On When Writing Can be Abandoned

July 31, 2012 § 5 Comments


Brevity editor and founder Dinty W. Moore discusses A Buddhist Take on Writing in Psychology Today.

So which is true: know when it is time to fold the tent, or never give in—never, never, never, never? How does one know which rule applies? How can anyone be sure of when to stubbornly move forward on a plan versus when it is wisest to shrug and call it quits?

This is a hard question for writers, myself included. I know from experience that it is wise to not give up on any project too early. The fruits of multiple revisions, of fresh eyes, of those wonderful breakthroughs where after months of struggle you suddenly see exactly what a manuscript needs, are real and they are part of the magic and joy of being a writer (or really a creative person of any sort). But sometimes you have to move on. Sometimes you have to say to yourself, “This is not a failure, because I’ve learned so much from trying, but at the same time it is never going to be the story I want it to be.”

In both instances, I think it is a matter of faith, and a matter of having that faith without what Buddhists call “attachment,” the insistence that only a particular outcome is acceptable. In one instance, you have to have the faith that dogged and determined work will get you to the goal, even as the goal seems to be moving further away rather than nearer. In the other instance, you have to have faith in yourself, believing that a major setback will not lead to an eternity of failure, that setting one idea aside will be rewarded by another idea coming in eventually to take its place.

Either outcome is an achievement; you move forward and succeed, or you succeed later, under different circumstances. But too often we cling—attach—to one outcome, and end up drowning ourselves in a sea of disappointment because we grow too tired to swim anymore. Well maybe we can’t swim, but often we can still pull ourselves over to the side of the pool, crawl out, and rest a while on the cool tiles.


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§ 5 Responses to On When Writing Can be Abandoned

  • I love the “dogged and determined work.” It is the goal for me – and the pleasure – because so often the work may not be published anyway. Thanks for your inspiring words.

  • Jane says:

    I’ve been working on a memoir. I’ve been writing it so long, it seems, that bits of it seem like family, the ones you love but don’t necessarily like–or no longer fit. It’s so difficult to weed through everything I’ve written and trim some. Maybe I can recycle those bits into another form of creative non-fictioon 🙂 Jane

  • matt says:

    Or maybe look at alot of these hurdles as more of stepping stones, always building for something more, maybe different. But that could be taking the stance of moving on a little too quickly, hard to say sometimes so probably agree that at the end, just have to try with whatever you believe in and not much more.

  • Billie says:

    What a grand post.
    The idea of abandoning writing is one that I know well. I have recently returned to school and am so happy to have rediscovered my joy in writing. A joy that allows me a greater sense of freedom to express myself as an adult, unafraid of the opinions of the reader.

    So now I’d have to say that I have abandoned my absence from writing.

  • i am teaching this with Ron Koertge’s poem, “Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out.”

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