How Do You Know When It’s Time To Quit?

It’s a genuine question. I really don’t know.

I have been close to quitting a lot lately. It’s probably a weekly thing at the moment. I don’t mean writing, by the way, I could never quit writing.

I’m referring to the process of editing and rewriting and revising a book again and again and again in the faint hope of a publisher accepting it, versus making the decision to quit editing, rewriting and self-publish it. I am also referring to my writing company, Chasing Driftwood, which I constantly think about quitting. I am torn all the time. Do I give up on all these childish dreams and get myself a proper job? I am increasingly tempted.

Failure is a horrible thing. We all face it at various times in life, and it’s never, ever nice. We actively work to avoid it. Sometimes that means we never even try in the first place because we are scared of failing. We are scared of that feeling and don’t want to see ourselves as failures.

I think I can safely say that I have at least tried. Very, very hard. And a big part of me wants to keep trying. Despite the mixed feedback from two rounds of beta readers, I still love Elliot Pie and I feel like I have worked on it and worked on it, and made it a much, much better book that it was over two years ago when I started it. I’ve listened to feedback and I’ve acted on it. I submitted to a list of small press publishers and had three of them fairly interested in it, which is pretty positive really. I’ve never had that response to any of the other books I’ve put out. I keep reminding myself of this whenever I feel down. They may still be rejections, but they are positive rejections, which all say positive things about Elliot Pie. I have confidence that at the very least, my synopsis, my concept and my first few chapters are enough to entice people in!

Good stuff. But that leads me on to the reasons it was still rejected. Too long. I did go through it again and deleted another character, but I honestly could not see where else to cut. I know, I know, hire an editor you say. But I can’t afford that right now. Not in the slightest. Another reason for rejection was more specific. They loved the concept and my writing and absolutely adored Elliot, all of which is fantastic news. But they would have preferred the book to be written from the POV of Elliot and his mum. Just to explain, the book is mostly from Elliot’s POV, but also from his mum’s and the three strangers he makes friends with.

Now I can’t stop thinking about this suggestion. It would mean yet another entire and potentially very tricky rewrite. Losing the POV of three characters would also get the word count down…

But I just don’t know. I personally like the other characters POV being there because it means the reader gets to know or assume stuff about them which Elliot does not. His mother never meets these people. Do you see how tricky it could be to rewrite? I would have to write Elliot into scenes he was never meant to be in, or find other ways to suggest elements of their characters to the reader, through Elliot’s perceptions and reactions.

A lot of work. And I have two more finished but unpublished books to tidy up and start doing something with! Plus The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series which I am working on…

Life is short, right? The way I see it right now, I have two options with this book and with my writing company. I keep trying, keep battling, keep working until I get it right, whatever ‘right’ is, or I learn to know when to quit.

These are two separate issues really. I know I won’t quit my company yet. I just desperately need more time to make it all work and I know I will get that in September when my youngest starts school. I have decided to give it my all that year, give it everything I’ve got, and if I can’t do it, admit defeat at the end of that year and get a proper job, knowing at least I tried.

With Elliot Pie…I just can’t decide whether to keep rewriting in the hope of getting a publisher for it…or admit it’s the best I can do, it’s the book I wanted it to be, self-publish and hope for the best.

Funnily enough, when searching for images to post with this, I came across the quote ‘when you feel like quitting, think about why you started’ and it’s now changed the way I am looking at this. I’ve been thinking about what the story I originally wanted to tell and I’ve been thinking about the reason I started my writing company…

But it’s tricky, isn’ it? How do you know when to quit? How do you know when you’ve done the best and you’ve nothing left to give?

Answers on a postcard please! Or alternatively, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts! Have you ever felt like quitting a project? Was there a point when you just realised you’d done the best you could, and it was time to stop?

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First Draft Relief as The Voices Fall Silent!

I’ve blogged before about the delirious happiness involved in getting to the finish line and completing the first draft of a novel in The Gloriously Ugly First Draft .

Last night, I was thinking about that blog post and about how wonderful it is to finish the first draft, because I was in that position again. Actually, I’ve written two as of yet unreleased books since that blog post, but they are still waiting beta reader feedback and further edits!

As I mentioned in the other blog post, I have a constant problem with characters interrupting me when I am already working on something. It’s really no good me having plans because they get ripped up at every turn. So, while still working on Elliot Pie, I wrote A Song For Bill Robinson and it’s sequel, Emily’s Baby. Enough to be dealing with, right? But as usual, my characters thought I could handle more.

For a long time, I’d had these alternative endings in my head for The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. I wrote one of them into my short story collection, Bird People and Other Stories and the other one I started working into a screenplay. I’ve always loved the idea of this book becoming a TV series, so for fun and for a challenge, I started writing new material for these characters. Once I started I could not stop, but it didn’t really get in the way of the novels I was working on, as I used a notebook and pen and just wrote in spare moments, moving the book around the house with me. I got so addicted to this new material, that the characters got louder and louder all over again, keeping me awake, telling me their story was not over and finally enticing me into writing a whole new book.

I will explain all this in more detail in a later blog post, but what I finished last night was the first and gloriously ugly first draft to what will be called The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part 3. This is a whole new book, new material, new problems for these characters, and with the original ending moved to the end of part 3. As I said, I will talk about this in another post.

This is about the relief of a first draft being finished and last night felt incredible. As it always does when a first draft is completed because although I know the hard work is yet to come, and that potentially years more work will be needed, I get the relief in my head of these people falling silent. That’s what happens as soon as the first draft is done. They shut up and go to sleep. Okay in later drafts, they occasionally pop up and steer me in a different direction, but generally, it’s over and I can sleep again. The story has been told. I’ve spewed it out! I’m free of it! And that is a huge relief. Especially with this story, as let me tell you, it’s been keeping me awake at night since I was 12 years old! I am really, really hoping that this does it for them. I am really hoping they will now be at peace and leave me alone! As much as I love them…I have so many other books to work on!

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And of course, now that those characters are silenced, the ones waiting to be heard have suddenly got louder.  I’ve planned and plotted a four book YA series, which keeps getting pushed back due to these other projects, but today on a dog walk, wow did they pipe up! Streams of dialogue were coming out of nowhere…my every thought whilst walking was about these books and characters. So I guess now it’s their turn to keep me awake!

 

Hey! Stay Young! And Invincible…

The other day my fourteen-year-old daughter asked me what I was like when I was a kid, and the first thing that sprung into my head was my old nickname; ‘Cloth-ears.’ It was mostly my mum who called me this because I was always in a dream. I told my daughter that my favourite things when I was a kid are still my favourite things now; my pets, reading, writing, music, gardening. She said growing up seems boring, and I said yes it is, but you don’t really have to do it.

Growing old is inevitable...growing up is optional

You can’t stop yourself from ageing, but you can choose how you age.

After talking to my daughter, I realised that I’ve never really grown up. Okay, it might look like I have. I’m married, I have four kids, I drive a car, I have my own company for God’s sake, I pay my bills, pay my rent and all the rest of it. But when it comes to ‘adulting’, I drag my feet at every opportunity. I think this is why I hate phoning people and having people phone me. It forces you to act and speak like an adult. I’d much rather text or email. Of course, that could be the stubborn introvert in me too.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised I’ve resisted growing up at every turn. I was never in a hurry to be a teenager or an adult. I just wanted to write and read and play my favourite CD’s. I just wanted to be left alone, and I still feel like that now.  I put off going to University for two years because I didn’t feel ready. I got a job and worked, but that really just gave me more material for writing…

When I'm lyin' in my bed at nightI don't wanna grow upNothin' ever seems to turn out rightI don't wanna grow upHow do you move in a world of fogThat's always changing thingsMakes me wish

I was desperate to be a mum, and I was a young one at 24, but even that wasn’t about growing up. That was about love and fun and childhood. Being a mum has the potential for two things, in my opinion. It can lead you down a road of frustration and drudgery, where you end up repeating all the tedious things your mum said to you, lose your youth, your energy, yourself. Or it can be a chance to make childhood last even longer. Playing, make-believe, story-telling, arts and crafts, mucking about in the dirt, splashing in the river, making dens, tea-parties, imaginary friends, fairy gardens, bike rides, need I go on? I embraced all of these things with my kids and I still do. I love the fact that having kids means you get to go mental at Christmas and Easter and Halloween! I love visiting farms, and museums, taking them to festivals and castles, and on train rides. Would I do all these fun things if I didn’t have kids? I don’t think I would. I think I’d be glued to my laptop twenty-four-seven in a very unhealthy manner.

Then I thought about work. I’ve done my share of boring jobs. I’ve worked in a chemist, a supermarket, I’ve been a gardener and a cleaner. And then I chose a really fun career which also allowed me to carry on being childlike. I became a childminder. At the time this fitted in perfectly with my own young kids. I could be with them, have tons of fun and get paid to look after others too. I truly loved it. I have great memories of the things we all got up to.

As my kids got older, I started thinking about my childhood dreams and the lyrics of an Oasis song came to me one day when I felt myself drifting towards a kind of crossroads. ‘The dreams we have as children fade away.’ My youngest child at the time was starting school after the summer and I felt like there were dreams I had ignored and forgotten about. When I was a kid I wanted to work with animals and write books. I’d been too busy and too exhausted over the last ten years to do either. So I swapped childminding for dog walking, started fostering rescue dogs and started writing again.

_While we're living, the dreams wehad as childrenfade away_Oasis

And so here I am now. I turn 40 in a few months. 40, I tell you!! I don’t feel anything like 40! I don’t have a clue about so many adult things that I really struggle sometimes talking to other adults. I still feel like a child and I intend to stay this way. I’m still doing all of the things I love. Walking dogs, caring for my mini zoo of pets and taking in waifs and strays, attempting to grow my own fruit and vegetables, reading like a fiend, writing like a demon possessed, and doing whatever crazy childish things my kids want to do!

Anyway, just in case adulthood has you prisoner, here are a few tips to help you release your inner child when you can;

  • keep hold of the things you loved as a child; music, art, dance, whatever your passions were back then, there is no need to pack them away when adulthood comes calling
  • try to find employment in an area you are passionate about. Easier said than done, I know, but even if you can’t, try and do some voluntary work instead, or do it as a hobby. Never, ever give up the things you once loved
  • be silly. I can’t help myself. If you can’t say ‘wheee’ when you go around a roundabout, what’s happened to you? If you can push a supermarket trolley and resist the urge to zoom along and lift your feet off the floor, sort yourself out now!! Let your inner child out as much as possible. They know how to have fun
  • talk to a three-year-old. Or any young person. They will soon remind you how hilarious and carefree life used to be
  • go barefoot
  • go out in the rain
  • listen to new music
  • read books aimed at young people
  • put loud music on in the car and sing along
  • don’t miss the little things. Dirt, dust, sunlight, leaves, birdsong, tree bark, the sound of rain, the rush of a river, the flight of a blackbird, so much is going on under our noses and while little kids seize on these things and notice them for the treasure they are, as grown-ups we tend to forget

See, you don’t have to grow up! It’s optional! I suggest you fight it at every turn. And in the words of another great Oasis song “all the dream-stealers are lying in wait, but if ya’ wanna’ be a spaceman, it’s still not too late!”

It's funny how your dreamsChange as you're growing oldYou don't wanna be no spacemanYou just want gold Dream stealersAre lying in waitBut if you wanna be a spacemanIt's still not too lat

 

When Writing is the Cause of and the Solution To Anxiety

For a lot of people, writing can be incredibly therapeutic. It provides an emotional outlet, a chance to say what we think and feel, the opportunity to have a voice and be heard. Whether we publish our work or not, there is no doubt that writing provides an emotional release, as well as a creative one. Throughout my life, I have often turned to writing to soothe and comfort me. I’ve used it to combat and work through feelings of anxiety, loneliness and anger. As a young child, I wrote a diary religiously, and I still have them. Piles of notebooks filled with my inner thoughts and emotions, as well as my hopes and fears. There is no doubt in my mind that writing has helped me in my life and provided a kind of therapy when needed. For this reason, I would recommend it to anyone who needs to vent, to explore their thoughts and frustrations, or to find a way to be heard.

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But weirdly, writing has been having a different effect on me lately, causing something close to panic. It took me a while to work out what was going on, but now that I think I have, I wanted to blog about it and talk about how I am handling this.

It started a few months ago I think, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when. You know that feeling you get before you do something scary? That lurch in your stomach? That tightness that feels like butterflies? I can only explain it as being similar to that.

This would happen at random times, for no real reason. I’d get that feeling strongly, sometimes so bad it made me feel like I couldn’t take a proper breath. Very weird. Even weirder, is that I had nothing to worry about.

Everything in my life is the same. My kids are all fine; I’m not unduly worried about any of them at the moment. My husband and I get on just as we always have. Our finances are never great, but they haven’t changed at all, so it’s not that. Everyone in my family is happy and healthy. There is nothing I can pinpoint that would come out of the blue like that and make me feel winded.

So, I’ve narrowed it down to one thing, one thing that I never thought would cause me anxiety. One thing that has actually been the solution to anxiety and fear and anger and any other negative emotions in life. Writing.

I’ve said before that writing excites me and it still does. If I’m walking the dogs, and I know that when I get home I’ve got some writing time, I get that lurch in my belly. But I know that’s genuine excitement. I like it.

This other feeling is more like a feeling of dread, which I cannot for the life of me understand because I still love writing, I still get excited, I still think it is the best thing ever. Writing dominates my mind more than anything else.

So, I started thinking, what is it then? I want to write, writing makes me happy, writing is so many things to me. Why is it suddenly making me feel like I cannot breathe?

I’m still not really sure. Writing this blog post is my way of trying to figure it out. I’m wondering if any other writers have ever experienced anything like this?

One thing I can tell you; the feeling goes away when I’m writing. By the time I’m at my desk in the evening, tapping away, whether it’s going well or not, I’m happy. That feeling is not there.

So why does it plague me throughout the day?

Like I say, I really don’t know. There are several possible reasons, which I’ve listed below, but to be honest, I’m not sure it is any of these. I just don’t know.

  • too many projects on the go? It could be this. I have two books I am ready to release, but I’m waiting on further rejections from publishers for one, and beta feedback on the other, and then there will be the whole book-launch thing to get into…perhaps it’s the unfinished, unreleased status of these two books that is causing the churning feeling?
  • too many projects waiting for be done? I know this bothers me, but I try to keep it in perspective. Having ideas for future books is a good thing, and I think I’m lucky. I keep track of the ideas on a page in this blog and some of them I am already working on when I can, but maybe this feeling of impatience and anticipation is adding to it, I don’t know
  • not enough time in the day? This does cause anxiety, it’s bound to. I know everyone feels like this to some extent. Busy lives leave little time to get things done, and to-do lists get longer, and it can all feel overwhelming at times like you will never ‘get there’. But I keep reminding myself that everything changes next year when my youngest child starts school. I will have plenty of time to work on my books and my community interest company
  • the community interest company? I do worry about it sometimes. It pops into my head that I’m crazy to be trying to do this. That it’s too ambitious, bound to fail, etc. I want to do it, I want to inspire and encourage my community to write, and I’ve already come this far; turning the writing group into a CIC, planning two projects, getting some funding, applying for more. I’m learning lots and I’ve got big plans, but every now and then I just wonder what the hell am I thinking? This is not me! Someone else would do a much better job of this! So, I guess it’s there as a worry.
  • general indie writer panic? This is a thing. I panic that I will never have time to write all the books in my head and get them all out, but I also panic that I will never ‘make it’. I’m not sure what I think making it means, to be honest. I guess a publishing deal and steady sales would be a thing to aim for. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about this. I just keep writing and plugging away at my platform to grow my audience. But I think a panic is buried there somewhere, a panic that this will all turn out to be fruitless, a waste of time, and I’ll look an idiot.

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But I honestly don’t spend a lot of time worrying or thinking about the things listed above. I know they are there, and they come and go, but generally, I’m a really upbeat positive person who gets easily excited about life. I’m not looking for a great big happiness, I’m just happy with the beauty of ordinary life.

So, how am I dealing with this? Well, I’ll tell you.

  • by carrying on. Because I know that every word I write is a step forward, and that helps. Because quitting is not and never will be an option.
  • by forcing myself to switch off and relax at the end of the day. I write once my littlest is in bed, and I should really write through until bed-time, but I’m not doing that now. I’m writing for an hour and a half, maybe two, and then I’m joining my eldest child to watch Supernatural on DVD.

(I have avoided TV over the last few years, because with young kids, I knew I had to give up something in order to get the time to write. So I gave up TV. Just recently though I’ve relaxed my strict no TV rule. I got hooked on Hannibal and Breaking Bad, and after lots of begging from my daughter, I finally gave in and started watching Supernatural from season one. Now I’m hooked and it reminds me that when I was a kid, I wrote loads but I still had time to relax and watch TV. I think it’s doing me good, and it’s like a little reward after writing is done. After Supernatural I read before bed, and I feel great.)

  • by remembering that Rome wasn’t built in a day. This isn’t a race. Nothing in life is a race. It’s all about the journey and what you learn along the way. Yes, setting up my own company is scary but I have to accept that I will make mistakes as I go along and I will learn from them, just as I have in every other part of my life. A few years from now things could be very different
  • by trying to focus on one thing at a time. And by that, I mean whatever is the most pressing thing. I panic when I feel like I have too much to do, so I have to separate it out, deal with one thing at a time, and always the most important one comes first.
  • by rewarding myself. I nearly always do ‘work’ things first when I get on the laptop. My to-do list contains work-related things and writing related things. I make sure I have ticked a few off the ‘work’ list before I reward myself with actual writing, the writing that calms me down! I also reward myself in other ways, such as having a nice snack or glass of wine waiting for me to enjoy the DVD with after writing.
  • by remaining hopeful. Life as a writer can be crushing, soul-destroying even. I truly think being a trad published author is just as tough as being an indie but in different ways. It’s not easy for anyone. Earnings for most authors these days are diabolical. Getting reviews is like pulling teeth. Getting visibility means allowing yourself to be sucked into social media when all you really want to do is write. There are without a doubt, a lot of downs, and a lot of frustrations. But I tell myself, where there is life there is hope. So in other words, while I am still alive, who knows what could happen? What could be around the corner? I will always remain hopeful of better sales, better visibility and success. Always.
  • by taking a break from blogging and social media so I can just concentrate on writing. You might have noticed my blogs are thin on the ground lately. I haven’t tried to promote my books at all, apart from sharing reviews. I just get tired of it sometimes. I just want to get the next books done.
  • by never giving up. I might fail. I might never earn much money, I might never get a good publishing deal, I might never be well known or have my dreams come true. I might not make a success of my company either. I might give it all I’ve got and then have to call it a day in a few years time. But one thing is certain, I will be able to say that at least I tried!
  • by using negative feelings to my advantage. By this I mean, in my writing. The weird feeling of dread, the sensation of not being able to breathe, I can write about that. I can use it. It helps to know how my poor tortured characters feel most of the time!

I think writing this blog has made me feel better about the whole thing. I’d love to hear your thoughts though. Have you ever experienced feelings of dread, without really knowing why? How did you deal with it? Please feel free to comment and share!