Want to know the secret to success? Quitting. Yes, you heard me correctly. And, if you’re a creative professional, it is in your interest to learn to get really good at quitting. Maybe you’ve felt like a loser or a failure, that your dream to make a living with your art was a fool’s errand.
Maybe, if you are anything like me, just maybe you had friends and family and people around you telling you that you were a dreamer, that you needed to get your head out of the clouds and to let go of your “magic beans” and learn to be something practical that made a good paycheck and came with dental benefits. Maybe, in an effort to counteract all this negativity, you found yourself wandering the inspiration books in Half Price Bookstore (namely because you were too broke to buy books full-price). And maybe, just maybe, you clung to the little dog-eared quote books full of really bad advice.
Yes. Bad advice like:
Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever. ~Lance Armstrong
You can never quit. Quitters never win and winners never quit. ~Ted Turner
You know what you call the writer who never gives up? Published. ~J.A. Konrath
Okay, well I won’t say this is exactly BAD advice, rather it is incomplete advice. Yet, this incomplete advice can get us into a lot of trouble.
Winners Quit All the Time
I posit this thought; if we ever hope to achieve anything remarkable, we must learn to quit. In fact, I’ll take this another step. I venture to say that most aspiring writers will not succeed simply because they aren’t skilled at quitting.
One problem many artists have is we lack discernment. It’s easy to get trapped in all-or-nothing thinking. If we defy family in pursuit of our art and something stops working properly, out of pride often we will persist even when the very thing we are attempting is the largest reason we will fail.
We keep reworking that first novel over and over. We keep querying the first novel and won’t move on until we get an agent. We keep writing in the same genre even though it might not be the best fit for our voice. We keep marketing the first self-published book and don’t move forward and keep writing more books and better books.
Learning to Quit is the Surest Insurance Against Failure
In fact, in my book Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer I even say, “Persistence looks a lot like stupid.” The act of never giving up is noble, but never giving up on the wrong things is a formula to fail. We have to learn to detect the difference between quitting a tactic and quitting a dream.
If I am trying to climb Mt. Everest, but I am repeatedly failing at climbing the one side, which is a sheer rock face with no way to get a footing, then it is suicide to keep trying the same thing. If, however, I regroup, hike back to the bottom and take another way up the mountain, I am a quitter…but I am NOT a failure. In fact, to win I must quit.
Learn to Quit from the Best
Most of us suck at knowing how and when to quit. This is one of the reasons it is a good idea to surround ourselves with successful people, because successful people are expert quitters. When I started out, I had all the wrong mentors. I had friends who quit writing when it was boring or who quit querying after a handful of rejections. They quit attending critique because they got their feelings hurt when people didn’t rave their book was the best thing since kitten calendars.
All this wrong kind of quitting is easy to fall into. Excuses are free, but they cost us everything.
My Life Changed When I Changed the Quitters in My Company
It all started with the DFW Writer’s Workshop. I attended and met people living the life I wanted to have…the life of a professional writer. They were the same as me, and yet very different. When I went to DFW’s conference–which I HIGHLY recommend so sign up NOW for the May conference–I found myself being pushed to yet a higher level.
I met and
stalked Candy Havens. Candy is an excellent quitter. She wrote her first bad book and didn’t spend the next six years trying to resurrect it. She sought training and experts and moved forward. She quit outside hobbies and friends that took away from her goal of becoming a professional author.
The next great quitter I met? Oooh, this guy was a real turning point in my life. In fact, I regularly give thanks I met this person because his kind of quitting took me to a whole new level in my career. NYTBSA Bob Mayer. Bob is the best quitter I’ve ever met.
Bob taught me the importance of setting goals, because goals help us know when and what to quit. Bob showed me that it was okay to quit. It was okay to walk away from things that weren’t working and try something new. He walked away from the author life he’d always known, the safe route, and he quit. He decided to start a publishing company. It was the bravest kind of quitting I’ve ever seen. I know it was hard for him, and I am so thrilled to see him reaping the rewards for his hard work and bravery.
New York publishing should pay attention. If something isn’t working QUIT. Move on! If we have to defend and justify what we are doing there’s something wrong.
Everything is Our Enemy
It’s hard to know when to quit. I’m a loyal person. I’m loyal to a fault and I struggle every day with this lesson. But I’ve recently come to a conclusion. People who reach their dreams don’t get there by doing EVERYTHING. Everything is dead weight. Everything will keep us from focusing. Everything gets us distracted. Everything is the enemy.
As you guys know, recently I had to let go of my critique group. It just wasn’t working. It wasn’t that I didn’t love every person in there, but with gas prices at $5 a gallon (and nothing in Texas is close) the attendance just was never great. Then, there were all the other dreams I wanted to achieve, so I had to let go. No bad feelings.
I love teaching blogging classes, but I had to let go of doing it the way I was doing it. It was too cumbersome and it was affecting how well I could teach. The tactic was endangering the outcome.
I had to realize that to win I had to quit. Sometimes our goals are correct, just how we are trying to get there is flawed. There is nothing wrong with having a goal of going to Florida from Texas. I can start out on a pogo stick, but no one would blame me for trading it for a car.
Sometimes we need to let go of inefficiencies, and if we don’t let go, then failure is just a matter of time.
Artists Actually Need More Quitting
Quit your day job. Today. This moment. Now, by quitting, I don’t mean you should throw your laptop in a waste can and take a bat to that copy machine that’s eaten every presentation you’ve tried to photocopy since the day you were hired….though that might be fun.
No, I mean mentally QUIT, then hire yourself to the dream. Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. It takes guts to be a writer. It takes guts to be any kind of creative professional. Hire yourself to the job you dream about. TODAY.
When I was at the North Texas RWA Conference I heard the best term EVER. No aspiring writers, only pre-published writers. If you want to be a professional author, you must quit to win. The day job is no longer the ends, but rather the means. The day job is just venture capital funding the successful art-making business…YOU.
You are a pre-published author…who happens to also be a stay-at-home-mom, a computer programmer, a salesperson, a whatever.
Learn to Quit Being Everything
Again, Everything is the enemy. Friends and family will want you to keep being the maid and the taxi and the babysitter and the buddy who can spend all day shoe-shopping. Many of us will try to keep being Everything to everyone and we’ll just try to “fit in” writing, but that is the lie that will kill the dream. We can’t be Everything!
We must learn when to quit and to be firm in quitting. Others have the right to be disappointed, but they’ll get over it. And, if they really love us they will get over it quickly and be happy for our resolve to reach our dreams. If they don’t? They’re dead weight and it’s better to cull them out of our life sooner than later.
Yes, this is hard stuff. Reaching our dreams is simple, but it will never be easy ;).
Next week we’ll explore some more ways to know how and when to quit. In the meantime, I do recommend Bob Mayer’s Write It Forward. This is an excellent book to teach how to set goals and make a plan for success. I also recommend Seth Godin’s The Dip–The Little Book That Teaches When to Quit and When to Stick. I do have to say that I loved Seth Godin’s book, but I was a tad annoyed to spend $11 on a 50 page book. It is a wonderful book with loads of great advice, but I suggest getting a used copy. I felt a bit gouged.
So what are some of your quitting stories? Did it work? Were you better off? Tell us your quit to win story! Do you need help sticking to your guns? Hey, your family doesn’t get you, but we do! Do you have a problem and you don’t know if you should stick or quit? Put it in the comments section and let us play armchair psychiatrist!
I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Last Week’s Winner of 5 Page Critique–Rachel Sullivan!!! Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com.
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.