If I Gave Up

The thought occurred to me yesterday morning, just after I finished reading a magical, thought-provoking story about a gang of young girls (“The Sisterhood of Night” by Steven Millhauser). I haven’t been a young girl in a long time, but I connected to the girls’ desire to disappear in the night. The girls in the story were ages 12, 13, 14, 15—ages I remember better than what I am now. This story settled into me quietly, which if you’ve read the story you’d know was fitting. I had a silent moment—there, at a corner table in the coffee shop, where it felt like no one could see me. My mind paused. Then I asked myself the big question:

What would happen if I gave up?

Just… decided I wasn’t going to try any longer. What would that be like?

On Friday I had been at work, where a pathetic cloud of doom had descended upon me, where I realized how unhappy I was and also that it didn’t matter, I should just do my job and keep doing my job and this is what had become of my existence: the doing of my job until it was time to go home and not do my job for a few hours. I don’t want to be so negative. For days all I’ve wanted to do is nap, which is very unlike me. I haven’t even wanted to read. You know there is a problem when you have no desire to read a book.

Truth is, I haven’t felt this down about myself for a long time, since, well… sometime around age 13 or 15. Still, back then, I had been so sure of where my future would take me. My writing future was my escape route, that’s how I made it through. I don’t begrudge my young self those fantasies—I love the idea of living for a fantasy—but enough time has passed that I can say with certainty that the fantasy did not come true. I mean, I’m not living in a cardboard box addicted to heroin, I’m not in prison, I’m not dead, so it didn’t fall to shreds either. It just… didn’t exactly happen the way I wanted it to.

So, I thought about what it would be like to not have this dream anymore. To not want to be a published author. To do something else—something more satisfying—with my life.

And at that I shrugged. The answer came easy: I’d still write.

I’d write short stories. I wouldn’t have to think about sending them out. I wouldn’t have to think about agents or books deals or writing a more marketable novel or making my characters more accessible or my voice less voicey or trying to write something to sell or selling anything at all or what people thought of me or, really, anything. I’d just write stories for myself because I like to. That’s it.

It sounds nice to think of it that way, giving up. There’s no longer any pressure—just art for art’s sake. In a way, it would be the most beautiful failure I could imagine for myself. And if I think of it that way, it couldn’t be called failure at all.

15 Comments

  1. I gave up writing once, for several years. Didn’t write a word, got involved in all kinds of other things, for most of the time I didn’t even think about writing, only if I had a good book on the go I’d maybe think, hey, I used to do this.
    Then one day, it suddenly took me again, and I thought: I’m going to write a novel.
    So I did.
    Wrote a few.
    And now I write every day again.
    Sometimes the way forward is in the opposite direction.

  2. I was wrote that an artist creates because they have to. They have ideas and they need to get them out. Sounds to me like you are an artist. To be able to live off your art, that is the dream, but an artist creates either way.

  3. Ditto all of the above.

    Those teenage fantasies were pretty fantastic, weren’t they? And the satisfaction of just writing ain’t so bad, either. To give yourself the gift of just writing to your heart’s content is important, refreshing, a thrill from the grind of a day job. So maybe this what-if isn’t so much a “giving up” as a plan of action to revisit and reshape that old escape route, which, before you know it, has led you somewhere truly special and fulfilling. I have total confidence that it will.

    (P.S. The Millhauser short story was made into a film. I want to read the story and see the film now because of you.)

  4. When you take away the pressure of making your creation “marketable,” you are certainly more free to create. I hope you can do that. And, maybe you’ll find that what you write has a market afterall.

  5. No. Don’t ever give up. If you hate your job then you have to do something about THAT, but don’t give up on the things in your life that are actually good. I know the temptation is overwhelming sometimes, the thought of just existing without deliberately making life difficult for yourself by trying to do something creative that’s also going to be appreciated by other people – but you *are* a writer and communicating with people through your art is what you are meant to do. You’ve got more guts and determination than most people I know and besides talent, which you have in bucketloads, perseverance is the thing that will get you that dream. It will happen, I’m absolutely sure of that.

  6. There’s a commencement speech that circulated via email a few years ago that talked about “giving up” – that it was liberating like Romina said above. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, too, and I agree with you Nova, it’s not a failure at all.

  7. Thank you, everyone. I don’t know what else to say about all of this, except thank you for putting up with me. The advice is well taken. And the support is appreciated more than you can know.
    *
    (W: I didn’t know about the film! I wonder how it was translated to screen… I am very curious.)

  8. Just came across your site and thank you for writing this post. I feel the exact same way you do. After putting effort into writing and getting published for about 3 years, I’m burned out from the pressure and want to give up.

  9. another writer: this struggle to become a published author is the hardest thing I know I’ve ever tried for in my life. The expectations are astounding, and the rejection — at least for me; I am really too sensitive to be in this — is flattening. I’m glad my post helped you if only for a moment. I hope you make it. I hope we both make it.

  10. Thank you, dear nova. It’s a paradox, isn’t it–the very quality that leads a person to become a writer (sensitivity) is also one that can work against us in the current publishing climate.

    A paradox I haven’t solved yet.

    Here’s to all of us who struggle and dream.

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