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Writing's End?

edited February 2020 in - Writing Problems
They always say "never give up" but, when you've been writing for around 32 years and success is as elusive as ever, isn't it time to face reality?

Recently, this realisation dawned on me when I thought suddenly of all the writing and numerous submissions I've done.  We all know what we're up against (unless we're starters) but I should have got somewhere by now.  It seems  that Fate is telling me I'm deluded and should turn to something else.  What that is, I have no idea because I thought that writing was the only thing I did well.  

I'm not writing at the moment and have found it particularly difficult to get started over the last year or so but I did think of submitting something to a digital publishing company as a last push.  Unfortunately, I can't work up any enthusiasm to do something that would probably end with nothing, as usual.  It seems I'm beating my head against a brick wall.

Some Talkbackers will have experience of being published digitally.  If so, what was your experience of the mechanics of it and did it result in any interest from book publishers or literary agents?  Apparently, this is the way some writers are taken up.

This post is rather whingey so I'll finish it with a literary joke.  No.  Can't think of one.


  • Do you mean self-publishing? I wasn't sure if that's what you meant as there are publishers who do digital first and if the book does well, then do a print version too.
  • I don't say never give up. Whether or not you choose to write is up to you. If it is not making  you happy then by all means give up.

    However, there are many reasons for writing. You might just enjoy the process, it might be therapeutic, you might write for friends and family. Or you might think the whole shebang is a pointless waste of time if no one is going to read it (I am definitely the latter for my stories, not for my poems). Whether or not you continue depends on why you are writing.

    There are people here who can answer your other questions better than me. However, digital publishing is still publishing, unless you are talking about self publishing. In some cases their requirements are less stringent because the investment in an author is lower. Digital publishers may then decide to publish in print depending on the different parts of their publishing house. This happened to a friend of mine.

    Self publishing can also sometimes lead to a 'traditional' publishing deal (50 shades of grey!) but I believe this to be very rare.
  • Firstly, if you really want to give up writing then there's no reason why you should continue. People give up jobs, hobbies, sports and all kinds of other things for all kinds of reasons.

    Secondly, if you do decide to give up, you can change your mind and start again.

    Thirdly, is it the writing or the lack of success which is bothering you? 

    If you love writing but hate the rejections, you could stop submitting and write just for your own amusement – possibly sharing your work online.

    If you're not that keen on the writing, but want to be 'successful' then you probably are ... deluded isn't the right word as you clearly realise it's not easy, but you're likely to be disappointed.
  • Have you thought about joining a group?

    Maybe finding a writing buddy would help?

    Can only echo above comments. Why are you writing?  Is it because you want to? Carry on then if you want to.  Stop if you don't. 

  • A buddy would certainly help. You would motivate each other and new ideas and opportunities will present themselves. I check-in with mine every Monday and it helps keep me focused on where I want to get. 

    Fiction's a notoriously hard nut to crack. Have you thought about creative non-fiction where you can combine elements of each?  
  • 32 years? Do you mean you have published NOTHING in that time? Or just that no-one has shown a further interest? When you say "  If so, what was your experience of the mechanics of it and did it result in any interest from book publishers or literary agents? " it surprises me, because publishers and literary agents do not need to express an interest, they have way too many things in their post bag already. The only way they would express an interest in your writing is if you sent it to them. Have you sent stuff to them on a consistent basis? Have you had your writing assessed by an independent expert for analysis? Have you joined a writing group (who have experience) to get good feedback on what you do write (this can be invaluable). Have you gone on any courses? We are all still learning as we pootle along our way, writing better prose or poetry, the learning what is better and how to do it never ends. It's one of things I like about writing. But I have been extremely lucky and got lucky with being published. I was published after going on several writing courses with experts and expert tuition. But I would't have improved quickly without doing an MA which upped my game somewhat. The feedback from fellow MA-ers was crucial in my development as a writer. I recommend everyone does this, has a mentor group... i do hope you recover your mojo...
  • I've been asking the same question for a few years now. I've written 12 books, five of which have been published and none of which has made any significant money.

    Every time I feel the itch to write a new novel, the voice in my head tells me that it's not going to get published and that I'll be wasting months of work only to be disappointed. 

    But I keep on writing books because it's the most intellectually and creatively fulfilling experience I know. My friends tell me I should write something more commercial (I tend to veer towards "difficult literary") but there'd be no pleasure in that for me. It'd be easy, but it'd be like work – just cranking out stuff I have no feeling for. And there's still no guarantee of success.

    I wrote my most recent novel just for myself. Around 73,000 words of moody, gothic metaphor and adventurous prose, salted with vocabulary that would make the OED choke, and it's the best work I've ever done. It is currently in the process of being rejected by agents because it's never going to be a bestseller. 

    My last book was published by a very small independent publisher and has, to date, sold around 90 copies due to an almost total lack of marketing. I received no advance for it. The reviews are stellar. Readers love it – and not just my friends, who haven't actually read it. But no large publisher wanted to touch it.

    Now I'm itching to write a new book but I'm struggling to commit because I know how it's going to end: months or years of being rejected and then not read. I'll probably do it anyway because I've started to accept that this is what writers do. All I ever wanted was to get better and better as a writer. Writing novels makes that happen.

  • GeraldQ said:
    My friends tell me I should write something more commercial ... 
    but there'd be no pleasure in that for me. It'd be easy, but it'd be like work – just cranking out stuff I have no feeling for. And there's still no guarantee of success.

    I suspect you might not find it all that easy anyway. 

    I don't mean it's more difficult than what you currently write, or that you're not a good enough writer – just that it's different. 

  • Liz said:
    32 years? Do you mean you have published NOTHING in that time? ...

    I thought long and hard about posting this, but the above really made me wince.
    In fairness, the rest of your post was helpful, Liz, but why did you have to say 'nothing' in capital letters? Don't you realise how diminishing that might make her feel?

  • No. Didn't occur to me at all. sorry. I didn't imagine it was true. 
  • I've been thinking about this - I wonder Foxglove if you have done any writing courses where you write in every genre. On the course I did we had to start at baby books and work our way up taking in other genres as well as age-groups, for instance we had to write a short Sc-fi piece. It might be that you are writing only what you want to write, but I thought I'd mention one of the bloke on the course. He was writing off course, and in the pieces he brought to be critiqued, for v young children. They were always just a little bit 'off'.. they were VERY funny, but they weren't quite right. then we got to the part of course where we had to write for teenagers. Hie piece was startlingly good, it took my breath away. i suggested he write his final piece for teens and he did, and in fact he is now well-published as a teen writer. You can clearly write, the posts you write on here are never boring and you write well, so it might be something as simple as that. 
  • Thank you for all these comments.  I'm very stuck for time but will answer more fully as soon as I can. (Library)
  • edited February 2020
    Thank you all for taking the trouble to give me the benefit of your opinions and experience. 

    Yes, it may seem surprising, or even pathetic that I haven't had anything published in the time I've been writing and I've actually been writing for over 32 years if you count the time I spent dabbling from my teens until I started taking it seriously.   Still, my thoughts are probably similar to many others', who are also doubting themselves. 

    After some thought, I realise that I write to communicate ideas, mainly about human relationships, using the understanding that age and experience have brought me.  i do it also for the satisfaction of having written and for recognition.

    This doesn't mean fame but acknowledgement as an effective writer and, hopefully, for at least a moderate level of readership that might enjoy what I do.  This means I need publication.  I wouldn't have gained much satisfaction from writing just for myself.  As for family members, they know that I write but not what I write.  This may be unusual among Talkbackers and unpublished writers in general but I'd spill the beans only if I were about to be published.  I think the reason for this is that I don't want the reaction that might follow, especially if it involved their expressed doubt, or even kindly-meant encouragement.  Publication would give me a solid backing to reveal all and wouldn't tempt providence.

    To answer Liz's point, by "expressing an interest", I meant agents or publishers expressing an interest in taking the book on from seeing the success of an e-book.

    The thought of rejection has never bothered me.  If it did, I wouldn't have kept going for as long as I have, (apart from a break of about 6 years).  I believe I'm fairly versatile, having written fiction with both modern and historical settings and with young and old protagonists but there's a suggestion that I could try other genres.  There may be a few people who can write against their inclination but I would find this impossible.

    As far as joining a group or using a "buddy" is concerned, this wouldn't appeal to me for various reasons - and wouldn't taking a course mean being taught to write to a formula?

    Baggy has mentioned creative non-fiction, which I believe is otherwise known as "narrative non-fiction".  A while ago I read a book that came into that category and, if it's typical, it's not something I would consider doing because it contained a lot of factual information that had been thrown in for its own sake, rather than because it was relevant to the real-life story it was telling.

    I did, however, once write a novel that was a fictionalised account of something that happened in the early 17th century.  This followed all relevant facts very closely, with little that needed to be invented and almost all its characters were people who had actually existed.  I wrote it to tell the full story and bring its characters to life.  I'm particularly proud of this novel.  A publisher asked to see the full typescript - the only time this has happened - and, although they praised my writing in their reply, they rejected the book anyway.

    I once sent another novel to be assessed and found this to be a waste of money.  The report was no help whatsoever for the following reasons:

    it was padded out with extracts from another writer's work, which I can only think was supposed to convey something to me but what this was I've no idea because it was unrelated to what I had actually sent.

    The report said nothing at all about my style.  Surely, the rhythm of sentences, the choice of vocabulary, and the pace of the story are just as important as content?  They do contribute to a good read.

    it criticised twice the fact that certain incidents happened at the beginning of the novel, when they had actually been in the final two chapters.  How such a howler could have been made is unfathomable.

    there was no final verdict; no grading or mark.

    I shredded the report for its worthlessness.

    Despite my own thoughts, I'd tell GeraldQ to take heart.  Writing is never a waste of time.  As he implies himself, practice improves the skill.  Regular polish increases the shine.

    As I've said once before, I believe it's what I write that's the problem, not how I write - but I can't change this.  I've looked into self-publishing and it might still be possible but I lean more towards digital-first publishing and will be looking at companies that were mentioned recently in an article.  If that works out, fine.  If not, I'll be waiting for a thunderbolt to strike my mind with a brilliant idea of publishable length before I write again.

    Liz was kind enough to say I was never boring.  I hope that applies to this post!

  • To answer one point "As far as joining a group or using a "buddy" is concerned, this wouldn't appeal to me for various reasons - and wouldn't taking a course mean being taught to write to a formula?" No, not at all. Variety of plot, style, and voice are celebrated, at least, have been on any course I've been on. The only things which are the same are the need for a story arc that has significant events in the correct places and things like that - which will be different for each person's novel. You'd have to make sure the person you were using had excellent credentials. I was so lucky as the first person I went to was a writer in Writing Magazine. It was luck because I knew nothing about writing whatsoever, it was a course someone took me to to get me writing more. 

    The place you sent your noel sounds awful... they are not all like that! I got back an in-depth analysis, and now i can see that everything about what I had written was wrong... however, the analysis probably went in at some level to inform further writing. 

    I can respect that you feel that going on a course etc is not for you, you don't mention all the reasons - but I would say, learning more about what you are doing, gaining a deeper knowledge, that should never end until you die. I go to retreats every year and learn form my poetry peers, I learn form them by conversation and asking and reading wha they have written and by reading articles and by trying new things and by reading books about writing. It's the only way to improve and improving is the route to success for anyone. i'm not suggesting you in particular need to improve - i'm saying we all do, we need to keep our ears open and our mind pen and our writing hand ready to what is in the wind and the the cultural bias of the time to imbibe what will sell or is needed or wanted etc. Getting published is not just about writing well. I spend a lot of time researching what is needed in a school and fitting what i want to write and how i write into a proposal for a publisher. It's part of the role of a writer. 

    And no, your post did not bore me!
  • Nor did it bore me!

    I see creative non-fiction articles in magazines where they're written to a theme as an on-going series. The events are manipulated to become more readable in a lighter way. It's something to explore for any writer looking to develop a market.

    What about fillers for magazines? Maggie's book would be a good start (and you'd earn from anything published):

  • Not being published is certainly not pathetic. It is a very competitive market and many, many people will never be published. I hope you manage to find your path to what you want to achieve, but if you don't, then at least you tried, unlike all the people who intend to do something and never do anything but talk about it. The writing is an achievement in itself. Never pathetic x
  • Yes, totally agree. 
  • I think most writers get demoralised every once in a while. After all, most of what we write doesn't see the light of day!

    Maybe digital publishing is the way forward for you; you really have nothing to lose by trying that avenue. I'm sure you realise, though, that getting your writing seen comes down to the right sort of marketing and also being a bit of a social media floozie! Authors are now expected to do a great deal of the legwork.

    If you haven't yet got involved with the likes of Twitter and Facebook, for example, it might be worth considering taking a look. Both have interaction from the writing community and, over time, making inroads into this community will bring you extra support when you need it. Certainly, on Twitter, there are lots of challenges for writers to get involved with. There are various hashtags providing writing prompts - and through these, you may get feedback on your writing. On FB, there are writing groups dedicated to various genres, so you may well find an audience for the type of thing you write.

    You will also come across many more avenues to get your work seen if you follow the right organisations. There are now many publishers who provide opportunities for online publication. The Cabinet of Heed, for example, is highly thought of and publishes some excellent stuff; they are also very supportive in sharing it across social media. Of course, you need your own followers first in order to flaunt any successes - otherwise you are just throwing links out into the ether!

    Maybe enter a few competitions, too... Even longlisting is to be celebrated. 

    And self-publishing is now such a popular option for many writers; don't disregard it. If you can get your words in print, then you can do all sorts with it - sell at local fairs, donate to cafes and libraries, give as gifts, do readings.

    If you still love writing, then you are not at the end of the line. The line is very, very long...
  • If your reluctance to find a group or writing buddy are to do with things such as travel, or difficulties over suitable timing or anything else about physically meeting another person, or group of people, you might like to consider doing this online. That has the advantage that you can get involved from home and at a time to suit you – it's also more likely you'll find people writing in your genre and who you'll get along with.

  • A lot of this resonates with me, especially the part about writing and submitting for years without success, but I can't give it up.
    So I've self published, and post flash fiction on my blog and Twitter. The comments on social media are some validation, do perhaps you might give those a whirl?
  • I wouldn't say that doing a course invites you to write to a formula. I've spent many years teaching writing, including at a university, and I'd say the best courses teach you how think about writing and apply lessons in your own manner.

    One important thing to remember is that "writing" embodies many different skills, all of which are necessary for a chance of success. For example:

    1) Craft. Learning dialogue, description, narrative etc is actually the easiest part of writing and can be done by anyone, I believe.

    2) Structure. Once you can write, knowing how to create a workable story or novel is a different skill to the actual writing. Many writers never quite learn this.

    3) Editing. The ability to see one's own work from a dispassionate distance and correct it to a professional standard is even rarer.

    4) Willpower. The most difficult thing of all is to write every day and keep going no matter what other distractions or disappointments occur. Even the most talented writers won't produce anything without this skill.
  • The landscape is constantly changing with new opportunities waiting for you.
  • GeraldQ said:
    The most difficult thing of all is to write every day 
    That's far too difficult for me! 

    Personally I think it's better to take breaks now and then. 
  • I've been very interested in what has been said above.  

    As has been mentioned by Liz and Phots Moll, online writing groups might help.  Strange though this may seem though, I don't think I'd want to use social media for this.  So many people's lives seem to revolve round them these days and I don;t want to get fixated by them. Also,  I'm not yet online at home, which is a practical problem, although this situation might change before too long.  If  were to be self-published, I would want to have a website, though, for publicity, and a blog if I had enough to say.  Also, I certainly wouldn't find Tiny Nell's distribution tips a problem.

    I've read several "how-to" books over the years and these have helped a bit and I always follow GeraldQ's tip on achieving a dispassionate distance.  I do this by following the rule of always putting the draft aside for a while, so that I can judge it better when I go back to it.

    To answer Tiny Nell's suggestion. I've entered a couple of competitions but got nowhere.  I am, though, considering doing this again, after everything I've said.  Only yesterday,  I had what i think is a workable idea for a short story - and I don't normally write short stories!  I'll look into entering this for the Bridport Prize.  As has been said, it would useful to get a longlisting.

  • Not wishing to burst any bubbles, but if you haven't written many short stories Bridport is a very high level comp to be entering. They have thousands of entries and even getting on the longlist is aspirational for many published writers. I'm not saying you can't do it, just that maybe a few smaller comps first would be more likely to be more encouraging for you.
  • edited March 2020
    Have you read any Bridport anthologies, Foxglove? Because unless you are familiar with the type of stories that make the Bridport, I have to agree with Heather. You need to be able to write very high quality literary fiction for the Bridport. Since you've already said you don't normally write short stories I'd say (with great respect) that you probably aren't experienced enough in short literary fiction. I'd go for something more mainstream. The Writing Magazine comps are a good place to start. 
  • Agree wholeheartedly about the Bridport! It's the crème de la crème of writing comps!! Very difficult to get any sort of placement there, but certainly think about some smaller contests.

    As regards a website and a blog - good idea, but if you don't use social media, it might be difficult to get an audience.
  • re Gerald's comment:

    3) Editing. The ability to see one's own work from a dispassionate distance and correct it to a professional standard is even rarer.

    Dispassionate distance is one thing. Correcting to professional standard is another. This is the most important thing I was taught to do on the MA I did. I didn't realise it at the time. It's much harder than any other step. 
  • I've just read this in William Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

    I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. 
  • *steals for own headstone*
  • Heather, Claudia, and Tiny Nell -   I hadn't looked at it like that.  I realise, of course, the size of the competition you're up against with the Bridport.  Is it really so prestigious, though?.  I did once submit a novel to it but with no result.  I haven't read any anthologies.  I intend to start the story this afternoon, then decide what to do with it.  It's a question of getting noticed.

    I like the that quote, Gerald Q.  Creativity of any kind is a wonderful thing.  I once heard someone on the telly say something similar. "If you've created something new that wasn't there before, you've had a very successful life." 
  • edited March 2020
    Yes, Bridport is prestigious and very hard to get a listing in. About 100 are listed out of more than 2000 entries each year. I'm not saying I am a better writer than you, but I do have quite a bit of experience. I have had more than 200 stories published and had many competition listings and placings. I have entered the Bridport short story prize many times and have never been listed. ( I did well with a flash once but that is a different category.)
    It is of course entirely possible that you do well even though you don't write many
    short stories. It is however not very likely. You must go ahead and do what you think is best but if you do enter it please don't be disheartened if you get nowhere. Most entrants will be in the same boat!
  • Foxglove said:
    Heather, Claudia, and Tiny Nell -   I hadn't looked at it like that.  I realise, of course, the size of the competition you're up against with the Bridport.  Is it really so prestigious, though?.  
    Yes, it is.
  • By coincidence, the SoA lunch's speaker today was from the Bridport. I cancelled my ticket because of other commitments – although I agree with the other comments about the competition. 

  • Do you subscribe to any writing magazines, Foxglove? They usually run competitions, or give information about competitions. To get an idea of the standard, I find it useful to read the winning entries. I got my copy of Mslexia today. Lots to chew over there!
  • The current issue of Writing Mag is the comp special. 
  • Foxglove - I'm lucky enough to write for two publishers one a big one and one a small one and I still get fed up writing at times. I'm also a musician and have some songs out there in collaboration with others and on my own and on occasions i get fed up doing that too!! 

    It comes as part and parcel of the creative process - I don't make much money doing either of these things and have to work full time at something else. it's hard to reassure you that one day you'll get published or that one day you'll make your fortune writing. The former is more likely than the latter and perhaps you need to take a break rather than give up altogether - maybe take a few months off and see how you feel about it.

    I view writing as a hobby and don't take it that seriously - in fact I find it quite amusing when I get emails from my publisher chasing me for stuff as if it's the most important thing in the world because to me it's not so perhaps I have a healthy dis-respect for the whole process. It;s not that  don't care, I do but for me it's about the process as much as it is about the finished product and if it all came to an end I'd probably go down the self-publishing route if I had to. So in summary, I'd give you two pieces of advice, take a bit of time out. I did that a few years ago when it felt like everything was not working out and secondly, maybe consider self-publishing?

  • I might also add that a failure to get anything published in 30-odd years suggests that something might be wrong. It could be that the basic craft isn't up to a professional standard, or that there's a failure to understand what the market wants.

    Competition, as other people have said, is harsh. But talent will win in the end, even if that doesn't translate into money.

    It's also difficult to get good feedback, but it might be a good idea to get a professional opinion on the work. In my experience, most writers can experience a dramatic improvement in craft if all of the basic errors or faults are eradicated in one swoop. I've only met one writer who proved utterly impervious to improvement.
  • Always look on the bright side of life
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