A few days ago I got a despairing email from an aspiring writer, or rather a formerly aspiring writer. Unable to make a sale or win a contest, he said he was giving up. Wouldn't try anymore. Was done writing for good. I don't know this person (we've never met) and so I can't judge whether he will stick to this resolve or whether it's a passing mood. But his current despair was real, and palpable, and moving.
When do you decide enough is enough -- about a story, a novel, a career path, an entire career? Yes, we all know the tales of writers who have persevered for years or decades, and finally succeeded in the end. I am acquainted with some of these writers. But what of all the others, the ones who keep on trying decade after decade and never do make a story sale or get an agent or market that novel or whatever else constitutes their personal definition of success? How, as Kenny Rogers sings, do you know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em?
The question is not so different from deciding on other terminations -- quitting your day job, leaving a marriage, closing a business. There's a time when one should go. I just don't, in the case of writing, know what the criteria are for deciding the hand is fully played out. I told my unknown email correspondent that both rejection and despair were routine, which is true, and that he should keep on trying, which may or may not be true. I may have done him a disservice. Unlike Rogers’s Gambler, I sometimes have trouble reading my own hand, let alone anyone else’s.