Our kitten, Stanley, has a jealous streak. If our older cat, Stella, is getting our attention, he wants it, too. If Stella occupies a space on a chair or the cat tree, he thinks that space must be his. Sometimes, Stella lets him have it, vacating her perch; at other times, she really lets him have it, smacking him with her paw. The other night, she hurt his feelings, and he spent quite some time under a chair trying to repair his damaged ego.
So it is with writers. We want and want. We want recognition. We want publications, we want awards. We want validation. Sometimes we get it, but lots of times we don’t. Somebody smacks us down with a big paw and we’re left to wallow in self-pity. Over the course of a career, how many books, stories, essays, poems, etc. don’t we write because we’ve wasted so many hours, days, weeks, and god forbid, even years, moaning about how unfair the publishing world has been to us? Oh, sure, it’s true that rejection can stop us cold from time to time, leading to self-doubt and often paralyzing our writing. We start to question why we’re even trying to write when we gather so many more “no’s” than “yeses.” We question our talents. We question our commitment. We question our resolve. We think about quitting. When we reach that point, here’s the question we should ask ourselves: “Will it be easy to walk away?” Of course, it’s a question about the place writing plays in our lives. Can we separate ourselves from the work and feel whole, or will not writing leave the other kind of hole, a great emptiness because we miss the activity that used to fill that space?
Remember that old saying about trying to give up smoking? I can quit; I just can’t stay quit. Or, as Mark Twain once said, Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times. If you can walk away from writing and be happy, I wish you well. If the pain of not writing is greater than the pain of disappointment, then why stop doing what you love to do? Writing itself will be its own reward whether validation comes to you or not. I bet, though, the validation probably will come to you because repeated practice combined with persistence often creates the results we seek. And if the validation never comes, writing will always give you certain benefits. For one thing, writing will allow you to engage with the world around you in ways that will benefit you emotionally and intellectually. Writing will also increase your power of empathy; it will open you to the world and the people around you. While writing, you’ll feel joy and pain and all the other emotions people feel. Writing will usually make you more human and also more humane.
There are so many other reasons to keep practicing your craft, but chief among them is the fact that writing has become a part of your identity. We are what we do. If you can see that, I’m not sure why you’d ever want to stop. Why would you want to deny that part of who you are? Unless the act of writing has become painful for you, keep going. Writing can make us better people, and doesn’t the world always need a few more?