Mark Terry

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

On Quitting

November 9, 2010
It was with some amusement that I read Erica Orloff's blog post today about not letting go and standing up, persisting, etc. Because my thoughts were focused on quitting (Erica and I often do this mind meld thing, go figure).

Oh, not quitting writing. Or, even, necessarily, quitting writing fiction, which I've discussed many times before. But because I've been writing fiction practically nonstop since 1985 or so, I think any time I say I'm going to quit writing fiction, people around me have (quite sensibly) decided I'm full of shit.

In recent years I've filled my life with a lot of activities--band boosters, running, biking, sanchin-ryu karate, weight lifting, guitar--plus all the various attentiveness I need to pay to being a good husband and father, etc. Hell, I even have a social life.

But there's only so much time and energy to go around. I also find, not surprisingly, that my interest and enthusiasm for some of these activities waxes and wanes a bit. Right now, guitar is the one where I think, "Gee, I'm struggling to practice, maybe I should just quit and save Gary some time and myself some money."

After pulling a muscle and/or straining a tendon (yet again) running, I took a month or so off from it and filled the time instead with more sanchin-ryu karate, which seemed a very satisfying situation. I more or less was willing to just say to hell with running, I was never very good at it anyway. Then my youngest son ran in a 5K Saturday (a turkey trot) and I noted the variety of people of all types and physical abilities out running on a pretty cold Saturday morning and thought, "That looks like it would be fun to do. Maybe you should start up running again." So I did, on Sunday. And enjoyed it. And in terms of running, I feel like, at the age of 46 going on 47, there may be a "use it or lose it" aspect to this thing.

There are some activities I can't really envision giving up. Lifting weights; biking; sanchin-ryu karate (most of the time).

At the same time, writing fits in there. I can't imagine not writing. I can imagine not writing fiction. And I was thinking about the current dichotomy of a publishing industry under siege and the development of e-book self-publishing that seems to be far more effective and far-reaching than POD publishing was a decade ago. I mean, my e-books are selling. I'm not getting rich by any means, but there's some pocket money there and I've used it to pay a bill or two and it gets better each month. And frankly, it's not as if I'm getting rich with my traditionally published novels either.

So I wonder, having been dropped by a couple publishers in my lifetime, what I would do if I were dropped by my current publisher or some other crisis occurred. Would I throw in the towel, say, "I surrender."


Or maybe not.

One question I often ask myself when I'm trying to make a decision like this (or coming to grips with the low-end of my enthusiasm curve) is: Is this a decision you'll regret in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years?

Some decisions, of course, are just not yours to make. Others are. But I often think it's helpful to look long-term and think, "Gee, in 20 years are you going to be glad you kept taking guitar lessons because it forced you to stick with it? Or are you going to say, what a waste, I should have just hung it up?"

Some things are worth quitting, though. Some things aren't. But it seems to me that a long-term view often cuts through the BS.


Blogger sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Don't stop! I like your books. :)

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I loved running but my physical ability to run didn't last long so I would recommend that you do it while you can. Of course, theoretically, you can run at any age, but if you develop anything -- like a bad back -- that doesn't respond well to repetitive stress it's about over. Running is great because you can feel good just by finishing a race and the vast majority of runners are only competing with themselves.

Now I could imagine myself quitting writing. There was a time when I wrote incessantly. I had to write, even if I didn't have a thing to say I had to put words down on paper. (Yeah, I mean put words down on actual paper....that's how long ago it was) Anymore, though, if I don't have anything to say, I don't feel a need to write. It doesn't strike me as desireable to try to spin something out of nothing. So I can conceive someday not ever having anything to say and thus not writing. Unlikely.

Less unlikely than ceasing to write is ceasing to write with an eye on publication. Up until about fifteen years ago I wrote almost excusively for fun. Wrote essays and mini-comics and things that coudln't have been published and weren't intended to be. I like to think I am writing things a few people will read. However, there is a balance there, some sort of forula involving factors such as how likely publication might be, how closely I can adhere to what I want to write to achieve a certain percentage of possibility of publication. There is some point where seeking publication makes sense and makes the act of writing more enjoyable and some other point where seeking publication futilely, or by writing what I don't want to write, takes all the fun out of writing. So, yeah, if I came to that point, I can see myself "quitting." Right now we've got over 30,000 words of the new mystery done so I haven't neared that point yet.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

Yes, we do think you're full of it when you consider quitting. :-P

I loved Taekwondo more than anything else I've ever done in my whole life, and yet there were still periods where my motivation flagged. My motivation to write has flagged a bit lately. It's sorta perplexing. I guess for awhile, my number one goal was to write full-time, and now my number one goal is to build a family. So the writing is suffering, which is disturbing me.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...


10:19 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

2 things.

1. I think we might be discussing a corollary to "use it or lose it," to whit: "use it before you lose it." I occasionally ride with my uber-jock friend Mark W. and he also runs and has done triathlons and run marathons, but he's also had back/neck surgery and sort of feels that the running causes an awful lot of problems. He's adjusted his biking so his neck doesn't seem to bother him, but when you start getting into issues like that you start wondering just how long you're going to be able to have your fun before your body says "no way."

2. One of the most promising things I see about the e-book self-publishing (and its corollaries, CreateSpace and Lightning Source for POD) is that the overhead is so low and you can, in fact, control pricing (not so much with the PODs), that you can say, "Well, it's weird and nobody will publish it because it's so weird, but I think I'll write it anyway and price it at $2.99 and put it out for Kindle and voila, you get readers and maybe some cash in your bank account."

10:23 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Well, yeah, you see through my BS pretty well. As for motivation, that's probably true for everything, I guess. Sometimes I think the key is to just keep grinding it out safe in the knowledge that if you hang in there you'll get your enthusiasm back (most of the time)

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Kate Sterling said...

Wow, there seems to be a lot of this "to quit or not to quit" stuff going on lately. I've been struggling with it all day, popped over to Natasha Fondron's blog and she mentioned it (and linked to you)... must be something in the air. :)

5:56 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I am pretty content working on my mommy memoir (as well as a couple of fiction proposals) right now . . . But with the mommy memoir, I don't know that I will seek publication, or if I would self-publish it, or just save it for my kids. And so I guess my answer is a bit like Eric's . . . that I can see quitting writing for publication--a sort of "if it happens, great, if not . . ." thing. I don't know. I was telling Jon Van Zile that my Magickeepers books have sold really well, sold through, bring me royalty checks every six months (plus I had a decent advance) . . . I have traveled for signings, been a paid speaker because of them, done tons of school events, but if I add up all the TIME, I don't know that it was a financial windfall for me. On the other hand, I have had more fun interacting with kid fans than in anything else I've done writing-wise. So the INTANGIBLES of that book, in essence, as well as the tangible beauty of a hardcover series so pretty to look at, and so on . . . makes it seem worthwhile to me.

A friend called me the other day. Unpublished writer. He asked if becoming a published writer as a dream was like being 35 and still thinking you might one day play for the Yankees. Like your guitar analogy . . . will you start touring with Van Halen? Not likely, so why do it? But therein lies that zen question. What brings you joy? What gives you a sense of self-satisfaction and purpose?

5:40 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

P.S. And we do know you are full of shit when you say you are going to quit writing fiction. :-)

5:41 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

"He asked if becoming a published writer as a dream was like being 35 and still thinking you might one day play for the Yankees."

Well, probably more likely to happen, but less likely to result in a million dollar contract.

12:08 PM  

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