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Don’t Ever Ask Somebody Whether You Should Keep Writing

Don’t ever ask somebody whether you should keep writing

By far the most common question I get when I’m working with authors is “will this sell?” (Spoiler: this is impossible to answer).

The second most common is this one: “Should I keep going? Should I keep writing?”

I’m always extremely sympathetic when people ask me this because I have been there. I have asked this question too! But it’s extremely dangerous.

Don’t ever cede your dreams to someone else

These are your dreams. You’re never going to get a good answer from someone else about whether you should pursue your dreams. You’re the only one who can answer whether you should keep going or change course.

Even the best-intentioned person in the world can very easily blow you off course by projecting their own hopes and/or insecurities onto your situation. (And we’re not always surrounded by the best-intentioned people.)

You have to be the one to answer this for yourself.

Believe me, I understand the impulses behind this question. Writing is extremely hard, positive validation is ridiculously rare and fleeting, the entire process is rife with heartache and rejection. Of course, we all want someone to swoop in and tell us we’re amazing and place our book at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for all of eternity, or, failing that, to accurately tell us it’s not going to happen so we can quit and take up bowling instead.

But both scenarios are impossible.

Whenever you’re tempted to ask this question, which, to be clear, you should never ask, here’s what you should do instead.

Get in tune with what you really need

If you’re ever tempted to ask the question “Should I keep going?”, chances are you’re at a critical juncture in your writing journey.

Maybe you just started out writing and you’re wondering if you’re any good. (The answer to this one is easy: you’re not good. That doesn’t mean you should stop, because you might just not be good yet).

Maybe you got stuck somewhere in the middle. Or you might be out on submission and you’re getting a series of rejections and you’re considering a revision.

It can seem weighty and difficult to answer the big question of whether to keep writing, but it’s not that hard if you get in touch with what you actually need and what’s prompting you to ask the question in the first place.

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You’re probably looking for one of only two things:

  • You’re looking for encouragement.
  • You’re looking for an accurate assessment of your work so you can gauge how much work you still have ahead of you.

That’s it! If you’re feeling discouraged, maybe you need a pick me up. If you’re feeling daunted, maybe you need a gut check.

First, ask yourself this question: Do I need encouragement or do I need an objective critique?

Ask someone you trust for the thing you really need

Find someone you trust, whether it’s a paid editor, a critique partner, or someone in your life who you trust to be honest with you.

Then, ask them for the thing you need.

If you need encouragement

Give this person your manuscript and ask them to tell you ONLY what they like about it.

This might feel a little weird to ask for, but it can actually be very beneficial. It will help you feel like you’re not crazy, that your manuscript isn’t a steaming pile of garbage, and you can lean into what’s good about your work to keep making improvements.

I did this for an author friend in the early stages of what went on to become an excellent bestselling series, in case you need proof of concept.

If you are looking for a gut check

Set aside the big question about whether you should keep going for now. Instead: seek accurate feedback.

Once you get the feedback, take a bit of time to absorb it, get a sense of the gap between where the manuscript is right now and where you want it to be, and get a sense of the scope of the work you have ahead of you.

Listen to your instincts

Once you have assembled the feedback you need: listen to yourself.

Take some time with the feedback, get in tune with your instincts, and choose the path that feels right. That might mean keeping going, it might mean putting your manuscript in the drawer, it might well mean taking up bowling.

There are no bad decisions as long as you are the one making the decision. Be brave and honest with yourself. (Though personally, I’d err on the side of “keep going”).

I sometimes joke that the first novel I ever wrote “crashed and burned,” but it’s not actually true. A prominent agent wanted me to revise and resubmit it and he gave me a lot of very good and accurate feedback.

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There was just one problem: I didn’t feel up for making the changes. I just didn’t think I was good enough yet, I couldn’t summon the energy, and I had this idea I was kicking around for a novel about a kid trapped on a planet full of substitute teachers. The scope of work ahead was bigger than what I felt I had in me.

So I passed up the opportunity to work with this agent on revisions and I put the manuscript in the drawer. Instead, I went to work on what became the Jacob Wonderbar series.

It felt CRAZY to pass up the chance to work with a prominent agent on the first novel and I felt even crazier still every minute I struggled through writing Jacob Wonderbar.

But it ended up being the right path for me. Jacob Wonderbar was published by Penguin and that first novel wasn’t lost entirely, I recycled the plot for my most recent novel, which is still winding its way through the process.

It’s tempting to ask someone to wave a magic wand over your life and tell you what to do. Resist. Gather the feedback you need and chart your own course.

Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!

For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.

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