I read an article about quitting a year ago, but found that it raised more questions than answers when I was looking for more specific guidance. Somehow, this did not motivate me or help me in any way, shape, or form. I wonder why.
Having done some champion level quitting in my time, I decided I’d try to use my example to offer advice of when to know to quit something from my own experience. And I do advocate quitting more strongly than you’d think.
This gets into my life story to a certain extent. If you don’t care, here is the summary of my advice: If you’re doing something for fun, and, after a fair trial, it isn’t fun, quit. If it was once fun, but no longer is, find some new way to enjoy it, or something completely new to enjoy. If you’re working on a project, and things are constantly changing from your original vision, you should probably take a step back and evaluate why these changes are happening, and if it would be less trouble to restart from scratch, or abandon the project altogether. Believe me when I say I’ve abandoned more projects than I may ever finish, and that I think I will continue to do so. Not all ideas are worth my while to pursue.
Now, life story:
I avoid giving up on hobbies all at once. It doesn’t feel nice to start something and find that you lack the drive, or the extra time, to finish it. Instead, I usually just push it off and push it off with other things until it is no longer on my priorities list at all. This is why I am currently drumming and ballroom dancing as hobbies, rather than having learned the piano, or having learned the guitar, or playing as many sports as I used to. I have frequently quit things, as you can probably tell from that list, but I did it the sneaky way.
It’s still quitting. And that’s okay. With regards to the sports, with age, the number of teams available to play on declined. Then I needed to choose to play on the team that is above my level of play due to an influx of older boys who play much more consistently than I do, a team that seems skill levels below me, or a team that matches my skill level, but never plays for fun. And that is when I quit. It was no longer fun in any of these cases, although more fun in some cases than in others, and was set aside for other things. University, for one.
With regards to piano and guitar, and probably a number of other art forms (yes, I’ve lost count), the trouble was that I am a perfectionist, and I did not have a teacher. This caused much frustration, little progress, and ended up with me feeling worse after practicing than before, since I never saw noticeable improvement toward my ideal. Should I have quit these things? Maybe not. But I didn’t quit drumming. I tackled that obstacle of beginner’s non-improvement with drumming, thanks to a couple hours of help, but it was close for a while. And I’ve had on-again off-again drum sessions, but I keep coming back. In everything musical, I find drumming most satisfying. Yes, it’s because I get to beat things up. Does wonders for stress.
I still find I have more desire to drum than I ever did to play guitar . . . but I had to try both before I discovered this. It makes me glad I never went in for lessons and wasted money, but to discover if you have a strong desire to learn something you have an interest in, you do need to try it. Ask a proficient friend for beginner lessons; you should figure out if you want it quickly enough. It also means, if you don’t have a drive to learn it, you will likely end up quitting it. Is it disappointing? Yes. Should you keep doing something you don’t love when it’s supposed to be just a hobby? Definite no, even if you feel some obligation to it.
Which then brings me to writing. This is where I quit the most, yet succeeded the most. Admittedly, there’s a difference between when you quit a specific project and when you quit trying to learn a whole skill set.
Let us start out where I started out. I did some writing and it sucked. My mother, ever helpful, gave me pointers on how to make it better. I essentially gave the “you just don’t get it” defense, stormed off, and swore that I would never write stories again.
I’m going to let the blog speak for itself here.
Oh, I kept imagining my very heroic and unique stories (read: complete rip off of things I liked), but I didn’t write them down. Much. Even with that vow, and creative writing consistently being my worst grade, I couldn’t ever seem to actually fully give up on it. It gave me too much pleasure, I suppose. Also, have you ever ripped off somebody else’s stories, just in your own head? It’s really fun at the time, because you have to do no work, and it’s really funny in hindsight when you realize how much you just changed the surface details. Mortifying, but I’m glad that none of those were the first book I wrote. For most people, they are. It’s known as a trunk novel. Better known as kindling.
The other thing going on at this time was that I was reading. Voraciously. I had refused to write, but I still loved a great story. My mom also had quite the library to support this. Not too many years ago, I read more than 50 books in half a school year. It was part of this “hundred books for a pizza party” thing. I eventually stopped counting, but before that my teacher just gave up on confirming I’d read the books when I came in with nine books after March Break.
Curse you, University! Not only do you constantly deplete my creative juices, you’re in the way of my voracious reading! How dare you!
Ahem. Well, I will say that the reading was very important. Reading is one of the key parts of writing. It’s how you learn. I have an ever-growing book stack I need to get through.
Moving on. Entering high school, I was growing more and more intent on writing The Novel. I’d written pieces of things here and there, and planned plenty of longer stories, but I’d never been able to piece them together into a coherent whole. I was starting to get serious about doing so. I was finding every possible online writing aid I could, and reading every backlist article. And I planned another novel. It starred some honourable, cynical assassin who was the illegitimate son of the evil Lord and ends up protecting a Lady against his will. In hindsight, there was a very convoluted magic system, the plot made little sense, and it was depressing.
At the same time, I thought up a short story. This story has never been written, yet it is already infamous in my household for the sheer evil it contains. My mother, after hearing about it, refused to read it. It was to be an experiment in writing from the perspective of a bad guy. The narrator was going to be an unscrupulous, murderous coward who, through the idiocy of his partner, ends up having to face a crow-turned-demon. We don’t do demons in my house.
I kept working on The Novel. I also created two different cat burglar characters (one for grade 9, one for grade 10) and wrote short stories about them. This distracted me for a while, and the next time I really thought about The Novel, I…didn’t like it. I felt very meh about the whole thing. And that horror story was still floating around in my head, refusing to be dislodged no matter how much I disliked the characters or the premise.
I forget how, exactly, this next part happened, but as I was falling asleep at some point, I came up with yet another potential novel. This one had a quest plot line and a stupid joke where stinky seaweed had a name that sounded like “gold,” making a skeezy port city be nicknamed “the city of gold.” I decided to quit while I was ahead the next morning. Next thing I knew, everything had merged, and I had something very different in my brain for The Novel than when I had started.
The assassin was still kicking around (and being humourless. Yuck.) and his story was still there for the writing. But it no longer held any interest for me. No, I had a new character in my mind. He was the assassin mixed with the murderous coward, plus some morals. Overall, he reminded me more of the narrator of the demon crow story…who I couldn’t remember the name of. After being severely annoyed by this fact, I came up with a new name and started to plot. It was a quest plot line. Wonder where that came from?
And the assassin’s story was Quitted. Rest in peace, ya tortured cynic of a humourless assassin. You’re better off unwritten, trust me.
Although I’d decided on a fun concept for sharing a character biography that I will attribute to Ben Bova’s Sam Gunn books, the plotting of the new novel Did Not Work. I was upset. I loved this character, and he needed a story. I was stuck, until my brilliant mother suggested I needed a pirate. The pirate was just what I needed, and it started to pull together. From the advice I’d compiled from the Internet, I decided to start at chapter 1 and go ’til the end.
…I made it to chapter 11 before I ran out of steam.
Things were getting off track. Things were getting boring. Molecular cohesion was starting to fail. And I was not happy.
Mom to the rescue again: “Hey Ace. Why don’t you try Michael A. Stackpole’s 21 Days to a Novel? You said it looked useful.”
Unsolicited Plug: 21 Days to a Novel is pure genius and should be in the hands of every writer to ever consider writing a novel. I don’t care if you don’t like the method, and I don’t care if you don’t like Stackpole’s writing. There are so many gems in that little guide, everyone should get something from it.
Somewhere around the start of grade 11, I used 21 Days to a Novel, basically repeating my initial plotting in a bit more depth, and restarted from chapter 1. I stole the occasional passage from my first pass, but mostly, I left it to rot. The chapters got thicker, yet tighter. There was description added. Character interactions became less ridiculous. The protagonist became less and less of a Gary Stu. And the chapters just kept coming, slow and steady. Somewhere along the line, I privately vowed to finish it by the end of grade 12. There was a tough part somewhere in the middle, (ironically, where the characters are travelling through some mountains) but I pushed past it. Suddenly, everything started to pick up like a locomotive rushing down a hill. Faster, faster, until I hit grade 12 exams and didn’t want to study because I was at chapter 33 and I was so close to the end I could taste it. Every waking moment demanded that I write.
I studied for my exams. It hurt, and it took up the month of June. But by August, I’d finished The Novel. Forty chapters—nice round number. 120K words. Editing has taken it down to 38 chapters and 117K words, but that’s beside the point. It was done before I started university, so I consider my vow for “the end of high school” kept.
It’s still undergoing editing (curse you again, University!), but initial response (from more than just my mother, thank you) is very positive and some day in the not-too-distant future, it will be ready for the next step. Oh boy, is that something to both dread and anticipate.
Ha! And it only took quitting over ten different times—from full projects to project attempts to writing itself—to get me there. Not to mention the individual chapters I quit on and rewrote up to four times before I was happy enough with them to continue the story while in the middle of the process.
I hope you were motivated, or learned something, or at the very least enjoyed laughing at my expense. On another note, after quitting another novel for wont of extensive research, I am 20% through Novel the Second, although I’m not sure I’ll finish it before I’m out of University. Perhaps before I earn my P. Eng?
Going off to write more exciting stuff now,
A. C. F.