When Patrice asked if I’d be willing to write a post about not giving up, my first response was: oh, but I’m not the right person for this—I gave up so many times! But Patrice made a good point: writing isn’t about not wanting to give up, but about knowing when to keep going.
The first book I ever wrote seriously (by which I mean I wrote “The End” and actually let another human—aka not my cat—read it) was back in 2014 during NaNoWriMo. When I finished it, I knew I needed to revise it, but I really, really didn’t want to. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to put in the work, it was because I knew in my heart that the book was absolutely terrible.
It was the first time I ever understood that Ira Glass quote, that one about the time it takes to bridge the gap between what you want your work to be and what it actually is. I could see quite clearly that the book I had written was miles away from what it was in my head. And so I did the one thing everyone tells you not to do.
I gave up on it.
No one—not my friends, my CPs, my family—understood why I didn’t try to revise, try to query it. And, yeah, maybe I should have. But at that time, I made the decision to put it away.
My second book was the book that really taught me how to write. It was an ambitious mess. It had a million POVs and even more plot threads. But y’all. I loved this book so much. I was sure this was The One. And I spent over a year writing and rewriting and cutting and rewriting again—until I absolutely loathed the book.
Writing is so full of ups and downs, and we’re always told to push on. It’s sometimes hard to tell if hating the book is just a normal part of the process or if there’s an actual problem. It took months of literally crying about this book for me to accept that I was miserable.
So I gave up. Again.
Putting it away was incredibly hard—and in hindsight it was the best decision I could have made. It was just too ambitious. I wasn’t ready to tackle such a vast world with such a huge cast just yet. But a small voice took up residence in the back of my mind.
Maybe I would never finish anything. Maybe I would always give up the moment things got hard. Maybe I would just keep writing books and putting them away.
I wrote book three early in 2016 when conversations around #ownvoices were happening frequently. It was a strange experience working on it because I was giving a lot of thought to the kinds of stories I wanted to tell—and for the first time, consider the possibility that there might be space for those stories. I didn’t even get to the end of my first draft before I realized I wasn’t passionate about it the way I had been months earlier. So three-fourths of the way into my first draft, I abandoned that book too.
At this point that tiny voice in my head turned into a full blown spiral. I had given up on three books.
And that voice was telling me that I was a quitter. I was lazy. I wasn’t a Real Writer. I didn’t want it enough. I wasn’t brave enough to put anything out into the world.
I felt like such a failure. Half my CPs were finishing books and querying and signing with agents. Others were working on the same projects they’d been working on for years. And here I was tabling another book and starting all over again.
I wish I could say there was a spark of recognition that told me that book four was something special, something different. But there wasn’t. I didn’t even tell anyone I was working on this book until I was really close to finishing my first draft because I was so terrified that if I told people they would confirm my worst fears: that they wouldn’t care about what I was working on because they didn’t believe I could stick with a book. I was afraid they’d dismiss me because “oh it’s just Akshaya chasing a shiny new idea again that she’ll give up on in a few months.” (Though of course when I did finally tell my CPs they were nothing but wholeheartedly supportive and enthusiastic.)
But there was something different about book four. I didn’t give up on it.
And honestly, I have no idea why. Maybe it was that after writing and throwing away nearly 700k words, I had finally grown enough as a writer to lessen the gap between my vision and what I was putting on paper. Maybe it was being able to write about my own culture and people who looked like me. Or maybe it was something else.
So maybe this isn’t the conventional wisdom—this isn’t a story about never, ever giving up and why you should always push on.
Writing is hard. We put our heart and soul and sweat and tears into whatever we’re working on in that moment and it sometimes feels like that WIP has to be everything—that we’ve somehow failed if we fall out of love with it or if that WIP doesn’t “go anywhere” or that every WIP even has to go somewhere.
But I wish I’d known all those years ago to trust my gut, even if my gut was telling me to give up. I wish I’d known it was okay to write for myself and doing so didn’t mean that I wasn’t a Real Writer or that I wasn’t serious about my goals. And I wish I’d known that I was more than any one book, and that giving up on a book didn’t mean I’d failed as a writer—or that I was giving up on myself.
It just meant that it wasn’t the project for now and it was time to write the next thing.
Akshaya Raman fell in love with writing when she wrote her first story at the age of ten. She’s a YA writer represented by Hillary Jacobson at ICM Partners, and she contributes to Writer’s Block Party, a group blog about writing and publishing. You can find her on Twitter @akshraman.
P.S. Akshaya just signed with an agent! YAY. Congrats, Akshaya. So proud of you and all your hard work. The giving up was totally worth it <3
Go on over to Twitter and give her a big congrats!!!! (Her book is sooo good :D)