What to Tell Yourself When You're Ready to Quit

When it feels like it's been a long haul, or when you're tired of uncertainties, here's a post to refresh and reorient your writerly soul. | lucyflint.com

Just in case your Monday decides to get all ugly and act like a Monday, I'd like to share a quote with you. Good?

This is the one that jumps to mind when I think about both travel and writing (and, also, discouragement):

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. -- André Gide

I've always found that quote to be very, ahem, moving. (Whoops. A pun. Sorry.)

But seriously. There's a super-important reality check embedded in there, a kind of question: Lucy, did you really expect that you could have both a thrilling New Land and the certainty of your Old Shore? 

Why yes! is my answer. Yes I did! Certainty AND newness! How much would I love both?

But the equation doesn't work that way. Not with traveling. Not with writing. 

Instead, it goes something like this:

For starters, we want to discover new lands.

Let's figure out what we are aiming for. The point of this, the hope, the main idea: New Lands!!

This is where we get excited. Dream big. 

I have a few New Lands that I'm aiming for. The first is this:

A novel draft that is stuffed full of all my best ideas, all my unexpected insights, and whatever else I can manage. FULL OF GOODIES.

Something that, when I reread it, startles and surprises me. THAT draft. That book.

Not tired ideas. Not over-thought concepts. Not dull description and crummy dialogue and faint little characters. Nope.

I want this book to feel like a new land. Like something discovered.

What New Lands are you aiming for?

Maybe the exhilarating glory of coming across a truly new idea. Or the undreamed-of horizon of the last page of your work-in-progress. Or even: earning money from your work. (Oooh. I'm on board for ALL that.)

And then we consent to lose sight of the shore.

Rubber, meet Road. (Or, to be true to the metaphor, I guess we should say: Ocean, meet Ship.)

This is the kicker. The "you can't eat your cake and have it too" part. Ya can't do both.

You have to agree to let go of your certainties. Let go of what's stable. Lose sight of that old shore.

What is that for you? Ideas about what the writing life should look like? Should--but doesn't? 

It's easy to build up a lot of beautiful, romantic ideas about the writing life. And then you find out that it's actually a lot of feeling stumped, losing your notes, becoming absent-minded, and being misunderstood at parties. 

Not quite the Hemingway-and-Fitzgerald-sharing-drinks-in-Paris we imagined. (Or was that just me?)

Or maybe the old shore is: the certainties and stabilities of a different vocation.

Before I dove into the writing life, I was all set to become an editorial assistant. I'd completed two editing internships, I had plenty of determination, and I had just started an extra class just to perfect my proofreading skills.

I'd been working toward the goal of becoming an editor for six years. Since the middle of high school. 

It was a Real Job. I would have a Boss. I was pretty great at editing, frankly, and excited to learn more about it. Oh, and there would be a SALARY. All the legit, good, stable grown-up stuff. 

But when I suddenly, definitely, irrevocably fell out of love with the idea of working on someone else's novels, someone else's work, instead of my own--

When that happened, I was ready to lose sight of the shore. I was ready to let go of all the certainties.

So I let go of the ready answer when anyone asks "so what do you do?" The clearly defined role in a company. A boss who would tell me what was expected of me. Co-workers who would slog alongside me. A salary. (*weep, weep*) The apartment I imagined renting. 

I still have times where that old shore pulls at me. (Like, last week.) Days when I shout "Enough! I am SO SEASICK! Let's turn this ship around!" 

The thing that keeps me going during those hard days? Realizing, deep down, that I am more in love with the new land I'm seeking than I am with that old shore. 

Really.

The thought of this trilogy being written with the absolute best I have in me: that steadies my heart and steels my mind. That gives me the courage to keep wobbling around on this ship a while longer. However long it takes.

Which brings us to the next point.

And then we find out that: it takes a very long time.

Um. Right. That.

The truth is: We don't know how long this is going to take.

Timetables? That's Old Shore stuff. We don't know when and how things are gonna happen out here in the ocean. You can't predict when a new land is going to pop up in your spyglass.

This is the part that tests, and tests, and tests our resolve.

It's one thing to lose sight of certainty for a short period of time. Anyone can muster that up, right? 

But to stay uncertain for years. That takes some chutzpah. You've gotta be BOLD.

Because reaching that new land might take longer than you or I ever thought it would. 

I'm only just now starting to feel proud of what I'm writing. Only in the last year have I been working on a project that feels like I could put my name on it, that feels right. And it still has a lot of work left!

Mathwise, I've been at this full-time for nine years.

It's starting to feel like a long time.

But here's what I'm learning about the time it takes:

Every time I come to the end of my patience, every time I'm threatening to turn the ship around and go back, I force myself to rethink why I'm doing any of this.

Like I said before: I refocus on the new land, on what I'm hoping for.

And what has happened, as I've done that over, and over, and over again, is this:

I've built a new certainty.

Out here, in the middle of the ocean, the Old Shore feels more like a myth, a thing I once knew but now--not so much. So there really is no going back.

The New Land that I'm looking for, the land of the trilogy being well-written, or the land of publishing this book and going on to the next--well, it feels a bit mythical as well. I'm hoping to make it, but it's a hazy image.

The thing that is sure, though, is me. Me on this boat in the ocean.

I am certain, certain, certain that no matter what, this is what I want to be doing.

In spite of storms and waves, in spite of my legs wobbling sometimes. In spite of frustration. In spite of the miles of writing I still need to do to get this trilogy right.

In spite of all that, I'm certain of this: I love the writing life. I just plain do.

And I'm sure that I want it to last the rest of my life. I'm willing to put in a very long time at this.

So the thing about this quote: It redirects my heart. (Are we allowed to talk about our hearts without feeling silly? Yes? Okay.) 

It reorients me. It's easy to say, Oh, I miss the thing that I have lost. Oh, I would have felt so certain and sure. It's easy, in the moment, to think that all this work, and waiting, and uncertainty, isn't worth it.

But every time I read this quote, my fingers tingle at the words discover new lands. And I can't help myself. I think, YES. I think, I'M IN. Whatever it takes.

So I consent. I'll lose sight of those old shores. I'll last a very long time.

I really think it will be worth it. 

So where are you, in your writing life?

What are the old shores that are still pulling at you? What new lands are you aiming for? And how do you reorient yourself, when it starts to feel like it's been too dang long?

Here's one more thing. A super-short video, presenting another quote that's been such an encouragement to me. Hope it adds a serious dose of awesome to your Monday.

Now let's go get that week.