I remember a time when I wrote for the fun of it. When I had no idea what the “rules” were and the words just flowed out of my head and onto the page. Yeah, most of them were crap, but I didn’t know they were crap, so it didn’t bother me. I just enjoyed the process of committing the story in my head to paper…or the screen, as the case may be.
Somewhere along the way, though, writing stopped being fun. I’m hard-pressed to say exactly when it happened. Probably, that’s because it didn’t happen overnight. It was a more gradual process. I learned more about craft, more about the should’s and shouldn’t’s. I became a much better writer in every objective sense than I was when the words just flowed and I didn’t care if they sucked or not. I had a few short stories and novellas published by an epublisher, then a novella collection published by a New York house.
Wow, I was a real writer! What an accomplishment!
But the joy? It’s gone. Writing has become a chore, about as much fun as cleaning the bathroom and with even less reward. At least someone is always grateful when I clean the bathroom. My wonderful CPs and a few friends aside, nobody seems to care one way or another whether I ever write another word.
It’s not just that I haven’t been able to sell anything since Behind the Red Door. Oh, sure, that’s part of it. If I were feeling some love from editors, my own love for the task of writing might be considerably stronger. But it’s more than that.
You see, I’m starting to wonder if I have had an inflated opinion of my own skills. Maybe I’m just really not any good at this. Maybe the reason I’m not selling anything is because…duh, I don’t deserve to.
A couple of days ago, I clicked on a Twitter link to a book for sale on Fictionwise. A book with a (in my opinion) ridiculous premise and worse cover art. But this book has obviously sold hundreds of copies and most of the ratings by readers are “Great.” It has a few “Good” ratings and a couple of “Averages.” No “Poors.”
By comparison, my ebooks’ reader ratings on Fictionwise are about evenly split between good and average. I have a few greats. A couple of poors. But in general, it’s pretty clear that the typical reader has a lukewarm response to my books. Oh, they don’t hate them, but they don’t love them, either.
But it’s not just buyers at Fictionwise who feel lukewarm about my work. Oh, I get generally good ratings from most reviewers, but I’ve never managed to garner a recommended read or top pick or anything like that. And I’ve yet to receive a single piece of fan mail from a new reader since my print book came out. I’ve gotten some fan mail from my ebooks, and some readers who’ve contacted me in the past wrote to tell me they liked Behind the Red Door, but it doesn’t seem to have garnered me a legion of new fans.
What am I to take away from this? I always write the best book I can, believe me, but the best book I can write is apparently not the book that editors or readers are all that excited about. I could launch into a screed at this point about the lowest common denominator and the inability of “the masses” to recognize true quality, but even if I thought it was true that my books were “too good” for the general public (which I don’t), it doesn’t really matter. If no one but a handful of people loves my books, there’s not much point in pursuing a career in writing. Especially if I’m not getting any pleasure from it myself.
I’ve said before that the only way to be sure you’ll never be published is to give up. But I’ve been published. So? Do I keep trying to get published when it’s about as much fun as slamming my finger in a door or do I close the book on the “writer” chapter of my life and move on?
I’m sure this whole post sounds like a combination of a self-pity party and a cry for attention, but I’m not looking for anyone to tell me I’m too talented to give up or otherwise exhort me to keep the faith. I’ve heard that plenty of times already (usually from those devoted CPs and friends, bless them), and it hasn’t changed anything. I’m still not sure why I should keep at it.
Right now, what I genuinely want to know is how anyone knows it’s time to quit. Not just writing, but any pursuit where the relative likelihood of success is small and the cost of continuing to try is high—in blood, sweat, tears, time, money, whatever. When does someone who desperately wants to be a major league baseball player decide it’s time to give up the dream and focus on a “real” career instead? When does someone whose life ambition is to be an actor realize he’s probably got a face for radio (or maybe just doesn’t have as much talent as he imagined)?
So, what do you think? When is it time to throw in the towel?