Quitting or Letting Go? Tall Drink of Nerd [BEST OF FaN]

 In *Archives, Amy Robinson, BEST OF FaN, Fierce and Nerdy

I chose this as my favorite blog so far for 2011 because it was a cathartic blog for me. My genetic slant toward indecision is on full display here as I battle the demons of finishing a project or abandoning it. After writing this, I decided to move forward with the project, a choice I might still be weighing if I hadn’t discussed it here.

Originally published 03/21/11

Great art often comes out of pain and tumult; Picasso’s Blue Period work, Hemingway’s novels, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. My novel, The Year That Sucked, follows a year of multiple pains, but I need to decide; Could it be great art or am I just beating myself up? The book is driving me crazy, literally. So now I am wavering if the book should stay alive at the cost of my sanity or go into that dusty box of the Almost Finished that lives in the closet.

The first draft of the memoir flowed out of me last November during NaNoWriMo. Aside from the occasional crying spell and self-medication with mid-range scotch, its birth was smooth.

Now, as I work through the second draft, it’s getting a whole lot tougher. The physical manifestations of the stress I had during that sucky year are resurfacing. Today’s moodiness, anxiety, jumpiness and stomach issues will make for funny story some day, but right now just makes my husband glad we have two bathrooms. Do you think Lindsey Buckingham had IBS during that amazing recording session?

It also brings me into a daily confrontation with mortality, often causing a deep depression. While the first draft was a race against the clock and calendar to build a framework of story with a minimal amount of words, it was basically fingers on the keyboard, shooting out recalled facts and situations. The second draft is requiring me to fill out that frame. This means submerging myself into that story, reliving that crap on a sensory level.

My plan was to keep the tone of the novel emotionally honest but humorous and light, hoping that the tone would keep my true emotions at a distance from the subject matter. But I’m realizing that not enough time has passed in the whole equation of tragedy + time = comedy. I’m too close to the subject. It was hard enough to watch 2 pets die, lose our house, lose my job, get burgled and help my Mom through Cancer surgery and sit with Dad through MDS, Leukemia and finally, his death the first time. It really did suck. Reliving it isn’t as bad, by half, as it was in 2009, but I can feel myself lingering in the trauma by lingering in this memoir.

I wanted to muscle through this re-write, I’ve heard that writers often jump ship mid-edit and I do not want to be a quitter! Completing a project is good medicine! When I leave a project half-finished, it makes me feel like a neglectful parent. But I got an eye opener on my last visit to the doctor for stress related issues.  He suggested I might want to consider antidepressants to deal with my anxiety.

Have you ever had that moment where something you’ve known for a while, but haven’t really admitted to, is suddenly brought into focus? The light bulb went on, the fog lifted, the sun came out, lots of other metaphors for realization happened. Working on The Year That Sucked has me mired in dealing with all of the BS that had happened, marinating in sadness, basically living in the past, a really shitty past.

The doctor has discussed how pharmaceuticals would help me hit a reset button and balance those chemicals, caused by stress, that have jumbled my response levels. I don’t cotton to antidepressants. If there is any way I can get back to fine with out them, I’ll do it. While yoga and hiking have been helping me deal with the symptoms, addressing the root of the issue had eluded me. Having a medical professional suggest drugs shook me enough to look deeper.  After some soul searching, and taking up running, I see that I have been dwelling in the past. To be honest, I’m getting kinda tired of gazing at my own navel. Time to concentrate on looking to the future.

Like every other writer, I have another idea I could be working on.  I have a good start on another novel, mostly fiction, which could become my obsession if I go in that direction.

So now I look at my baby, The Year That Sucked, which focuses on the past. For my own sanity, do I set it aside to finish in an easier time (does it ever get easier?) after I have fully regained my health and PMA or do I suck it up and suffer through the symptoms to finish it and then focus on healing? Am I letting go or quitting?

featured image credit: Beinecke Library

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  • Ernessa T. Carter

    Oh Amy,

    You probably know what I’m going to say already. Right? Right? But just in case you don’t, let me just say these few things:

    1. There is never an excuse not to finish a novel you have already completed a rough draft of. I even think Michael Chabon is full of it for not finishing the unfinished novel he just published. Yes, seriously. If I die with something unfinished on my hard drive, I will beat myself up for it in the afterlife.

    2. Finishing ain’t easy. I know you’ve heard that before, but I’m not sure you fully understand it, so I’m just going to repeat it. Finishing ain’t easy. The only thing that is harder is quitting.

    3. Yes, I said quitting, b/c you think that your worries will be over if you quit this novel, but it will haunt your ass until you finish it. It will punish you in so many ways for quitting it. It will not let you off the hook, just because you’ve put it in a manuscript under the bed. I invite you to try quitting this novel, then five years from now, I fully expect a “you were right, Ernessa” email detailing how this novel wouldn’t quit nagging at you until you finished it.

    4. Here’s the thing: Quitting the novel might (and that’s a strong might) make the health problems go away. But guess what? So will finishing it. Finishing what you started is the answer to every problem you’ve ever had. Every single one. It’s also the one that people are in the most denial about.

    5. People think about novels as lovers, but in reality their children. There are very few reasons for a person over 30 to let go of a child she has given birth to. And none of these reasons are reasons you’ve listed for quitting your novel.

    6. The first novel is the hardest. If you finish this novel, finishing will never be this bad again. This is your big battle. This is the place where either you or the demons win. I would prefer it be you.

    7. Go on the effing antidepressants if it allows you to write. The only reason I bother with sanity is b/c it allows me to write. Many successful writers that I know are on antidepressants. Many of the people I know who don’t finish are not. Anxiety is a demon-dog bitch, if you’re given a weapon to battle it, thank your doctor and pop that pill.

    8. Your husband will be okay if you’re bitchy and depressed for the months that it takes to finish this novel. You will not be if you don’t finish it.

    9. Last but not least, do me a favor and subtract 65 from your current age. That’s the number of years you have left to write. Chances are that you’ll be hit with any number of ailments that keep you from writing after the age of 65. There are very few people writing well after 65. I myself am pissed that I only have about 20 more years to get all these stories out. You’re talking about quality of life. I’m talking about the rest of your life, which will not be quality if you don’t figure out a way over this hurdle that doesn’t involve quitting. If you could see the number of old ladies that come up to me at events saying that they’ve always wanted to write a novel, but never quite got anything finished, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

    I could say so much more, but I already suspect this might be a friendship-ender comment, so I’ll stop. Just know that I say this to you b/c you are a good writer, and if you choose not to honor that, it won’t be b/c I didn’t try to tell your butt beforehand.

    That’s all,
    etc

    P.S. — Yes, I’m mad at you. Good writers not writing makes me MAD.

    • Ryan Dixon

      You mean David Foster Wallace and not Michael Chabon, right? Just wanted to make sure because if for some reason Michael Chabon released something that I hadn’t heard about, I would be very, very sad.

    • Amy Robinson

      Firstly, I really appreciate your response, even if you are mad at me. When editor Seen read this, before I posted, he said “You know what people are going to say…That you should suck it up and finish.” I think you’re both right, for all the reasons you’ve listed above. Projects I’ve bailed on haunt me like evil ghosts in a Miyazaki movie. I pondered my book and your response in the doctors office, during my run, staring out at the ocean. I finally thought of all the projects my Dad had started that he never got to finish because he got sick. I could almost feel him shaking his head, that I could quit something important to me after I had gotten so far.

      Then I thought about the sumo wrestler who finished the stormy LA marathon in 10 hours and the legless guy who finished the Ironman. Then I thought about banana cream pie, because I was hungry. But those guys didn’t whine on about it, they sucked it up and finished.

      So, dammit, you’re right. I know that you’re absolutely right, finishing is healthier at the end of the day than letting it sit on my conscience and fester. I don’t want to be an old lady at some authors event talking about the first draft that went nowhere. Time to suck it up, grow a pair and finish this MFer. Onward with TYTS.

      Thanks for the tough sense talk. If the demons put me in an asylum, you best visit me. Bring banana cream pie.

      • Ernessa T. Carter

        I’ll bring you TWO banana cream pies when you finish this thing and I will drive all the way to the far away westside and celebrate your finishing with you and your husband. Get it! Get it!

        Oh, and I’m a sucker for dead parents. I was crying by the end of the first paragraph. Good job.

        When I’m particularly miserable in a project, I like to constantly remind myself that when I finish this, I can start something else. The promise fo something that won’t make me miserable, often helps with the current bout of misery. Kind of like promising yourself a piece of banana cream pie after you finish your daily pages.

  • Ernessa T. Carter

    Oh Amy,

    You probably know what I’m going to say already. Right? Right? But just in case you don’t, let me just say these few things:

    1. There is never an excuse not to finish a novel you have already completed a rough draft of. I even think Michael Chabon is full of it for not finishing the unfinished novel he just published. Yes, seriously. If I die with something unfinished on my hard drive, I will beat myself up for it in the afterlife.

    2. Finishing ain’t easy. I know you’ve heard that before, but I’m not sure you fully understand it, so I’m just going to repeat it. Finishing ain’t easy. The only thing that is harder is quitting.

    3. Yes, I said quitting, b/c you think that your worries will be over if you quit this novel, but it will haunt your ass until you finish it. It will punish you in so many ways for quitting it. It will not let you off the hook, just because you’ve put it in a manuscript under the bed. I invite you to try quitting this novel, then five years from now, I fully expect a “you were right, Ernessa” email detailing how this novel wouldn’t quit nagging at you until you finished it.

    4. Here’s the thing: Quitting the novel might (and that’s a strong might) make the health problems go away. But guess what? So will finishing it. Finishing what you started is the answer to every problem you’ve ever had. Every single one. It’s also the one that people are in the most denial about.

    5. People think about novels as lovers, but in reality their children. There are very few reasons for a person over 30 to let go of a child she has given birth to. And none of these reasons are reasons you’ve listed for quitting your novel.

    6. The first novel is the hardest. If you finish this novel, finishing will never be this bad again. This is your big battle. This is the place where either you or the demons win. I would prefer it be you.

    7. Go on the effing antidepressants if it allows you to write. The only reason I bother with sanity is b/c it allows me to write. Many successful writers that I know are on antidepressants. Many of the people I know who don’t finish are not. Anxiety is a demon-dog bitch, if you’re given a weapon to battle it, thank your doctor and pop that pill.

    8. Your husband will be okay if you’re bitchy and depressed for the months that it takes to finish this novel. You will not be if you don’t finish it.

    9. Last but not least, do me a favor and subtract 65 from your current age. That’s the number of years you have left to write. Chances are that you’ll be hit with any number of ailments that keep you from writing after the age of 65. There are very few people writing well after 65. I myself am pissed that I only have about 20 more years to get all these stories out. You’re talking about quality of life. I’m talking about the rest of your life, which will not be quality if you don’t figure out a way over this hurdle that doesn’t involve quitting. If you could see the number of old ladies that come up to me at events saying that they’ve always wanted to write a novel, but never quite got anything finished, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

    I could say so much more, but I already suspect this might be a friendship-ender comment, so I’ll stop. Just know that I say this to you b/c you are a good writer, and if you choose not to honor that, it won’t be b/c I didn’t try to tell your butt beforehand.

    That’s all,
    etc

    P.S. — Yes, I’m mad at you. Good writers not writing makes me MAD.

    • Ryan Dixon

      You mean David Foster Wallace and not Michael Chabon, right? Just wanted to make sure because if for some reason Michael Chabon released something that I hadn’t heard about, I would be very, very sad.

    • Amy Robinson

      Firstly, I really appreciate your response, even if you are mad at me. When editor Seen read this, before I posted, he said “You know what people are going to say…That you should suck it up and finish.” I think you’re both right, for all the reasons you’ve listed above. Projects I’ve bailed on haunt me like evil ghosts in a Miyazaki movie. I pondered my book and your response in the doctors office, during my run, staring out at the ocean. I finally thought of all the projects my Dad had started that he never got to finish because he got sick. I could almost feel him shaking his head, that I could quit something important to me after I had gotten so far.

      Then I thought about the sumo wrestler who finished the stormy LA marathon in 10 hours and the legless guy who finished the Ironman. Then I thought about banana cream pie, because I was hungry. But those guys didn’t whine on about it, they sucked it up and finished.

      So, dammit, you’re right. I know that you’re absolutely right, finishing is healthier at the end of the day than letting it sit on my conscience and fester. I don’t want to be an old lady at some authors event talking about the first draft that went nowhere. Time to suck it up, grow a pair and finish this MFer. Onward with TYTS.

      Thanks for the tough sense talk. If the demons put me in an asylum, you best visit me. Bring banana cream pie.

      • Ernessa T. Carter

        I’ll bring you TWO banana cream pies when you finish this thing and I will drive all the way to the far away westside and celebrate your finishing with you and your husband. Get it! Get it!

        Oh, and I’m a sucker for dead parents. I was crying by the end of the first paragraph. Good job.

        When I’m particularly miserable in a project, I like to constantly remind myself that when I finish this, I can start something else. The promise fo something that won’t make me miserable, often helps with the current bout of misery. Kind of like promising yourself a piece of banana cream pie after you finish your daily pages.

  • Di

    Never having written a novel, I can’t really comment on whether to stick with it or not from a writer’s perspective.

    But as an artist and someone who has lived through my own “A Year That Sucked” — my perspective on that year now, 5 years later, is much different than it was 1 year later or even 2. Whether you finish now or later or ever depends on your purpose for writing it in the first place, and that purpose will determine whether not finishing haunts you or helps you. What the decision requires is absolute honesty with yourself about why you are choosing sticking it out or stopping — finishing something that is hurting you because that’s the “rule” is just as bad as quitting something because you’re avoiding of it. I don’t think that every thing started needs to be finished, because not all things that are started are meant to be a finished product — sometimes it’s a personal working through meant just to get it out of the head and onto paper/the air. Some works are meant to shine a light on the communal through the personal, and some are just personal; it’s not always clear when you start which one it will be. I think you get to choose how you want to heal and whether this book is part of the healing. From my perspective, it takes more courage to take the “should” out of your vocabulary, then carefully assess what you actually need and do that.

    I think every artist faces this decision at some point, often more than once, and the answer is different for every person and each time. Good luck.

    • Amy Robinson

      Thanks for the perspective Di. You’re right, it isn’t an easy decision and it helps to hear how others have dealt with it. I hope your current year isn’t sucky.

    • Ernessa T. Carter

      Having had my own years that sucked, I completely agree with your perspective point — which is another reason why I want Amy to finish her memoir. If Joan Didion had written A YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING after fully processing her grief, it wouldn’t have been the same book. There’s something to be said for writing something when you’re in it before you get a safe distance away. I actually made the exact same decision that Amy made — to stop writing about my mother a few months after her death because it hurt too much. I also threw away most of the stuff I had already written. Man, do I regret that decision, and it will haunt me for the rest of my life. I agree that not everything started needs to be finished, but I would argue that once something’s out of rough draft state, you shouldn’t abandon it in rewrites. This isn’t a rule. I wish it was a rule, but it isn’t. People in the arts abandon things all the time. The reason I argue passionately for finishing is not b/c it’s a hard and fast rule, but b/c I’ve both experienced and seen what not finishing does to writers.

  • Di

    Never having written a novel, I can’t really comment on whether to stick with it or not from a writer’s perspective.

    But as an artist and someone who has lived through my own “A Year That Sucked” — my perspective on that year now, 5 years later, is much different than it was 1 year later or even 2. Whether you finish now or later or ever depends on your purpose for writing it in the first place, and that purpose will determine whether not finishing haunts you or helps you. What the decision requires is absolute honesty with yourself about why you are choosing sticking it out or stopping — finishing something that is hurting you because that’s the “rule” is just as bad as quitting something because you’re avoiding of it. I don’t think that every thing started needs to be finished, because not all things that are started are meant to be a finished product — sometimes it’s a personal working through meant just to get it out of the head and onto paper/the air. Some works are meant to shine a light on the communal through the personal, and some are just personal; it’s not always clear when you start which one it will be. I think you get to choose how you want to heal and whether this book is part of the healing. From my perspective, it takes more courage to take the “should” out of your vocabulary, then carefully assess what you actually need and do that.

    I think every artist faces this decision at some point, often more than once, and the answer is different for every person and each time. Good luck.

    • Amy Robinson

      Thanks for the perspective Di. You’re right, it isn’t an easy decision and it helps to hear how others have dealt with it. I hope your current year isn’t sucky.

    • Ernessa T. Carter

      Having had my own years that sucked, I completely agree with your perspective point — which is another reason why I want Amy to finish her memoir. If Joan Didion had written A YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING after fully processing her grief, it wouldn’t have been the same book. There’s something to be said for writing something when you’re in it before you get a safe distance away. I actually made the exact same decision that Amy made — to stop writing about my mother a few months after her death because it hurt too much. I also threw away most of the stuff I had already written. Man, do I regret that decision, and it will haunt me for the rest of my life. I agree that not everything started needs to be finished, but I would argue that once something’s out of rough draft state, you shouldn’t abandon it in rewrites. This isn’t a rule. I wish it was a rule, but it isn’t. People in the arts abandon things all the time. The reason I argue passionately for finishing is not b/c it’s a hard and fast rule, but b/c I’ve both experienced and seen what not finishing does to writers.

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