The Impossible Dream: what keeps you from giving up?

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If you were on Google’s home page anytime Wednesday, you will have noticed the German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz’s 155th birthday was being celebrated by Google, who turned its logo into an undulating frequency wave.

Heinrich Rudolf Hertz

What I didn’t know about Hertz was that he died without realizing the significance of his research.

Wikipedia says, “While his discoveries would eventually lead to the inventions of the wireless telegraph, radio and television, Hertz didn’t realize the importance of his work at the time. After an experiment that helped establish the photoelectric effect, he commented that, ‘It’s of no use whatsoever.’”

He died at age 36, and it wasn’t until thirty-six years later that the hertz was established as a standard unit of measurement.

As writers, we sometimes downplay the importance of our efforts. We write,  revise and refine with the ultimate goal of publication, but we realistically understand that it’s a dream that might be beyond our reach. And, like Hertz, there are days when we feel justified in saying, “It’s crap… no use whatsoever.”

The thing is, just like Hertz, some writers never live to see the success of their endeavours. There are many books published posthumously that go on to great success — The Trial by Franz Kafka, Queen: The Story of an American Family by Alex Haley, Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf, The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson, and The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien – to name a few.

Consider what the world of literature would have missed if these writers had given in to the despair that is typical when the internal critic creeps in under the radar and sabotages morale — if they had destroyed those manuscripts instead of allowing them to collect dust on a shelf somewhere. Or if they had completely given up on writing before ever finishing the first draft.

There are undoubtedly many excellent writers who never see their dreams realized, not because they couldn’t find a publisher, but because they stopped too soon — stopped writing, stopped querying, stopped dreaming.

Are you ever tempted to throw in the towel … to give up writing and find something else on which to focus your time and energy? If you aren’t, what would you say to encourage those who are?

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12 thoughts on “The Impossible Dream: what keeps you from giving up?

  1. This is beautifully written, insightful, and very motivating, especially now, where I feel as if I’m in free fall with my project It’s like between season’s, where you can’t seem to plant your foot in any direction, and all you have is some undercurrent or tide moving you along toward spring, but you’re never sure if, no matter what your plans, the tide will bring you where you want to be.
    To encourage others I would say read this article!

  2. Keli Gwyn says:

    The writing life can be challenging at times but so rewarding at others. My best counsel for those who are feeling discouraged is to let go of the expectations. We may be eager for a contest win, an agent’s offer of representation, or a contract offer, but much of the process is out of our hands. We can learn to do our part–learning craft, writing great stories, creating compelling synopses–but we can’t make a judge, agent, or editor take us on. While we’re waiting, we can pour ourselves into our projects, do our best to enjoy the process, and trust that the Lord knows the desires of our hearts and wants what’s best for us.

  3. Judith Robl says:

    Throwing in the towel is tempting when the odds seem overwhelming. I’ve discovered that I can “throw in the towel” for about a week before my fingers start itching for the keys and my characters start a mob movement in my brain. They can be most unruly.

    When discouraged, I indulge in a two- or three-day pity party and focus on other things. By the end of that time, My writing itch is again begging to be scratched.

    Great post! Makes one do some soul searching about whether our writing is about spreading God’s word and perspective — or simply about self-aggrandizement. Thank you.

  4. I like this post. I like the comments you have received. Keli’s comment makes such sense. She’s a practical lady who knows how to plod along steadily trusting that her Guide will get her where she needs to be. Thank you all. I feel encouraged. Blessings to you, Carol.

  5. Carol, the only encouragement we can offer those who are at a point they want to quit is to redirect their negative engergy. Look at those in history who have overcome tremendous odds to succeed. Can’t we at least do them the honor of staying true to ourself?

  6. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I’m never tempted to give up writing. The pursuit of publishing is a different matter. But I say, if one really wants to stop, it’s okay to stop. If you really want to write, you probably won’t be able to stop for long; it will produce its own motivation.

    Stopping and continuing should be based on one’s own inner drive, more than external judgments. There are just way too many examples of people who succeeded after being told they wouldn’t!

  7. joylene says:

    His photo is a reminder of how difficult and stressful those times were. He looks much older than 36. Thanks for clarifying his gifts, Carol. It’s nice to remember why and how we got here. I couldn’t quit what I’m doing. I don’t expect to make the impact Hertz did, but even so I’m enjoying myself too much.

  8. careann says:

    I’m so glad this post has resonated with many of you. Like Jenn, I’ve never been tempted to give up writing, but I appreciate Keli‘s reminder that much of the journey towards publication is out of our control. Recognizing that we can’t elbow our way into print makes it easier to accept how important it is to focus on doing our part… learning, growing and producing the best writing we can, and then putting it out where it can be seen. What happens after that is up to God.

  9. I recently did a series of four posts about this subject. What brought me to the brink was the seemingly endless journey to publication, negative self-talk, and sheer weariness.

    With God’s help, I bounced back and am moving forward once again.

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