A few days ago I was reading a great post from Dean Wesley Smith, called Killing A Career. He ran through all the factors writers worry about when they worry about their writing careers. Bad sales, poor marketing, misbehavior in public places, and so on. In the end, though, the only way to kill a writing career is for the writer to stop writing.
You’d be surprised how often it happens. When I first became serious about my writing, I joined a statewide writing organization. At first I only attended the local critique sessions, which were wonderfully helpful and I’ll be forever grateful to have found the group. But as time went on, I found myself being asked to help with the administration of the organization at the state level. I was soon elected to serve on the board. I was honored – they wanted me to represent them! They wanted me to help plan the yearly conference! I must be something special! I went to the meetings as often as I could, and submerged myself in plans and letters and phone calls on behalf of the organization. But along the way, I realized that while I was slamming out some terrific newsletters and running decent open mike events, I hadn’t written a word of my own. It had been weeks since I brought original pages of my own to the local critique session, and people were starting to ask me what was happening. My creative energy had all been targeted to the administrative work instead of my own stories. I turned in my resignation from the board that same week.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t participate in such activities. They’re fun, and serve a necessary purpose. There’d be no cons for us to attend if there was no one planning them, and that would be a heartbreak indeed. But you can’t let the writing slip away. In the end, the reason we writers go to cons and attend workshops is to further our own writing skills and to connect with like-minded souls. If we stop writing, there won’t be any reason left.
I got some good bad news a few days ago. My editor wants a massive revision of Kestrel’s Dance before she can make an offer on it. It’s good news because at least she wants it revised and wants to see it. It’s bad news because I’d let that story go, and was deeply involved with a new set of characters. I’ll be honest, folks – when the email came, I sat down and cried like the big baby I am. How could I possibly do this? Would it even be worth it? What if I just quit? Who would care if I never released another book? It’d certainly be easier to stop killing myself trying to create something amazing every day and just go work at the library, where I don’t have to think that hard. Sometimes being a creative is the hardest kind of life I can imagine. We’re utterly at the mercy of other people liking what we offer. We try and try to make our work stupendous, but we never know, when we send it away, what the next step might be.
I let myself grieve a few days, but now I’m pulling on my bootstraps and getting to work. I really did consider giving up. But I can’t. For me to quit writing wouldn’t just be me killing a career – it’s killing a piece of my soul. So I’m going to lock the door and ignore the phone and revise this book. Because in the end it’s all about the words I put on the paper. No one can kill my career but me, and I’ll be damned if I let myself get out that easily.