A Few Words to Discourage You…

It’s a slow day in Bloggerville. That is to say I’ve had a hard time deciding what to blog about. I finally decided to get in the holiday mood by discouraging a few writers if I can. Of course, the secret is that if what I say discourages you to the point of giving up your writing, you were never cut out to be a writer in the first place. If you really want to succeed, you won’t give up, no matter how discouraged you get. And rest assured (as most of you already know), you WILL find ample opportunities to be discouraged as you plod your way to success. If you bear with me through today’s blog, I promise to balance it with an encouraging blog next time.

The best way I know to discourage you is to let the pros do it. So here are observations by some writers who paid the price for their success. They knew discouragement even more intimately than you do. Following that, I’ll close with the most discouraging quotes about writing I could find. I make no apologies for using authors of the past (all now dead) as examples. I think we learn best from those who devoted their lives to becoming great writers. 

First up, let’s consider the very prolific Taylor Caldwell. She has been gone for quite a few years now, but she wrote some real blockbusters in her day (Testimony of Two Men, Dear and Glorious Physician, Great Lion of God, etc). After an exhausting childhood and early adulthood, Taylor Caldwell, at age twenty, started writing seriously in hopes of becoming successful. It was 18 years later her first novel was published. During those 18 years, she wrote six unpublished novels, collecting rejection slip after rejection slip. “I spent every penny I could save out of a tiny salary to send my novels to publishers,” she said. “There was rarely any evidence my submitted manuscripts had been read, and frequently the precious stamps I enclosed for return postage for the manuscripts were confiscated by someone in the publishing house and the manuscript returned to me, collect.”

Would you persevere for 18 years, enduring such rejection?

Next, let’s consider the late Louis L’Amour. He says, “If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write; write whenever, wherever, however, but write. Don’t wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn on the faucet before the water starts to flow.” About his work habits, he says, “I work never less than five hours a day at the typewriter, that is, occasionally as much as fourteen….I have no hobbies. Hobbies are for idle time and I have none. All my activities: hiking, shooting, tracking, learning about plants and animals are geared to my work…..As to discipline, my wife says I’m the most disciplined person she knows….my schedule might seem very rough to some, but to me it is the essence of living.”

How about you? Are you disciplined about your writing? Have you arranged your “hobbies” so that they all fit into the greater pursuit of writing?

In speaking about his writing, the late John Macdonald recounted several paragraphs of the agony he went through during his apprenticeship as a writer. Then he writes, “It is the memory of the amount of work it took to learn my trade that often makes me less than tolerant with the stranger who says earnestly, as though we share something special, “You know, I’ve always wanted to write.” When my mood is especially stringent, I answer, “Really! I’ve always wanted to be a brain surgeon.”

Popular author Mary Stewart, when asked if the writing of her first book was easy, replied, “No. It was not easy, and no writer worth his salt every found it easy or ever will….writing is very hard work, and perhaps for that reason, can be very rewarding.”

James Michener says of his novels, “I write all my books slowly with two fingers on an old typewriter and the actual task of getting the words on paper is difficult. Nothing I write is good enough to be used in the first draft, not even important personal letters, so I am required to write everything at least twice. Important work, like a novel, must be written over and over, up to six or seven times. For example, my novel Hawaii went very slowly and needed constant revision. Since the final version contained about 500,000 words, and since I wrote it all many times, I had to type, in my painstaking fashion, about 3,000,000 words.” He goes on to recount his research time before he even began writing the novel. He consulted “several thousand” books in his research and says “there were about 500 that I kept in my office.” He also conducted about 200 interviews, each lasting two to three hours. Now that’s research….and part of the writing process.

Discouraged yet? Maybe these quotes will finish you off…

William Styron: “[If you’re a writer] loneliness is your companion for life. If you don’t want to be lonely, get into TV.”

Georges Simenon: “Writing is not a profession, but a vocation of unhappiness. I don’t think an artist can ever be happy.”

Rebecca West: “It’s a nauseous process.”

Jessamyn West: “Writing is so difficult that I often feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald: “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.”

John Steinbeck: “A good writer always works at the impossible.”

Andre Gide: “If a young person can refrain from writing, he shouldn’t hesitate to do so.”

No matter your age, Gide’s words still hold true. Only write if you find it’s impossible that you not write.

If you’re still with me next week, I’ll offer some encouraging words.

16 replies
  1. Kathy says:

    I am still with you, and being the eternal optimist, I found something in your discouraging blog that encouraged me. (Sorry to disappoint.) Using hobbies as research for writing is brilliant. Thank you!

  2. Richard Mabry says:

    Nick, I’d heard it said that a true write can’t NOT write, and I thought it was ridiculous. But now I know it’s absolutely true.
    I’ll add another quote to your excellent collection, this one from Dorothy Parker. “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thomas Allbaugh says:

    Thanks, Nick. This was, in a backhanded way, encouraging, mainly because these famously successful novelists all speak of real hardships. And they made it! Most encouraging to me (sorry, I should have been discouraged) is Louis L’amour stating that he had no hobbies. I was relieved to hear him say that he didn’t have time. That’s how I feel about hobbies. Where do I fit those in?

    Anyway, thanks. I’ll try to hang around until next week.

  4. Michele Huey says:

    I wrote on my blog (Christian Writers Page) while in the midst of NaNoWriMo: “Writing is a gut-wrenching, ego-slamming, doubt-fertilizing profession.” But I am hooked. So I’m still with you.

  5. Dave Fessenden says:

    Hi, Nick — I really like Michener’s comments about writing everything four or five times over. I can’t say I do that — but then, I can’t say my writing is like Michener’s! One thing I have done is write a scene in a novel, put it away, and days, weeks, even months later, write the entire scene from memory. Since I have a reputation for having a terrible memory, the scene often comes out differently! Then I compare the two scenes and write it a third time, with the best parts of each. But wow, it’s really hard to start over and write the same thing again.

  6. Kathy Bailey says:

    Nick, I am still not receiving your automatic posts so I’m late to the party. I’ll try to sign up again and see if I did anything wrong.
    There are two hard things about writing. One is the work itself, the constant reworking, revisiting, reshaping to make it perfect. Nobody will understand that unless they’ve done it. The other piece is that it’s subjective and open-ended. Two readers, editors or contest judges will have COMPLETELY different reactions to a page, a paragraph or a chapter. This is where it’s great to be a Christian writer…we have GOD’S leading. I don’t know how non-Christian writers do it…sheer force of will, I guess. My husband is a minister, and we often talk about the similarities of our professions, how you seldom know if you’ve gotten it right. Someone once told him, “Be very sure of your call. Sometimes it’s all you’ll have.” Good words as we head into 2014. (2014, sheesh.)

  7. Kathy Bailey says:

    Couple of tips: It’s good to have an “encouragement” file, bits and pieces from contest judges, crit partners and trusted readers as to when you got it right.
    It’s also good to have multiple projects going on. I understand the importance of having a WIP and sticking to it, but it’s good to have a secondary piece going too.

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