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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