I’m stubborn. I finish the projects I start. And I’m one of those rare souls who welcomes constructive criticism. Yet, as I stared at the latest beta reader feedback for the book my heart had been crying out to write, I couldn’t identify any consistencies or trends. All my beta readers disagreed on my book’s strengths and weaknesses. Worse, unlike my earlier books, no one gushed that they were excited for this sequel to be published.
What did I do? I whined to anyone who would listen. I enlisted a few more betas. I may have cried. Then I told myself I would stop writing. Dramatic? Nope, because I had reasons. Good ones!
- No one cares about the stories I write.
- This feedback is garbage—why am I bothering?
- Sales are so stagnant that I might as well give up.
- Another bad review. Everyone hates my work.
Sound familiar? I’m far from the only writer to wrestle with these destructive doubts that do our readers no favors—especially when they’re waiting on the next book! So, how can we persevere when we’re tempted to throw our stories into a bonfire?
1. Create a Praise File
When quitting seems like the best path, don’t dwell on the developmental editing comments. Those will be there later when you’re ready, I promise. Focus on praise instead—the five-star reviews (even the ones that are overwrought compliments), the email from the beta reader who’s impatient to see the final version, and the chats with your critique partner where she admires your character arcs and antagonist’s backstory.
Fortunately, even though I struggled with the feedback I received on Shattered Honor, it was the third book in my series. Rereading people’s lovely remarks about the other two books was a lifesaver. I knew who my biggest fans were, and they were always handy to encourage me.
Don’t have a praise file? Start one. Think you don’t have anything worthy of storing in it? Even a single sentence expressing fondness for your protagonist is a wonderful start. And remember that some of your most avid readers won’t ever voice how much your writing has touched their hearts.
2. Just Keep Writing
Note that I’m talking about writing—not editing, querying, or marketing. Continue putting words on paper, even if you don’t plan to share the piece. This will help you determine whether your desire to quit is a temporary crisis or more permanent. Once I decided that no one but my critique partner would read Shattered Honor, the fear of judgment disappeared, and I finished writing it sooner than I’d expected.
Can’t even stand looking at your book? Try another form of writing—short stories if you’re used to novels, or poetry if prose is your thing. Refill the creative well. Fall in love with the characters and storytelling one more time without all the pressure that follows the first draft.
However, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t set aside a specific project, or even writing, for a season. Life happens, and books sometimes create more problems than they’re worth. Discerning which projects are better left unfinished is a skill every writer needs to learn. But when we let fear drive that decision, we risk missing out on the greatest story of all.
3. Ask Why You’re Writing
If you need to provide for yourself or your family, the commitment will be easy—you write, no matter how difficult it seems at the moment. But what if you don’t? What if you’ve reached the point where every word you type sounds wrong and you believe no one will ever care?
I had no idea why I was working on a book. I’ve always been vocal about not wanting to write for a living, but along with freedom, that brings questions and self-doubt. Why finish a challenging book when I didn’t need to?
This is when we should have a heart-to-heart conversation with ourselves. Are we writing for our own glory? If so, recognize that it’s going to be a hard slog, and quitting won’t resolve anything. Is it for fun? To kill time? Then why all the stress? Remind yourself that you’re getting to know the characters and enjoying watching a story develop. Is it because the voices won’t leave you alone? That’s unfixable aside from listening to them and finishing the book.
Is this another trite piece of advice? Some would argue yes, because we aren’t guaranteed the answer we want—or even an answer at all. But return to the reason you’re writing. Does it please and honor God? That’s a sufficient motive no matter how frustrated we are. Or maybe you aren’t searching for the solution to a plot problem. Maybe you’re seeking forgiveness (I know I’ve made many mistakes in my writing life!) or comfort. Maybe you just need someone to hear you.
I shelved Shattered Honor more than once. But, despite all the setbacks and fear, it’s finished, edited, and releasing tomorrow, June 18th. It won’t let me quit my job, but if my fans are happy and God is glorified through my writing—what more can I hope for from a book?
Anne Wheeler grew up with her nose in a book but earned two degrees in aviation before it occurred to her that she was allowed to write her own. When not working, moving, or writing her next novel, she can be found planning her next escape to the desert—camera gear included. Anne is the author of the space opera series Shadows of War. She currently lives in Georgia with her husband, son, and herd of cats.