I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not great at letting things go. Despite this fact, yesterday I decided to call it quits on a novel I’ve been tinkering with for close to eight years.
There were many reasons to do so. The project was an attempt at self-preservation. It was an idealized account of my early-20s. It was me being too precious, hanging too tight to season of life long since passed. But most importantly, I wasn’t my best work and was unlikely to become my best work.
I had to quit.
Quitting is an important skill, one not often developed in creative types. So often, artists are too precious with their work. When confronted with criticism, they hide behind subjectivity. “This is my art,” they shout while beating their chests. Then they continue to tinker without recognizing they’ve lost their way. These artists will always remain amateurs and hobbyists. As Seth Godin says in The Dip, “Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt.”
A popular expression for escaping this dilemma? “Kill your darlings…”
A professional artist knows when a project is sucking the life out of them. They know when when they’re being too precious, when they’re spinning their wheels, when they’ve locked themselves into a dead end. They know when to turn around and try something else instead.
I’m not great at this, but I’m trying to get better.