Killing My Career


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.


32 comments to Killing My Career

  • Sorry to hear of the editing angst. I usually find that with a little time and distance I start to see why the editor wants what they want. I don’t think I’ve ever agreed to a change that didn’t initially seem traumatic, invasive and frustrating, only to find afterwards that it actually made the book better 🙂 Stick with it, M. We all have complete faith in you. Nil bastardo carborundum.

  • Nil bastardo carborundum

    What’s wrong with your carburetor? 😉

    Yeah, in part I dread the revision requests, but I also can’t wait for the possibility of making the work better than how it was sent out. I know it’s as good as I could make it without nitpicking it to death, but I also know that it’s not perfect and a fresh perspective with an eye toward making it as marketable as it can be would be a help. A help that I don’t have without an agent or editor.

    Funny thing, I just looked at a short story I wrote a few years ago and tried to get into an anthology and I was told that there was too much exposition and a lot of passive voice. I actually agreed with the passive voice assessment back then and eventually went in and fixed it, but I didn’t agree with the exposition comment. Well, I just read it again yesterday… Dunno how I could have thought there wasn’t too much. ~_^ Ah, experience.

    But I know I, for one, am champing at the bit for the next Kestrel book and would be sad to see you quit, if that helps. 🙂

  • You know, you just outlined the reasons I stepped down as president of my local writers’ club – I wasn’t writing enough! It’s so easy to get sucked into reasons to not write, especially for those of us who don’t do this full-time and have to portion out our few available hours very carefully. I enjoyed Dean’s article as well, and find a lot to take heart in from his exploding the myths series.

    I’m excited to hear that your editor wants the revisions and wants to make an offer on the book! I think that’s great news, even though it means more gnashing of teeth and work on your part. But new book coming – yay!

  • Nil bastardo carborundum. <–I think I just fell in love a little bit…

    Either that, or I need to make a tee-shirt.

    Misty, you can do it! I know exactly what you mean with the whole "I let those characters go" feeling, because slipping back into a set of characters you thought you were finished with feels like relapsing into an old habit, or trying to wear an old school uniform. the same shape, the same size, the same fabric, yet *I'm* so different now that it feels like a lie. It no longer fits quite like it should – or at least that's how I perceive it for the first few days.

    I like revision in theory. But I'm supposed to be revising my book right now and I haven't done anything in a week. Part of that is life exploding, part of that is because I've already planned out so many changes in my head that it will be difficult to look at the piece without imagining the changes already there. A lot of it is because I dread knowing how much work it will be.

    But ultimately, like you, I can't give up. I can't wait for your "remember when I talked about wanting to give up?"-post, and you've got some awesome breakthrough story to tell about your revision. Or the fact that the book was optioned. Or any number of other cool reasons to make that post.

    Rooting for you all the way!

  • Misty> Great post, and useful for me. I’ve avoided committee stuff (both in my day job and in my writing) because of this fact. It sucks away time like you wouldn’t believe. One person has to do a task? Takes 30 minutes. 2 people? Not 15 minutes, but 45. Then you get a whole committee? Oh heavens! you’re looking at days!

    But don’t you give up. I want to know what happens to Kestrel. 🙂

    I’ve considered quitting writing, actually. And I’ve considered it recently, too, despite some success that has come my way. I’ve been overwhelmed with a bunch of other stuff in my life. I sometimes think, “what would happen if I just stopped writing?” And you know what? One of the answers, a very real answer, is that I would have a hell of a lot more time for the rest of my life. More time for my SO, for my scholarship, for making money, and for luxury items, like sleep! I go to bed thinking about writing, I wake up thinking about writing, and recently I haven’t had much actually time write thanks to teaching for the summer (need the money, must sacrifice the time!), dealing with family stuff, dealing with SO stuff, dealing with pet stuff. Dealing, dealing, dealing. Quitting would also cut down on the amount of rejection in my life–and that would be nice, since both my career and my writing are two pretty rejection-heavy fields.

    I’m not going to quit. Some days it is because I can’t imagine not writing. That’s the test, right? I’ve seen lots of folks on here say “stay in this business only if you can’t imagine not writing,” but more often it is because I simply am not fond of quitting. And, I’m not the only one in the occasion. Quitting would affect other folks in my life, too. And at this point I’ve put in 7-8 years. If I quit now, I know for a fact nothing will ever come of it. Nothing may come of it anyway, that’s the reality, but quitting assures that nothing will come of it. But gosh it is hard some days, and, frankly, lately it has been harder that usual.

    BUT! I will take heart, and follow your advice, which is to not stop with the writing part of writing. 🙂
    Thanks again for the post!

  • LScribe,
    I made that up. No one has ever said it before, and any evidence of it appearing before today assigned to anyone else is the result of a freak feedback in the space-time continuum. So about your new love…?

  • AJ,
    You don’t wear a fez, by any chance, do you?

  • Fezzes are cool. So are bow ties. I have lots of both.

  • (¯`v´¯)
    *¸.·´¸.·¨) ¸.·¨)
    (¸.·´ (¸.·´ (¸.·¨¯`♥

    Hello, Sweetie.

  • Ahem, writer’s love connection is a different blog.

    Anyway. Misty, I think your post is wonderfully timely, particularly linking to the Wesley Smith article, as both seem to sum up all the excitement and fears and opinions that have been thrown around here in the last bunch of days. Sums it up and gives us some perspective. Thanks.

  • AJ — I’ve just spent the last five minutes thinking, “Why do I know that fezzes are cool line?” Finally got it. Brought a smile to my face.

  • LOL. Stuart, you were in danger of having to hand in your Geek Card just now.

    Sorry for hijacking your post, Misty!

  • I am so right there with you, Misty. I agree with john — it’s great news that you’ve been asked to do rewrites on KESTREL’S DANCE. I, for one, can’t wait to see the finished product in print. And in the meantime, don’t you dare give up. We are all with you.

  • Misty and I had lunch yesterday. (sushi!) We were talking about something — I don’t remember what — when she decided on her post topic today. I thought it was a great idea, and after reading it, I have to add this.

    We all think about stopping writing. My life would be sooo much easier if I didn’t write. But that thought comes in dark times: when a painful revision letter arrives, when an advance offer is a third of what I think it should be, when a genre stops selling, or late at night when the shadows close in. And when it comes, it is a form of suicidal ideation.

    Stopping writing is a form of suicide. It promises that there will never be life, never be success, and ends all possibility.

    And it reminds me.
    A certain writer friend (who shall remain nameless) recently said to me, “If this book doesn’t take off, I’m done. I quit.”

    You might have rearrange your life to write. You might have to take a second job or get up an hour early or hire a babysitter or change jobs. Yes, you might have to make changes. But if you kill your writing you are killing the possibility success of forever.

    So speaks the person who has started over so very many times. Live, love, WRITE!

  • Jamie

    I have all of one short story published, so I can’t claim to know about painful revision requests or that end of things, but I know a whole lot about the urge to quit.

    It’s important to note I hate writing, that initial process of getting the words from my mind to the page and the chasm that always exists between the two. But, I adore revising and live for the feeling that comes with completing a story. Heck, I live for those moments when the just the right word falls into place or an image sings to me.

    Problem is those moments only come after putting in the excruciating time needed to get started, flesh things out, and generally pound my head into the keyboard until something bleeds.

    So, a while back I quit. I never actually wrote, procrastinated horribly, felt guilty for not doing the work and decided, you know what, this isn’t for me.

    It lasted three days.

    Quitting did nothing to make the characters stop hounding me, and I found the idea of not writing far more painful than the act ever had been.

    When they say “Write because you can’t not write” I never realized the literal component, but it’s there, a compulsion I find my non-writer friends find utterly unfathomable.

    Mind you, I still hate writing. I just hate not writing a whole lot more.

  • JER

    Hey! Wheres my sushi? 😛

    Misty, I totally get what you’re saying. I’m just now coming back to writing after 14 years. I had all but given up on writing. For me things didn’t improve when I stopped they got worse. Through out my life when life got too difficult, my writing kept me sane. Not have that as part of who I was anymore made going through some really rough spots hard to deal with, I had always put my thought down on paper in the form of poems or song lyrics. But when I quit doing that I found myself at an extreme loss.

    Even though I had given up on writing part of me held on. Half my life has been researching a historical figure for my series. There was always a part of me that refused to give up. I have to say that if I hadn’t been given Skinwalker for my birthday (the big 40) I would never have found this place and had the fire rekindled. You all have brought back the dreamer and let me tell you the flood gates have opened. I have so many ideas now I’m having trouble keeping track of them. And its WONDERFUL!!! I feel like Ive found the place where all the characters from all the stories Ive written or will ever write have been waiting for me to finally get a clue and come home.

    As you see at times I seem to get a bit scatter brained. But in the end its really great to be home. Thanks to you and everyone here at Magical Words.

  • Thank you all so much for the support! *big hugs to everyone* I’m buying all of you a drink, at some point, at some place.

    And I’m wearing a fez when I do. 😀

  • Misty, I’d care if you didn’t write another book. I’m sending some Journey your way: “Don’t stop believin’.
    Hold on to that feelin’.”

    Hope you’re a Journey fan. Now you can sing that to yourself as you write. 🙂

  • “Illegitimi non carborundum”

    … a mock-Latin aphorism meaning “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

    When you think about it, there’s more of ‘us’ than ‘them’, and we’re all here for you Misty.

  • **hugs**

    I must say, I would be terribly upset if you stopped writing! But I know exactly where you’re coming from. I’ve had those same tears and thoughts myself. Congrats on picking yourself up so quickly and taking charge!

    I think you’re brilliant. You can do this!

    (And for extra encouragement, here is a Courage Wolf for you. ^_^)

  • I completely agree with everyone here: “I can’t not write.”

    Misty, this post really hit home for me because I do have a bad habit of being an organizer-type person. I take on too much and volunteer to help with too many things, and then I get grumpy when I don’t have enough time to write. Something which I was only lightly involved with in my community last year could need more volunteers and volunteer time this year owing to the chief organizer for our region stepping down. And I could so easily fall into that trap. But it can’t be me.

    May the rewrites go splendidly! 🙂

  • Razziecat

    JER, are you living my life or am I living yours?:) I was in much the same situation: For years, I wrote very little, just bits and pieces, little scenes, character studies, but no complete stories, certainly no novels. A few years ago I hit a big birthday, too, and started to take stock of my life. I picked up some old stuff I had written years ago and decided to “wake up” some old characters, and boy, were they ready to wake up! Suddenly I couldn’t shut them up, and couldn’t stop writing! Now I have so many things going at once that it’s hard to settle on just one. But that’s better than not doing it at all. Whether or not anything ever sells (and I am working toward that goal), I still cannot stop writing. It’s life, breath and soul.

  • JER and Razzie – we must be triplets.
    I started Writing with Intent to see my words in print in 1995. In two years I had sold a dozen short stories, was selling one story for every three rejections, getting invites for anthologies. Then my life exploded (thanks, JER – perfect description). I quit. For more than 10 years. Mind, I didn’t really stop writing – I … mmm … dabbled. I wrote a few poems, playing with forms; I wrote a few essays describing my life to myself; wrote a few stories while taking college english classes.
    What I didn’t do was Write with Intent. I stopped trying to learn more about my craft; stopped trying to hone my skills; stopped networking with other writers; stopped going to cons; stopped trying to sell.
    About a year ago, I started unpacking some boxes from my last move and found the box that held a portion of my “ego-shelf,” magazines and anthos with my words in ’em and a whole mess of old notebooks filled with ideas. Suddenly I realized what that big black void just behind and to the left of my heart was – a part of ME was missing. I started searching and reconnecting and I, too, found MW.
    I mentioned awhile back that I’d gotten my first rejection and how happy that made me. Well, I’ve collected several more since then but that’s okay, too. I’m Writing with Intent again. I haven’t sold anything yet, but I will.
    A few days ago, that black hole behind my heart started aching again and I realized that I haven’t written for over a week as I dealt with chaos at work and some recurring medical issues with my son. It hurts. I’m going to hit the Submit Comment button now and go write for awhile.
    @Misty – Keep writing and Write with Intent. You don’t want the black void to move in!!!

  • Late to the party as usual, but I will say that I will very much care if you don’t write that next book. I want more Kestrel, dammit!

  • Unicorn

    If I contemplate quitting, several of the more aggressive characters start pounding the inside of my head with their battle-axes, swords, maces, hooves, fists, etc. Stop writing? I wouldn’t dare.
    Keep going, Misty! If nothing else, if you quit, I will miss your posts terribly because they’re so fun and interesting!

  • Strangely enough, I thought AJ was making a Margaret Atwood reference because “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” is the phrase written in Offred’s closet in The Handmaid’s Tale. The phrase translates roughly into the same message as appearing above.

    Hang in there Misty. There’s a big group here that knows you can do it, and a whole bunch more that bought your books and are waiting to read the next.

    Rock on!

  • Wow, Lyn. Your story literally choked me up. “Black void” indeed. I think you are expressing what all writers feel: the need to express. Painters paint, sculptors sculpt, and writers write.

    We don’t do it because we want to make money. We don’t do it to impress anyone else. We do it because it satisfies a need we have. A love for the written word. A desire to connect with other people through our writing. A desire to share.

    Storytelling weaves your emotion and imagination into your writing. It ties a strong silver thread between your ego and your work. It’s impossible not to be affected when that work is applauded or condemned. But external validation is not why you write.

    Misty, sorry, but you can’t quit. If you try, it will be like Mark Twain said about smoking: “Quitting is easy; I’ve done it dozens of times.” 🙂

    You aren’t “killing yourself trying to create something amazing every day,” you are saving yourself by continuing to create something amazing every day.

  • D R Marvello said You aren’t “killing yourself trying to create something amazing every day,” you are saving yourself by continuing to create something amazing every day.

    Yes, yes, oh goodness yes. You’re so right – nothing makes a bad day/week/month better than being able to immerse myself in my story.

    Thank you all, again, for the support. There was no chance I’d quit, but I still can’t tell you how much all your kind words and support have helped me feel lighter under the weight of the work ahead. When this books sells (and I know it will) I’m going to have a loooong acknowledgment page to write. 😀

  • I’d like to share something I wrote years ago. I think you’ll all understand:


    Try Prose, she said.

    Do away with the tempo and rhyme
    Give up the form and the flow
    Let the words form as they should
    It’s a different and new way to grow

    Try Prose, she said again.

    It will open up new doors for you
    And allow you to express what you feel
    It provides a freedom to really expand
    And make all your images more real

    Try Prose, she asked once more.

    Just let the words come out as they will
    Don’t mold them to suit the line
    You’ll see if you try it just once
    That the meaning will come through just fine

    Try Prose, she said.

    Maybe just once I might do it
    And yet I’m afraid of what I might see
    It I allow the words to run wild
    What will they say when they’re free?


    I think it goes without saying, I tried it more than once! LOL

  • Way to go, Misty. Hang tough.

  • Lyn: Very nice! Thank you for sharing “Try Prose, She Said.”

    When I first started writing fiction, I thought the process would be completely under my control. Your line “If I allow the words to run wild, what will they say when they’re free” captures the truth of the matter.

    I may be a structure junkie and know my story’s destination, but the way the journey evolves as it pours onto the page is still the sparkly magic that brings me back to the keyboard every day.

  • DRM, Thanks. I’ve written poetry for as long as I can remember. My Mom saved most of them (and yeah, some of the early ones were Really Bad – but hey, I was six!) I was strictly a poet until a good friend read some of my poems and said, “Try prose.” Her words (and the birth of this Not Very Terrific, But Very Very True poem) were the goad that got me writing fiction.
    And yes. I love what the words do when I let them run wild.