by Will Viharo
Once upon a time, my major New York agent (Marilyn Marlow of Curtis Brown, Ltd.) actually advised me once to “just give up” after she tried unsuccessfully pitching my various manuscripts to publishers around the Big, Apathetic Apple.
It wasn’t because she thought I was a bad writer. It was because, she told me, she had witnessed that strategy actually result in success for more than one other frustrated author.
This was nearly thirty years ago. Needless to say, I still haven’t taken her advice. Maybe it’s about time I did…
They may be right. So why are there so many writers still out there? Are there enough readers left to sustain them all?
Mathematically speaking, probably not. But you shouldn’t betray or delay your dreams due to statistical odds. Everyone needs to follow their own heart, even if it leads them deeper into debt.
Only you can decide when it’s time to reconsider your career path, and maybe call it quits altogether.
Where There’s a Will, There’s Not Always a Way
Many factors can influence this decision. Most of them are probably financial in nature. Others can just be a matter of creative exhaustion (which can be a temporary glitch), lack of time away from the day job or familial responsibilities, or you simply realized you just don’t enjoy the process as much as you thought you would, especially given the paltry rewards.
The appeal of writing is in the autonomy. It’s like you can write, direct, produce, cast, score, distribute, and promote your own portable (literary) movie or album. It exists as its own entity. And, unlike when I was typewriting manuscripts and snail-mailing them to my agent back in the 1980s and early ‘90s, anyone can publish their own book almost instantly and have it competing on the worldwide marketplace alongside traditionally published books by famous authors.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll actually sell many, or any. It basically just scratches an itch. Once that sensation has been sated, the reality of promotions, competition and stubborn obscurity will begin wearing down your resolve.
Take It From Me, Kid…
My advice for any aspiring writer is simple: quit now.
If you ignore me, as most have, that means you’ve got “the bug” and it doesn’t matter what I say, or what anyone says. You’re going to keep writing anyway, as a matter of artistic compulsion, if only to creatively express your individuality, which itself can be a type of compensation, even if self-satisfaction isn’t anything more than a consolation prize you’ve awarded yourself.
Now let me give you personal examples of what might happen if you don’t give up.
Not long after Marilyn Marlow suggested I simply quit, I interviewed a popular author, Wally Lamb (She’s Come Undone) who recommended my work to his editor, who just happened to be Judith Regan, who was then employed by Simon & Schuster. She liked what she read but, long story short, after two years of keeping my hopes alive, she abruptly and unceremoniously sent everything back via an assistant, and next thing I read, she had started her own imprint and moved on, soon becoming the biggest celebrity publisher in the industry, which did me no good whatsoever.
It almost destroyed me. I thought I’d never write again. I was done at age 32.
But wait, there’s more!
Soon after, some friends started a small press and published my first Vic Valentine novel, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me in 1995.
By 2001 it was out of print and largely forgotten, a total bust. Until actor Christian Slater found a copy in a L.A. bookstore, tracked me down, and optioned it annually until 2012, when he flew me out to Miami to do some location scouting and co-write the script with him.
My ship had finally come in (again)!
But then, after coming very close to fruition, the project was unfortunately shelved in early 2014 as Christian pursued more immediately lucrative career options. He just won the Golden Globe for his role in the hit TV series Mr. Robot. Which, again, doesn’t do anything for me whatsoever. But good for him!
But if I’d given up writing back when my agent suggested I do so, none of this would’ve happened. I wouldn’t have an entire body of work on the market, including the brand new Vic Valentine novel, Hard-boiled Heart, just published by Gutter Books, which reissued Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me in 2013, when the movie deal was still hot. Otherwise, I’d have nothing to show for my youthful ambition.
I may never bet a break like those first two again. But maybe, just maybe, the third time’s the charm, and I’m frontloaded with a bunch of published books just in case it does.
So that’s why you shouldn’t quit, either. I won't know if I have a third big break waiting for me unless I keep trying. Same goes for you. Just keep writing.
And that’s the answer to the title of this blog, which is much of a pep talk for me as it is for you.
PHOTO: WILL VIHARO (autograph by filmmaker David Lynch)
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New Orleans, LA