Knowing When to Quit

One of my college creative writing professors said, “Sometimes you need to know when to quit. Acknowledge you’ve learned all you can from that poem, short story, narrative. It’s as good as it’s ever going to get. Time to move on and apply what you’ve learned to your next creative endeavor.”

Back when I was a naïve 20-something, I knew I wanted to write a novel. I knew I could and eventually I would. But, just how long was “eventually” going to be? I’d heard established authors say it took them ten years (ten years!) to complete their first novel. I didn’t have ten years. I had to have that novel written and published by age thirty! Besides, I simply refused to devote that much time to one project. The mere thought was mind-numbing. I love ideas. I love the creative rush!

I had another creative writing professor tell me, “You can make it onto the shelves. I know I will see you there. Your problem is, you just don’t work at it enough.” Wha? Are you crazy woman? Do you know how long it took me to write those twenty pages you’ve just deemed publishable? Not only that, how dare you try to take the fun out of writing by calling it work??

As the years passed, I realized she was right. I want to create in a flurry, sign off on my first draft and move on to the next project. After all, I’ve learned all I can from it. It’s time to move on! (Translation: Every line I write is brilliant and if my audience doesn’t agree, they’re stupid.)

The novel I started in my mid-twenties (The Exception) was indeed “finished” by age thirty. Before age thirty actually. I shopped it out, didn’t get any buyers, felt sorry for myself.

Truth is, that first iteration wasn’t good enough. Thankfully, it wasn’t published so I don’t have to face the embarrassment. My second iteration was much better. I thought it was ready for publication, but my audience informed me it wasn’t quite there. After gathering their feedback, I wanted to pitch the stupid thing, never look at it again, say “I’ve learned all I can” and move on. But a little voice kept saying, keep working, keep working.

That’s what I’m doing now. Embarking on another major (hopefully final) rewrite. And guess what? Turns out I’ve been working on the durn thing for at least ten years. Ten years! Ah . . . the impatience and arrogance of youth.

Okay, I’m not that old, but I’m older. Hopefully wiser. (And hopefully closer to publication!)