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When I Thought I’d Give Up

Today, you will find me sitting here feeling grateful I stuck it out. Sitting here in that contemplative mood we writers get in when good things happen and/or when bad things happen and you can’t make sense between the two. Because you know it could have gone another way—easily.

In about a week the first book I wrote with my name on it will be in stores. This morning, someone showed me a picture of it on a bookstore shelf already. It’s a tween book. I never expected that would be my “first” book. It’s certainly not the first book I wrote.

I absolutely did not see this coming.

Just two years ago, I was in a different place. I wanted to give up. I kept hinting at it here. Maybe some of you reading this are writers too. Maybe you are right this very moment thinking of giving up, wondering what it might be like to let go. And would you regret it, or would you feel free?

Here’s a post I wrote in April of 2007:

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.

—April 8, 2007

I remember that day. How I was feeling. Ugh, I remember.

But something changed in me. I decided to adapt instead of giving up. To go at it another way. And that’s how DANI NOIR came to be. And that’s how this new novel came to be, the one that got me an agent almost exactly two years after I wrote that post, in April of 2009, the one that got me two cakes even though I’m not done writing it yet.

Two years later and nothing’s the same.

If someone had come up to me on that day I thought maybe it was time to give up—when I was sitting there in the coffee shop telling myself it would be nice to give up, that it wouldn’t hurt so bad, that I would be A-OK—if someone had said to me, Wait a couple years, you’ll see, I would have laughed. Or cried.

I’m not young. This has taken a lot of years out of me. And the thing is, I do think I would have survived had I listened to myself and stopped trying to publish. If I didn’t ever send anything out, didn’t query agents, wrote only to write because I love writing and showed no one but my friends and my husband. I could have been as happy as I am right now—you know what? I could have been happier.

But that’s the thing: I couldn’t do it. I absolutely could not stop trying. I hope I would still be trying even if Simon & Schuster said no to DANI NOIR and if every agent I queried this spring rejected me and if no one wanted IMAGINARY GIRLS and even if everyone I knew pulled me aside for an intervention and told me, “You suck. Go home. Become a dental technician.”

(Nothing against dental technicians. That’s just something someone in my family told me I should be when I was a teenager when I had dreams of being a writer. Needless to say, I did not listen.)

I hope I would still be trying if all of the above happened, but I can’t know that.

I had a lucky break that led to more lucky breaks. For everyone out there flirting with the idea of giving up, I hope you get a break, and soon. Even if it looks odd to you—if maybe it’s not the exact thing you thought you wanted, like you wanted the color blue and this thing’s pink and you can’t decide if you should wear it anyway. You might want to just put it on. Give it a shot.

Turns out pink was my color all along.

14 thoughts on “When I Thought I’d Give Up

  1. I felt like this too at one point. It was last November and I was firing my first agent, who had stopped talking to me and had shopped around the best book I’d ever written for months and months to no avail. It was used goods and I felt like I was too. It was THE book–everyone I knew knew it was–but it couldn’t sell. And if it couldn’t sell, then could I write anything that could? I got depressed about writing, to the point that I wouldn’t even tell my writing friends I didn’t want to write anymore, lest they take that as a cry for help and scold/encourage me into not quitting.

    With my last little bit of hope, I sent THE book out to a small publisher on my own. Just when things looked their absolute darkest, they made an offer, I got a new, super awesome agent, and ended up getting a much better offer from a big publisher, and everything suddenly turned around and became a fairy tale instead of a nightmare.

    Like you, I’d been writing since I was really young, and it had always been The Dream. And looking back I *almost* can’t believe I was so close to quitting. There had been times when I tempted myself with quitting, thought I might do it but knew I wouldn’t really, but that time I felt my dream and my writing slipping away for reals. It’s scary to look back and think about, and I’m SO thankful things turned out the way they did.

    • This is incredible… it got me all teary. I know what you mean about how scary it is to look back and see how close you got to giving in. I’m so GLAD you kept going. This is an amazing story. Thank you so much for telling me and posting it here.

  2. I wish u and I would have been friends in high school. I think we would have saved each other a lot of heartbreak if we banded together (for writing also helped me survive).

    I admire your tenacity. E once called you one of the hardest working writers EVER–and I credit your diligence too, in achieving your goal. You inspire me by your work ethic and tenacity…and most of all, your KINDNESS. I am so so so glad it was all rewarded!

    I toast a future with more cakes for you! May there be a triple cake day, and a quadruple cake day…and….you get the picture.🙂 Just don’t get too sick of cake!

  3. So good to read this, Nova. For who else understands but another writer?

    I am standing on the edge – the tippy tippy edge – and wondering if I dare to jump. I have to finish this work. I have to see what I can make of it. I have to put it out there.

    I am so close. It’s scary, though.

    I read this often. It’s something that Martha Graham wrote to Agnes DeMille on the opening night of Carousel:

    There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You don’t even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU. Keep the channel open…No artist is pleased…There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a clear divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the rest.

  4. I’m glad you stuck with it — both because it’s led you to a happy place but also, and selfishly, because your determination has been so heartening and encouraging. I can’t wait to read the book. And then next one, and the one after that. xoxo

  5. Hi Nova,

    That post from 2007 is pretty much where I am right now, so to read that and see how well it’s worked out for you is inspiring.

    (I can’t wait to get my hands on Dani Noir!)


  6. Thank you, Nova. This is a very inspiring post – not only I am so glad you kept going, and that Dani Noir is going to arrive in the post shortly for me to read, but I’m very grateful that you there, telling me and others not to give up. Thank you.

  7. I have so much respect and admiration for you Nova, I could explode, NO LIE! I really could. You are one of the hardest working writers I know, and yours is a story of perseverence and passion and following your dreams, even in the hardest moments of having them. You are so wonderful.

  8. i came across your blog randomly and your post about wanting to give up – and being honest about it – and seeing it through ….. well the timing is perfect. i can relate to much of what you said – i released my first music album six years ago – and have been working on the second one ever since – so many times wanting to give up – and even tonight went fishing around on the web for ways to stop writers block – as i have so many songs written but suddenly find myself speechless – which is not the case in every other area of my life – something about the song lyric just all of a sudden became intimidating…. needless to say you honesty has a humbleness to it – and a hope….and it was exactly what i needed to feel like it is confirmation to keep forcing my way through this – as i am so close to being done🙂

    thank you – and i hope 2 buy your book for my friends daughters

    conscious heart,


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