How Do You Know When To Quit?

How Do You Know When To Quit?

By Toni McGee Causey

Unless you’ve been under a rock this last week, you’ve probably either watched the video about Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent, or you’ve heard about the Internet phenomenon she’s become. For those of you who haven’t seen the version with the interview prior to her singing, I give you this link and I want you to pay particular attention to what she says at 38 seconds into the interview:

Go, now, and watch. You won’t regret it, I promise.

At 38 seconds, Susan Boyle says to the camera that she’s going to “make that audience rock.” Now, if you haven’t just gone to see that video, and you hadn’t seen it before, here’s what the fuss is about: Susan is a 47-year-old woman who tells the judges (including Simon Cowell) that she wants to sing like Elaine Paige, whom some sites refer to as the “first lady of British Musical Theater.”

But even before that point, the audience has already written her off. She tells Simon she’s 47 when he asks, and when he rolls his eyes, she jokes and does a sort-of hip-waggle, saying, “And that’s only one side of me.” It’s nerves, probably, that has her acting a big dingy there, but it’s hard to tell for sure, and she comes across as clownish. Everyone in that audience, at that point, has written her off. Tell the truth—when you see her at that point, you’ve written her off. After all, she’s this frumpy, middle-aged, gray-haired woman. She’s not dressed in the latest fashion (though she is wearing a nice dress), she’s not slim, she’s not blonde, she’s not what you think of as a winner of these types of shows. She sure as hell doesn’t “look” like someone who could sing as beautifully as Elaine Paige. And in that moment, I think most people would agree with Simon’s eye-roll.

When Simon questions her, asking her what is her dream, she answers, “To become a professional singer.” He asks her why she hasn’t, and she simply says, “I’ve never been given the chance before, but here’s hoping that’ll change.” While she’s talking, the camera cuts to the audience where a young woman rolls her eyes. When Susan mentions Paige’s name as a singer she’d aspire to sing as well as, there is obvious snickering in the audience, and shots of women arching their eyebrows in disbelief. Some are obviously waiting for the train wreck this poor Susan Boyle is going to be, and some look as if they’re cringing for her, hating that she’s about to go through the public flogging of a failure.

She explains she’s going to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.

The music starts, everyone waits for the disaster, and she hits that first note and bam, she has you. By the second or third word, the audience is applauding and the judges are floored. Utterly floored. Not half-way through the song, not two stanzas… by the second line of the song. The audience gets to its feet on that second line, and she does indeed make that audience rock. In the middle of the song, when she sings the rising lyric and her voice soars, the entire place goes nuts. 4000 people in that audience, and they are blown away.

Here was a woman who had gotten one small shot ten years earlier, who’d participated in a charity CD (singing Cry Me A River), where her talent was obvious to anyone with ears, but she hadn’t “made it” yet. She’d been taking care of elderly parents, she lived in a very small community, and she is (or was)  unemployed. That singing on that charity CD shows she had talent, but talent, alone, won’t always win out. Timing, opportunity, are the other key ingredients. And you don’t get opportunities if you don’t keep trying.

She stood in front of that audience, hearing their skepticism, seeing the giggles, and then rocked the song anyway.

I want to tell you about another person who did something quieter, who stunned me and made such a huge impact, I’ll never forget it. It was one of the very best motivational moments in any conference I’d ever attended, and I asked her permission to relay it here.

You may already know Christie Craig. She is incredibly funny (and giving) and she and Faye Hughes are practically a stand-up comedy duo. Christie writes funny mysteries that are a hoot, and I’ve always only known her as “that successful author,” the one who has something like five novels out as well as non-fiction. She’s one of those warm people that sees someone like me (who tends to freeze up in crowds until someone else breaks the ice) and she makes them feel welcome. And at ease. A terrific person.

At our PASIC conference, Christie was to give the very last session on the second day, and her talk was going to be on, “How to Know When To Quit.”  I saw a roll-on (carry-on sized) piece of luggage on the floor at her feet, and I was curious. While she introduced her subject, she opened the suitcase at her feet and pulled out a rather large UPS-type envelope. Not the normal letter-sized—the next size up. She started explaining how she became a writer, and what she’d gone through to get to where she is now—and she explained she’d been dyslexic, and how every single solitary step had been a challenge. She talked about how writing and telling stories was her dream, and she had to teach herself how to do everything, every single step of the way. It was hard—and I have a son and husband with dyslexia—I know a little bit about what she went through.

Then Christie asked, “When do you quit? Is it after the first fifty rejections?” and she pulled a stack of papers from that UPS envelope and let them rain down around her feet. “Or the next fifty?” and she pulled another stack out and let those rain down. I could see the letterhead of the pages as they fell, and I thought my throat would close up on her behalf. “Or how about the next hundred?” she asked, and pulled another wad of pages out and let those rain down. “Three hundred? Is that when you quit?” And she emptied that envelope and reached into the suitcase and pulled out another one, and asked, “Or is it the first 500? Do you quit then?” Those papers kept raining down, “Or how about the next 500?” and more envelopes, more pages. “How about a 1000? Is that when you stop?” And at this point, I couldn’t have spoken if someone had held a gun on me, I was so choked up. “Or how about the second thousand?” More pages. “Or three? Is three thousand the point where you stop?”

I was gobsmacked. Truly and thoroughly. And impressed as hell. She didn’t stop–she didn’t let the obstacles in her life define her. Christie became the definition… of tenacity. Determination. She has talent, and the skill to put it to good use.

We dream the dream, and we want it to be easy. We live in a society where pop stars get millions to show up and act badly and behave worse, and while we mock that, we’d all secretly like the trip to success to be just that simple: show up. But it’s not that simple. It’s not always easy. It’s hard work, it’s perseverance, it’s making sure you’ve got the goods when the opportunity comes along.

That last part? Yeah, that’s the hard part. It bears repeating: it’s making sure you’ve got the goods when the opportunity comes along. That means hard work, when it comes to writing. Telling a compelling story for an entire novel isn’t like making Ritz crackers and cheese and calling it a four-course meal. There’s a bit more to it than just sitting in front of the computer and spilling out a story. For some people, it may come naturally. For the rest of us, it’s a constant process of learning, improving, getting feedback, listening to it, learning from it, discarding what doesn’t work, and then trying again.

If you’re getting the opportunities to be read—and it’s not selling, it may be a matter of you having more work to do. We all hit that point. It’s just part of the process. But if you’re getting amazing feedback (consistently, from everyone), then it may simply be a matter of timing—you just haven’t had your manuscript hit the right person at the right time. There’s not a lot you can do about that but keep trying, because you never know when the next opportunity will open up because you handed it to the right person. In my case, I’d published a lot of non-fiction, edited a regional magazine, switched into screenwriting (where I wrote probably 15 scripts) and then switched back to fiction. I’d finished the script version of Bobbie Faye when a friend happened to be here and happened to want to read it and happened to want to hand it to a friend (just for fun, not for any particular thought of the friend helping) and then the friend happened to know this editor and was willing to pitch it… and when I got that phone call about the offer, it was a soaring feeling, like the audience suddenly coming to its feet on that second line of Susan Boyle’s performance. Almost twenty years to the day after I’d first sent out my first non-fiction piece. It wasn’t overnight. I’d worked two jobs, gone back to school, was mom to two boys, helped run a construction company, and wrote in the wee hours of the night when everyone was asleep, because I dreamed a dream. I wanted it. I wanted it enough to not sleep that extra hour, to take the notebook with me to the kids’ practice, to skip out on movies or TV shows.

I’d still be doing that now, without the sale. I can’t let go of the dream. It’s changed for me over the years—what I wanted, and how I wanted to do it, but the ultimate dream was to sell what I wrote, with the hope that it brought some pleasure to the reader.

So when do you quit?

If you think you quit when it’s hard, then stop now, because I assure you, it will get hard. Even if you’ve got a book or two or ten out, it’s gonna be hard. If you think you quit when it’s bleak news, then stop now, because there’s no way to have a career in any field that is all sunshine and roses up your ass. It’s gonna get bleak sometimes. Markets change, people change, culture changes, and with change comes growing pains. If you think you quit when people don’t see your talent, then quit now, because not everyone is going to agree you have talent and even when they do, they might not be able to do anything about it. If you think you quit when people say no, then stop now, because I guarantee you, people are gonna say no to you. The day before I sent the query to the agent who repped me for the deal, I’d found out my friend had handed the manuscript to her agent, who said to me that he could see that Bobbie Faye was a very funny woman who was incredibly strong-willed and yet he hated her and wouldn’t want to spend another single minute in her head. This cracked me up because (one) he was about 65 and not exactly my target audience and (two), I have always wanted to write a character who is a love-em or hate-em kind of person. I didn’t want a lukewarm response. I wanted her to be memorable. So, as negative as that note might have come across to most authors, I loved it. And I put the next query in the mail. Signed with that agent. Had a three-book deal. Was the first guy wrong? Not for him. That was his taste and I respect that. But everyone doesn’t have the same taste, and that’s why you keep trying.

So, when do you quit?

You quit when you want something else, more. You quit when you have another dream that means more to you.

I kept writing. There were days when the economy here was so bad, there was very little work, and we dug the change out of the sofa to get enough money to put enough gas in the truck for my husband to get to work, and he had to get paid before he left, or he wouldn’t have had enough gas to make it home. I understand hardships and heartbreak, depression and frustration. But “no” is not an option. It is only an obstacle.

I’m sitting down to my fourth book now. It’s scary as hell, to start something new. I emailed a friend and asked, “How do you write a book again? I’m thinking it involves words… probably in some sort of order… maybe spelled correctly? Something like that?” It’s like having to learn how to do it all over again, and it gets harder, because you’ve set a bar of quality for yourself and you want to beat it. It’s intimidating to think you can, that people expect you to.

But I will keep trying. I dream the dream.

How about you?


105 thoughts on “How Do You Know When To Quit?

  1. James Scott Bell

    "Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years." – Andre Dubus

  2. CJ Lyons

    Great post, Toni! Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one moved by Christie’s presentation.

    One of the things I found most remarkable about Susan Boyle’s performance was her fortitude and self-confidence in the face of such derision. She knew what she wanted, all she was asking for was a chance, and she took it, despite the jeering and eye-rolling.

    On the clip I saw, as soon as she was done singing, she actually tried to leave the stage. Seemed like she was just happy she’d been given the chance and gave it her all, let the chips fall where they may….gotta love that kind of attitude! Too bad it’s drummed out of so many of us in childhood. Instead we’re taught to do what pleases the crowd and makes them like you rather than daring to dream.

    Oh now you have me all philosophical on a Sunday morning! Guess I’ll have to go add another body to my wip or blow something up, lol!

  3. Angelle

    Thanks, Toni, for the best start I’ve had to a day in quite a while.

    I’ve always been the one with the steady big kid job (funny thing when you’re a writer and you marry a musician – YOU become the stable one!) and what with one thing and another, moving to California, my husband being out of work again, it feels very seductive sometimes to just let it go, to let writing join acting and singing as something I used to do, somebody I used to be.

    But that payoff, that feeling of having written and having written well, is still the most intoxicating thing I’ve ever known. So as long as I can remember that and get just enough of it to string me along, I really believe the rest will sort itself. When the opportunities come, I’ll have the work to put my pages where my mouth is.

    I feel absolutely reinvigorated, by Susan Boyle, by some of the amazing women I’ve met out here who will not let their dreams die, and by you. I may just take the laptop with me and try to bang out a few more pages on the road to Coachella!

  4. crimeficreader

    As I write, the YouTube vid has had 29.8m hits and I have to admit that I have clocked up about 13 of them (about as many times as I have seen The Sound of Music). I saw her on the TV last week and had no idea what an immediate internet and worldwide phenomenon she would become, but she deserves it. I am a little bit younger than Susan Boyle and looking for a job. (For a rather long time, now.) She was an inspiration for me at the end of last week and she got me off my arse with the job search, when I have to admit I was feeling down after two recent rejections. She’s a reminder that life ain’t over or in cruise-mode when you’re in your mid-forties. What an absolute inspiration Susan Boyle is!

  5. toni mcgee causey

    James, great quote.

    CJ, that’s exactly it — she had the fortitude to keep her cheeky attitude, even in the face of massive derision. Talk about determination and perseverance… she is definitely an inspiration.

    Angelle, keep writing. I’m so glad this was an inspiration–I know people have inspired me along the way, especially during those early years where long stretches of time would drip by without a sale or anything definite to encourage me. You will chip away and it will be your turn, soon.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I also have seen that clip about a dozen times now and tear up ever single time. – And her Cry Me A River is astounding. I am enraptured and thrilled that she’s finally going to get the star career she deserves, at a time when all of us need her.

    I think there is something else about Susan Boyle, though. She knew something that no one else in that auditorium knew (well, except for those two screener guys and the judges, which still does not diminish their joy in her voice).

    She knew when she walked out on that stage that she had IT. There is an absolute, an imperative about talent that just cuts through everything else. She knew all she had to do was do what she’s being doing for years and years and years. You can’t have a voice like that and not know what it is.

    I suspect through all of our quailing and self-doubt, there’s also that that keeps us going until we break through.

  7. toni mcgee causey

    crimeficreader, I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt so inspired, and you’re right about the age thing. She’s proof that it’s never too late to have a terrific opportunity. Good luck to you with the job hunting–I’m crossing fingers that it improves for you immediately.

    Kaye, you made my morning. Thank you.

  8. Gayle Carline

    I heard a motivational speaker talk about what to do when it "gets too hard" to go on trying to fulfill whatever dream you’ve dreamed. She said that she’s "adopted" three aunts, Aunt Helen Keller, Aunt Margaret Mead and Aunt Rosa Parks, complete with pictures of them on her desk. She imagines going to visit them at a large, lovely home with a wrap-around porch, where they sit and ask her what she’s been up to lately.

    "How would I tell Helen Keller that I couldn’t do something because it was too hard?" she told us. "Or Rosa Parks? How would I admit to Margaret Mead that I just gave up on my dream?"

    I don’t usually compare myself to others, but I have to say, when I think about what other people have sacrificed and have endured, rejection letters seem like such a little thing. They’re just sticks and stones, and I can write another query.

  9. Louise Ure

    Oh, Toni. Between Susan and Christie and you, I’m not sure who I’d pick as the most motivational right this moment. Thank you for this.

  10. Faye Hughes


    Girl, you do a damn good job of making someone all choked up inside, too. This blog was great and just what I needed on this fine Sunday morning (when I have an article to write, chapters to critique and a proposal to finish before doing heading to RT.)


  11. toni mcgee causey

    Kaycee, thank you!

    Gayle, what a terrific set of "Aunts" — and wow, that is inspirational. Thank you for posting that. I’m now going to adopt them myself.

    Aw, Louise, thank you. πŸ˜‰ You’re no slouch in the inspiration department yourself.

    Faye, you rock. And thank you for all of the wonderful effort you and Christie did for that conference–it was phenomenal.

    Jack, I am truly flattered – thank you.

  12. JT Ellison

    "She walked on that stage knowing she had IT…"

    That’s the point, isn’t it? We have to believe in ourselves fully and completely and unquestioningly BEFORE we can get anyone to believe in us. It’s a combination of confidence and humility and that secret knowledge that God has reached down and touched a part of us, whether we look like it or not. It applies to anything you want, any dream you have. I think Susan Boyle’s choice of song was rather prophetic, don’t you?

  13. toni mcgee causey

    JT, yeah, I think that song was unbelievably perfect, in that it echoed her own life… and then ultimately, helped her achieve the dream.

    You’ve nailed it, with the "combination" of confidence and humility.

  14. J.D. Rhoades

    I’ve probably clocked about twenty of the hits on that YouTube video of Susan Boyle, and I’ve teared up on about ten of them.

    As always, Toni. your post (and Neil Nyren’s on Friday) hit me at just the right time. This most recent chapter of my life has been, to day the least, somewhat difficult. But, as Steve McQueen said in PAPILLON: "I’m still here, you bastards."

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go write..

  15. Margaret A. Golla

    Love this post, Toni! I loved the Susan Boyle performance. And I’ve loved Christie Craig’s writing since before she was published in fiction. I happened to be one of those anonymous unpublished judges in an RWA chapter contest, and I was lucky enough to judge three of Christie’s stories (different stories, different contests over a two or three year period). I knew she was a winner as soon as I read her opening lines. What an inspiration!

  16. Deni Dietz

    I’ve listened to Susan Boyle over and over, and every single time I find I have tears running down my face.

    She is the personification of my mantra, which I said to the hostess of the restaurant where I was waiting tables during the 7th year of trying to sell my first book:

    "If you drop a dream, it breaks."

    [I had a contract offer two weeks later.]

  17. Naomi Johnson

    Your post was just what I’ve been needing. I can’t thank you enough, the timing couldn’t have been better.

  18. TerriMolina

    Great Post Toni and I’m so glad someone else is spreading the word about Christie. She’s truly a wonderful person as well as a gifted writer.
    I’ve know Christie for as long as I’ve been writing, she was on the board of the NWH Chapter of RWA when I joined and one of the first to welcome me openly into the group. We became instant friends and later critique partners and worked together until I moved. I was so thrilled when she finally made her sales…four books in a day I think it was. There was also a big sigh of relief from the contest circuit because you didn’t enter a contest if Christie did…hah
    Anyway, Christie is one of the reasons i haven’t given up…the other being I’m too dang stubborn. She’s always been a big supporter of my work. I’ve had major ups and downs–finding two agents and losing both and finding an editor only to lose her before the deal went through. I’ve spent the past two years still pushing the books because I believe in them. I don’t consider it a waste of time because, as you said, it’s timing.
    I recently got an email from an editor at a major house asking for the full manuscript. Funny thing is, I didn’t submit to the editor I submitted to a small press. Apparently the small press editor saw so much potential in my work that she passed it to the larger house. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. haha

    Sorry,,,long winded today. Hope you’re having fun at PASIC.

    Chat soon!


  19. toni mcgee causey

    Dusty, I LOVE that quote. That is perfect. (Glad to have helped–you have so often inspired me. And I am still stalking you.)

    Margaret – isn’t Christie great? And I just learned she has a very positive PW review of her latest!

    Oh, Deni, that is a terrific quote on dreams! Thank you.

    Naomi, thanks so much–I’m glad to help. So many people have inspired me along the way.

    Hey, Terri, so great to see you — and it’s just a matter of when, not "if" in your case. You’ve got the talent! Fingers crossed for this next submission.

  20. Dana King

    I tired for several years to be a professional musician. Got a Masters degree and everything. I finally quit when i became clear I just wasn’t good enough to obtain work at the level I wanted to play at.

    For all my job and career choices, I have developed what I call the Bullshit Ratio. Think of it as a graph. Satisfaction is one axis; bullshit is the other. So long as the amount of bullshit I have to out up with–and all careers have bullshit in them–is less than the satisfaction derived, then I’m good. (Satisfaction is financial and otherwise.) Once the point I plot on the graph falls below the curve, and stays there (troughs don’t count), then it’s time to find some other way to spend my time.

    The trick is not to let some arbitrary accomplishment define whether you’re happy. Be happy now, and if something gets in the way of that without a reasonable payoff (emotional, financial, or somehting else) move on.

  21. toni mcgee causey

    Dana, I was that way with painting (I paint in oils) and later, photography. I love them both, and I’m reasonably decent at them, but I’m not really talented. I can get lucky a time or two, but I realized at some point in each endeavor that I didn’t have anything different to say–that I was copying (in the sense of seeing what others were doing and not knowing how to put my own personal spin on it) instead of actually creating something that felt unique. I still enjoy them both, but they won’t be the center of a dream, maybe because of that bullshit factor you’re talking about. They’re hobbies, and everyone should get to have a hobby that they don’t have to be a pro at–something that relaxes them, that’s fun to do with no pressure. I dunno–maybe I never focused on either of them as my dream because I intuitively knew I lacked something to push through the down times with those abilities.

    I couldn’t quit the writing… though I’d be hard pressed to tell you why on earth I thought I could persevere and accomplish anything with all signs pointing to no for so long. But it felt different and I believed in that. And luck.

  22. Christie Craig


    Wow! Thank you so much for including me in this awesome post. Amen to everything you said about not giving up. This business isn’t easy, but I think a high percentage of writers who make it, do so because quitting wasn’t an option.

    Thanks again Toni and everyone. Waving at Terri! I’ve got my fingers crossed for you, girl!


  23. Christie Craig

    Bullshit Ratio? Dana, I love that!

    And Margaret . . . thank you! Those positive words from contest judges are part of what kept me going.


  24. Erika

    That’s an inspiring post to me as an unpublished author. It’s good to have a reminder that published authors didn’t get thier big break on their first submission or their first book. It keeps it a little more real in my head.

  25. Linda Warren

    What an inspiring post, just as Susan Boyle was. I tear up every time I watch the clip. And Christie is in my chapter so I know some of her story. She’s an inspiration, too.

    Quitting wasn’t an option for me either as I dreamed that dream of being published. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 18 so joining chapters and going to workshops wasn’t doable for me. I learned to write by reading and it took 10 years for an editor to notice my work and buy that first book. I’m working on book number 25 and this year I was nominated for a Rita. That’s a wonderful feeling after many years of struggling to write.

    I didn’t mean to write about myself, but your post was so moving. Good luck with your book.

  26. Kate Douglas

    What a wonderful blog, and for me, a walk down memory lane. I finished my first book and collected my first rejection in 1984. I kept writing, kept submitting, kept collecting rejections until I sold to an ebook company in 1998. I wrote for epublishers, started selling more, continued submitting to NY and continued getting rejections, finally got an agent and let HER get the rejections, and then, in 2005 when I was 55 years old, I sold my first book to NY and my life changed.

    You don’t quit. Period. If you are truly a writer, you can’t quit. It’s not just who you are, it’s WHAT you are. My fourteenth book in the Wolf Tales series came out this past month. I’m writing the final chapter today of my new paranormal romance, the first in a series of four and with my newest Wolf Tales contract and this one, I’ll be gainfully employed into 2012. If I’d given up after the first rejection or the fiftieth, I wouldn’t be sitting here on a Sunday morning writing the final words in a contracted story. I wouldn’t be starting out on a new career at an age where most of my friends are thinking of retiring, and I probably wouldn’t be looking forward to the next few years with a sense of absolute joy. If I’d quit when family and friends "kindly" suggested that was really the only sensible thing to do, I’d be utterly miserable. Obviously I’m not, but it’s because, for me anyway, there really was no right time to quit. There never is when you love what you do and have faith in yourself and your muse. It’s not always easy to hang on in the face of rejection, but if you’re stubborn enough and persistent enough, and if you have the skills and the ability to put words to paper and learn to see a rejection as someone’s subjective response to your work, not a personal rejection of you as a writer, you can and will survive, and hopefully find success. It’s worth every year, every rejection and every book ever written that never gets published to finally be able to walk into bookstores all over the country and see books with YOUR name on them on the shelf.

  27. Allison Brennan

    As always, a fantastic post.

    I’ve always said I "seriously" started writing in March of 2002. Some people think that means I started writing. Nope. I started when I could hold a pencil. When I talk about "serious" it’s when I made that internal commitment to GET SERIOUS about finishing a book, editing it to the best of my ability, and sending it out to be rejected. Over and over and over again. Getting serious means developing the thick skin to withstand rejection and heartache and the fear that you’ll never sell. It means convincing yourself that your dreams DO matter. I suppose I had a different mental block than some other writers have. My problem wasn’t in sending stories out to be rejected, it was doubt that I any talent whatsoever. It was much easier to write for *me* than it was to write for publication.

    But attitude means everything, and once my attitude adjusted I was able to *get serious.*

  28. toni mcgee causey

    Christie, I was thrilled to include you — thank you for giving me permission to relate that story. I seriously did not do it justice; everyone in that room was completely choked up.

    Erika, I know just what you mean. I’ve really appreciated the other writers here and elsewhere on the web who’ll talk about the process and the good as well as the bad–it demystifies it a bit, and keeps it from feeling like I’m plunging off a cliff without a chute.

    Linda, CONGRATULATIONS ON THE RITA NOM! That’s fantastic, and I’m really thrilled you posted your own story. Tremendously inspiring.

    Kate, thank you! I love that you didn’t quit when your family kindly suggested it. And wow, four more books on top of the ones you’ve done–that’s fantastic! You’re absolutely right about the responses being subjective about the work, not the person. Utterly important distinction for us all to remember.

    Allison, thank you. "It means convincing yourself that your dreams DO matter." Perfectly said.

  29. pam

    Great post! This made me think of a non-fiction book I recently read, Outliers, and one of the studies they did showed that people who truly become ‘experts’ and see huge success, don’t necessarily have the most talent, but they put in the most effort, and the most time. 10,000 hours was the average before these people were considered successful. Examples given included, Bill Gates, The Beatles, and Stephen King.

    And count me in as someone who gets goosebumps each time she watches that youtube video, at least 10 times now. I’ll be pre-ordering her CD as soon as it’s available!

  30. Pari

    A wonderful, wonderful post. You know some of what’s been going on in my little corner of the world. I’ve thought about quitting, oh boy have I. But to do so would be to cut out three quarters of my heart.

    As to Susan Boyle, I’ve watched that video several times — made my husband and children watch it too — because she is the epitome of what you wrote about today. And she entirely cuts through our cynicism and lays bare all our hopes and dreams.

  31. William Simon

    I have known Christie Craig for more years than either of us probably wants to admit, and it has been my sincere privilege to see her "When Do You Stop?" talk more than once. Every time I see it, I come back to the office and smoke comes off my keyboard. Maybe I should hire her as Writing Coach???

    "Dreams are GOALS we haven’t quite reached yet." THAT is Christie Craig in one sentence….

  32. Venus Vaughn


    Thank you for taking the time to say the rest of the important things about that clip. i tried to hit it myself on my blog here,
    but you said it way better.

    It’s about so much more than "don’t judge a book by its cover." That’s just the first layer of why the story inspires. The rest of it, the hidden part that hits us in the tear ducts, is in the underlying part. The perseverance. The fortitude. The ‘knowing when to quit’.

    Thank you. (and I hope my link worked)

  33. Blythe Gifford

    I always tell people: if you can quit, do, because if you can quit before you sell, you’ll certainly be eager to quit after you sell and the really hard part starts!

  34. toni mcgee causey

    Pam, those hours sound about right, especially this weekend. πŸ˜‰

    Pari, I’m so glad you can’t quit. I am selfish that way–I want to see the next thing you write.

    William, ain’t that the truth? Christie made me want to come home and get back to work, and I think I’ve had more productive weeks since that conference because of her example.

    Pammy D., thank you. (You crack me up.)

    Venus, thank you! And that link worked great–I thought you said it very well, yourself.

    Elisabeth, Abby, Liz and Myra, thank you.

    Blythe, you made me laugh. πŸ™‚

  35. billie

    Coming in late today (daughter rode in a horse show that went on forever!) but this is a fabulous, amazing post and I thank you for it. I know I’ll roll into a new writing week with renewed spirit thanks to you. πŸ™‚

  36. Debbie Schubert

    Toni, This is my first time here and I’m blown away. (I found you via the always wonderful, Ms. Janet Reid.) I’m in the querying process and it certainly is a roller-coaster ride. This post puts everything right back where it belongs – in perspective. Thanks to you and to Christie Craig for reminding us all that "good things, baby, in life, (oh, yeah) take a long time." (Sing to Chicago’s, "Searching So Long.") Thousands of rejections? I haven’t gotten my toes wet yet! Excuse me while l jump back in the pool.;-)

  37. Elissa WIlds

    Toni, thank you, thank you for this beautiful post. I was there too, at the PASIC conference. Christie’s story put a lump in my throat and brought tears to my eyes. She spoke what all of us feel inside….her story is my story, your story, we all have a dream. We all have something we want…something that thrills us and scares us at the same time. I hope that Christie’s story – and Susan’s story – can continue to inspire us all to keep trying, keep taking risks, and keep dreaming….because sometimes, dreams really do come true. πŸ™‚ Elissa

  38. Cornelia Read

    What a fabulous, fabulous post. I’ve watched the Susan Boyle video on youtube about five times now, and it’s made me cry every damn time. Life is good, but sometimes it just takes a while to catch up with us, you know?

    Thank you for writing this.

  39. Laura

    Great post. What an encouragement. And yes, of course that’s what is so moving about Susan — she’s 47 and she’s still dreaming the dream. And to choose that song and rock it out like she did. Just makes my heart swell. She breathed life back into a lot of dreams that night.

  40. Marjorie Levine

    re: dreams and the power of literary agents
    I gave up on queries. It is asking somebody else with more power to help you in your endeavors. There are so many other options that allow a writer to share his work.
    There’s a guy in my neighborhood who plays his guitar on a street corner. Maybe it is because he never was signed by a record company. There is an artist who displays his paintings on the sidewalk. And there are singers who are fantastic and they sing on the subway train. And this dude I know self-published his poems. Many people might consider his work mediocre at best, but seeing his work in print helped him find his smile.
    I admire their creativity. They are not querying another person and waiting for another person to give them permission to share parts of themselves.
    Life is short. It may be a one-shot deal. My book in my blog. My dream is that people will read my memoir and enjoy it and laugh.

  41. Mel Sherratt

    Toni, I’m from England and sit and watch every reality TV show, thinking that one day I will have my chance, like Susan Boyle. I admit that I wrote her off and by the end of the clip my jaw had hit the floor and I was up on my feet in the middle of my sitting room clapping away. I love it when the ‘underdog’ comes good.

    I’ve been writing for nearly ten years now, been signed with one agent who messed me about for a couple of years, abandoned that book completely (and my self esteem for a while), found a mentor who advised me to turn to crime writing and I’ve just been taken on by another agent from a really good agency. I’m still not there yet but have another shot and I won’t give up until my book is published. Sounds conceited but it isn’t. I’ve given up all my free time for those years because I have to. And turning to crime from women’s fiction has made me love writing. It just seems to work for me.

    Your post was great, I really enjoyed reading it. Best of luck for the future

    Stoke on Trent, England

  42. B.E. Sanderson

    Thanks, Toni. After five years and as many books, I’m back in the query process again. I needed your words, and Christie’s, and the words of the commenters here. I need to print them off and staple them to my forehead for those times when I feel like it’s getting too rough and I want to chuck it all for an easy stress-free job – like disarming bombs or juggling knives or waitressing. Or maybe I’ll just keep it all in a special place in my heart next to this poem:

    When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
    When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
    … When care is pressing you down a bit,
    Rest, if you mustβ€”but don’t you quit.
    … Often the goal is nearer than
    It seems to a faint and faltering man,
    Often the struggler has given up
    When he might have captured the victor’s cup.
    -Edgar A. Guest

    Thanks for this, Toni. (and now I’ve made myself teary… dang it)

  43. pooks

    At the risk of stirring up a firestorm, today too many people give up on the dream and go to epub or self-publishing. Worse, many start there, because even the idea of submitting and collecting rejections is more than they want to deal with. Actually spending time (and waiting is hard, I know) going through the process is too much to ask, when you can feel all "busy" and "satisfied" by having a book in your hands (or on the screen) available for friends and word of mouth sales, instead of one in thousands of bookstores across the country.

    Putting yourself out there is hard. Collecting rejections is hard. But the payoffs are real.

    Wonderful, as always, Toni.

  44. Linda Poitevin

    Beautiful, beautiful post, Toni…thank you. "No is not an option. It’s only an obstacle" is now posted above my desk as I tackle a massive rewrite in the always-learning-always-improving process. Good luck on that fourth book!

  45. jenny gardiner

    Awesome post–sorry I couldn’t stick around for Christie’s workshop! She is one of those people you absolutely love to see make it–totally deserves it, as do you. And the victory is that much sweeter when you work hard for it. As my girlfriend and I always say, "Last one standing wins the publishing contract!"

  46. Barbara Rae Robinson

    Truly inspiring post. I hadn’t heard Christie’s story. Thank you for including it. I am older than Susan Boyle, but I haven’t given up and I won’t. Whatever it takes.


  47. Joan Reeves

    Oh, wait a moment. I must open the box where I store my adjectives. Let’s see I’ll use this assortment: brilliant, profound, wise, and beautifully articulated (had to open the adverb box too).

    Am going to my blog to alert readers and send them here.

    Best wishes, Joan

  48. Lynn Raye Harris

    I have been privileged enough to see Christie do that workshop live. She came to Heart of Dixie in Alabama and, like you, I was looking curiously at the rolling suitcase and wondering how that figured in.

    It is, indeed, a heart-stopping and inspiring talk. I don’t think I’d sold yet when she was there, but I left with renewed determination, that’s for sure. I finally got the call last October, nearly 15 years after I’d penned my first romance. I’d quit for a while, did other things, then came back with the knowledge I couldn’t really quit for good. And it did finally work out. πŸ™‚

    Great post, Toni! And awesome inspiration for those who are still struggling on the path. I know things can get difficult again, I know it’s not easy street now that I have a book coming out, but I wouldn’t have gotten this far without some strength — so I am determined to handle whatever comes my way with determination. Not quitting. πŸ™‚

  49. Melissa Blue

    Wow. I teared up.

    I live by the school of thought "Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

    Can’t remember which designer, but he/she comitted suicide the day before their business just exploded. Yes, that’s to the extreme, but it always made me think just one more.

    Lastly, I love the Rosa Parks, Ms. Mead analogy. No, I couldn’t imagine going to women like that and saying "it’s hard, I give up."

  50. Mandy Hubbard

    Wow. Great post!

    I have a book coming out June 11 that was rejected from an editor at every house in NYC. I revised, revised, and revised. It was rejected 21 times when I received a revision request that meant a complete and total rewrite. So I did it.

    And was rejected again.

    A few weeks later, two editors offered on the rewritten manuscript. After two years on submissions, 26 rejections, and 9 drafts.

    A published author is an amatuer who didnt quit.

    Don’t quit.

  51. Anne Rainey

    Thank you for posting this! I’m going to print it and keep it handy for those suckish days.

    The interesting thing is that I had it in my head recently to throw in the towel. I talked it over with the hubby and everything. Then at some point I stopped and thought, ‘is it really possible to give up your passion?’ And so, I got back to work… πŸ™‚

  52. Maggie Toussaint

    What a lovely post. I am humbled by folks who persevere through so much. And I’m oddly comofrted by others who struggle, as I have struggled, to follow the dream.

    Very insightful post.

  53. PJvonDetweiler

    You didn’t warn them the roses come with thorns. Even when you’re crawling in them or they are growing in places we won’t mention, there is always a payment plan. And, sometimes, I don’t want to pay anymore–and then tomorrow comes.

    Great post. Very true, very motivating, and, for some, very startling. Reality bites. Bite back.

  54. Cerri Ellis

    What a wonderful post! Thank you so much for it. My family have all asked why I don’t give up. When will I just stop all the hard work and say that’s it, I quit?

    Well, I do know one thing. I’m either too stupid to quit, or I’m having too much fun trying despite the difficulties I face. Last November I had another near death experience during a surgery, my third in 25 years. Since having sarcoidosis and cancer, in addition to dying three times apparently doesn’t stop my determination, a little thing like rejection slips sure aren’t enough of a deterrent. No matter how many suitcases full of them I may have to carry. LOL.

    What do I have to lose by trying? Nothing. So from my perspective, it can only get better from here. πŸ˜€

    Chin up to all my fellow writers out there. Follow the dream and enjoy the ride, no matter what it brings. I have no regrets.

  55. Grapeshot

    So then, my 300+ rejections are not so bad, are they? And nineteen years of slogging away at the keyboard. By no means a record, although it’s galling beyond belief. Humiliating, too. No one asks, "how’s the writing going" anymore. They know. Have to confess I’ve been very tempted to throw in the towel this year, and I am definitely writing my last crime fiction novel. There are other genres that might be a better fit. I’ll try women’s fictions and then a YA hisorical. I won’t stop writing. Nope. Somehow in spite of the failure to publish, I’m still a writer.

  56. Lori Avocato

    Fantastic, truthful article, Toni. I, too, blogged about Susan yesterday. What a lesson to learn. First, not to give up a dream and to work toward it. And, second, not to judge a book by its cover!

    Kudos to Susan for giving showing us how to go for our dreams! What an appropriate sound she picked to sing–so flawlessly. Dynamic voice


  57. Susan Adrian

    YES! Fabulous post.

    And I *just* had someone tell me they hated my MC and didn’t want to read any more about her. I had the exact same reaction as you. πŸ™‚

  58. Jeri Westerson

    When is it time to quit? Boy, I struggled with that one some years ago. Embarking on a career as a novelist was all uphill. When five years passed and then ten, twelve, without a contract, I looked at my husband and said, "Maybe I should give up trying to get published. Look at all the money I’ve spent, all the time. What’s the use if I get rejected time and again?" But that rock of a man told me, "You can’t give up. Your writing is a part of you. You have to keep trying. And I’ll be there." A few years later–just last year–I finally saw the publication of my first novel, Veil of Lies, and the second one is being released this September. You better believe all my books are dedicated to my wonderful husband! When is it time to quit? When there’s no one left to believe in you.

  59. Mary Ricksen

    I say never quit until you have reached your goal.
    Never, ever, never, you may be one letter away from success!

  60. Jenn

    What an amazing post, thank you. First of all, I was skeptical of the whole Susan Boyle phenom until I read your take on it. I GET IT now. Secondly, as a new writer, I cannot tell you how much your words have stoked the fire in my belly. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  61. Kristin

    As someone who just got a rejection FridayAND this morning, I needed this. Great post. I’ve seen the video and what really struck me was the song itself (apart from Susan’s amazing voice). That song is about someone’s dream being killed by the circumstances of her life and I have to imagine Susan’s life could have killed her dreams. I hope she does well in the competition, but no matter what she’s already won.

  62. Ashley Ludwig

    This moved me. Into thought. Into action.

    Stalled, as I have been, in current WIP edits – in frenzy of promo for my first novel, wondering if I’ve got another one lurking in there, somewhere…your post gobsmacked me.

    I do have a dream. And I have no intention of quitting.

    Thank you, & thank you, Susan Boyle!


  63. Amy Shojai

    Dang, Toni, that’s a wonderful post! Here I am, in the middle of trying to re-invent myself as a writer (and other things)–and having been a singer–this really struck home on mutliple levels. THis was just the kick in the ass-ets I needed!

  64. Pamela S Thibodeaux

    What a terrific post! I quit writing at least once a year LOL! In fact, I quit just the other day πŸ™‚

    I’ve learned what you and so many have learned over the years….real writers don’t quit: they may take a break or an extended sabatical, but they’re usually still writing something.

    Keep the faith and keep on writing!

  65. Samantha Clark

    This is a fantastic post. Truly inspirational.

    I was just writing about being persistent on my blog, when I found your post, so I wrote another post about being persistent, and have linked to this. I love the stories about Christie Craig and yourself. Thanks for sharing. I’m writing in the wee hours of the morning before my husband gets up, so I know what you were talking about.

    Oh, and, that Susan Boyle video made me cry too, then cheer and cheer and cheer!

  66. Cris Adams

    My little granddaughter recently received FOUR pre-kindergarten innoculations against disease. Toni, this post is like four innoculations for me against discouragement, fear, self-doubt, and loss of determination. Writers have to dream. We have to believe in ourselves. And we have to keep writing. Thank you for giving me such a fantastic "shot in the arm" this morning!

    Cris Adams

  67. Delle Jacobs

    Susan Boyle is my hero. So is Christie Craig. So are thousands of women who have the guts to write their stories and sing their songs despite the shallowness and ridicule of the entertainment world that somehow thinks intelligence and talent reside in great boobs.

    Go Susan! Go Christie!

  68. Faith Bicknell-Brown

    Dear Toni:

    I sat here reading your post with my mouth ajar. I wrote something similar the other day on a blog that I share called Four Strong Women. I was to that quitting point and someone special appeared one day and gave me the strength I needed to carry on. (The link to it is posted as my URL in the comment form) I have an agent, a truly wonderful agent, but this business is still incredibly hard even when you have someone like him at your side. Reading this post gave me more hope and I just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  69. James A. Ritchie

    Great post, but I see both sies of this issue. I’ve been in and around pubishing for a few decades now. I’ve sold my share of novels, short stories, and articles, and I’ve met an awful bunch of writers who simply refused to quit, no matter what.

    Never, ever quit can be a good attitude, but it can also lead to empty, broken lives. I’be known writers who kept at it for decades, who studied, who went to workshops, who write day in and day out, but who never stood a chance of succeeding because they simply lacked the talent.

    I’ve know writers who wrote hundreds of short stories, from fifteen to twenty novels, but who never could reach the point where what they wrote was remotely publishable.

    It used to be that roughly one in a hundred who tried would eventually sell a book. There are so many new writers out there now that the number is up to about one in three hundred and thirty. And of those who do manage to sell a book, only about one in ten will make much more than minimum wage.

    Stubborn perserverence is a good thing, but I believe it much be tempered with a dose of reality. All the time and effort in the world will not make anyone a writer unless the talent is there. It doesn’t take a lot of talent, but it takes some, and not everyone has it.

    I believe in working hard, in working long, in being dedicated, but I also believe that knowing when to quit is esential. For every writer who succeeds, even to a small degree, hundreds are going to fail miserably, and no amount of work will change this.

    Trying hard is important, but I tink people need to understand that it’s all too easy to find yourself old and broken and empty when the dream doesn’t come true, particularly if it comes with the realization that you might have succeeded wildly at something else.

    We can’t all be selling writers, anymore than we can all be NBA stars.

    Keep writing, but keep an eye out for other things to do, for other paths to success, because this one isn’t likely to work out.

  70. Susan Taylor Brown

    I know I’ll just be repeating what so many people have already said but this, this was just what I needed to hear. I’ve published and I’ve been rejected and everything in-between. Sometimes I think about quitting and I get such an ache in my gut that I am ready to call 911. Sometimes I wonder why and how I can go on.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  71. Kelly L Stone

    Thank you for this great post. I am truly inspired by Ms. Boyle. What a beautiful voice. While I was watching the video, I kept thinking "This is like a movie" but it’s real life. How great! I’m so glad she can now get the recognition she clearly deserves. This was definitely the most inspiring blog I’ve read in a very long time.

  72. Mary Germanotta Duquette

    Toni, I just found your website and have to say, it is all quite serendipitous, as I really needed to read this right now. LOVE your story about Christie Craig and her rejection letters, LOVE the inspiration and the perspective you’ve given me. I am struggling, as so many writers are, to keep my head up – but no matter what, I will not quit. This speaks to me as if I had spoken it myself, to myself, in my heart. Thank you! πŸ™‚

  73. Danny Adams

    Re: Wanting stardom to be easy

    I’ve heard it said that the ones at the top usually only make it look easy–but underneath they paddled hard and unswervingly to get where they were, and keep on paddling now.

    I’ll bet anything that Susan Boyle didn’t stop singing during those years between the CD and the show–she just wasn’t doing it professionally.

  74. Anita Jahner

    Thank you for the wake-up call! I tend to let my life circumstances, physical limitations, or just the normal day to day routines keep me from writing. It’s something I love to do, so I need to make the time commitment and allow myself the pleasure of writing. I love the tenacity that Christie Craig showed.
    Well, I’m off to do what I love to do… write.

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