Ah, the New Year is upon us. Most of our resolutions revolve around grabbing hold with a death-grip and vowing to never let go. When it comes to losing weight, getting out of debt, or discovering if our closets actually have floors? This is a good plan. Yet, when it comes to our careers? Never giving up might keep us from ever succeeding.
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.
Ignore that junk and understand…
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
I like to 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, in order to “win” I must “quit.”
Learn to Quit from the Best
Most of us are lousy 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 writer pals 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 will be there, oh and Donald Maass and Les Edgerton, too)–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. Theresa Ragan was rejected by traditional publishers for over twenty years. She finally self-published and has now sold hundreds of thousands of books. NY tried to offer her a contract and she turned them down.
I turned in a hundred page proposal for Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World in the summer of 2011. But, after NY ignoring it for over two years? I published it myself. We need to always be moving forward, and sometimes pressing on requires letting go. We can’t grab hold of the new if we are hanging on to the old.
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.
Sometimes we need to let go of inefficiencies or false trails, 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.
A couple years ago, I presented at the North Texas RWA Conference and 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 ;).
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!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, 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. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
December’s Winner is Chris Weston. Please send 5 page synopsis (1250 words) one page query (250 words) or 20 pages of novel (5,000 words) in a WORD document to kristen at wan intl dot com and congratulations.
I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!