Sometimes It’s Okay to Give Up

For those of you following the saga of the smart bulbs, Cathy and I ended up buying an Echo Dot, and last night we were able to get it to recognize and control two of our bulbs, but not the other two. This afternoon, after a visit to Best Buy and some internet research, I was able to get Alexa to recognize the other two bulbs, but I’m not sure she was able to connect them to our network. We’ll find out this evening when we have the bulbs scheduled to come on.

All of this is to say, we’ve expended a lot of time and energy with these bulbs, and we’re still not sure we’ve succeeded. Such is the way of writing so much of the time. Day in and day out, we labor. Sometimes we feel we’re doing well, and sometimes it’s as if we’re chiseling into stone, a laborious process that we hope will yield results.

As unyielding as the process may be, there’s always hope with each piece we attempt that the journey will take us where we’re meant to be. But what if it never does? I’m here to tell you that sometimes it’s not only permissible, but also the smart choice, to give up.  File that story or essay or novel or poem away and maybe return to it somewhere down the road. I have more than a few novels that will never see the light of day as well as some stories and essays. I don’t consider them failures. I think of them as what I had to write so I could write the next thing. No writing is without its merit because all writing deepens our understanding of craft. It can even open material we didn’t know we had. For instance, I have a novel that never got published, and it’s a good thing it didn’t. That book had the germ for the novel that did get published, The Bright Forever, that ended up being finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. If I’d published the first manuscript, I likely wouldn’t have written The Bright Forever. I wasn’t quite ready to write that book. Sometimes we must live with our material a while before trying to give shape to it on the page.

We’ll see about these smart bulbs just as we’ll see about all the projects we attempt. We’ll hope for illumination, but if it doesn’t come, we’ll glean the things that did work in the writing and turn them into gold in other things we write. We should never judge ourselves based on any single thing we attempt to write. A writer’s journey is more than just a single book or essay or story or poem. A writer’s career is a life-long apprenticeship. Each thing we try to write teaches us something, and we’d be smart to never forget that.

And now just for fun, as I enter my spring break week, here’s something I posted on FB nine years ago today:

Please listen closely as my options have changed:

If you’d like to publish my story collection, press 1.

If you’d like to publish my novel, press 2.

If you’d like to give me a contract based on a few pages of another novel, press 3.

If you’d like to have these options repeated, please stand on one leg and cluck like a chicken. Someone will be with you shortly.


  1. Cyndi Pauwels on March 14, 2022 at 10:53 am

    Re: those pesky bulbs, from someone (not me!) who’s apparently fought the same issue:

    “A while back, we’d been having some issues, so we called our internet provider who installed a new modem and router that put us on a 5G network. When our smart bulbs started having problems, we. . .well, let’s just say we went through the frustrations that led to the title of this post. Our smart bulbs just weren’t that smart anymore because, as we learned, they need a 2.4G band to operate properly.”

    • Lee Martin on March 16, 2022 at 11:23 am

      Cyndi, we had to take the bulbs to the part of the house farthest from the router to get the Echo to recognize them. Progress!

  2. ryder ziebarth on March 14, 2022 at 11:55 am

    As a gardener and a writer, I’ve learned that words are like perennials–they always return, but are allowed to lay fallow, can be turned into compost to later bring new life, or be transplanted to rise to their full potential. Nature is a wonderful lifelong teacher. It’s in the garden I realize ” To everything, there is a season…”

    • Lee Martin on March 16, 2022 at 11:22 am

      I love the gardening metaphor, Ryder. Yes, sometimes our writing needs that dormancy in order to bloom at a later date. Happy gardening!

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