewtolson