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  • Writer's pictureBurton W. Cole

Know When to Give Up

It’s one of our favorite mantras: Never give up.

The Bible encourages perseverance, right?

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NIV)

“… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)

“… Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14, NIV)

The message is clear—DON’T QUIT!

Not quite.

Read all the words. The verses say don’t give up only in doing good. Quit everything that hinders us. Stop wallowing in the past.

In Acts 26, the Apostle Paul recounts being relentless in doing exactly what he thought was perfectly correct—until Jesus stopped him on the road to Damascus. Telling him to quit those ways, Jesus said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

A goad is a spiked stick farmers of that day used to encourage their team of oxen to move in the correct direction. Paul was so convinced that he was right that he was figuratively destroying himself smashing up against God’s course-correcting spiked goad.

The pages of the Bible are filled with God pleading for people to surrender to Him, which actually is victory.


Here’s how that applies to writing: Sometimes, a clever phrase, a scene, or even an entire novel just isn’t right. But you’ve fallen so in love with it that you become too entangled in the bad idea for your work to go anywhere.

I pen a weekly humor column for the local newspapers. Sometimes I come up with a joke that I think is so clever and so brilliantly worded that I try to wedge it into my column. Hey, my readers deserve this piece of genius.

When I finally admit that it just doesn’t work, sigh, and delete it, I am astounded at how much better and funnier the column as a whole is. It wasn’t Don’t give up on the verge of a miracle; I was on the verge of ruining an entire story just because I’d fallen in love with one silly sentence that I didn’t want to quit even though it wouldn’t fit.

Like the proverbial one bad apple, not quitting would have spoiled the whole bunch of words.

In my novels, I’ve had times when I spent all my energy bashing against that annoying goad, trying to kick it out of the way. My brain’s so exhausted that I neither can figure out a solution for that scene, nor tackle anything else anywhere in the book. The story’s dead.

That’s when it’s time to quit on the dead weight. When I stopped trying to force my will onto the story, my writing flowed again.

The bonus is that once I stop obsessing over the part that wasn’t working, my unconscious brain mulled it over without me noticing. Weeks, months or years later, at the very right spot, the unconscious brain kicked the thing back to the forefront and said, “Here’s where this goes. Oh, and move this part to there, add this, take those two things out, and boom, the whole thing works. You’re welcome.”

Quitting doesn’t always mean giving up forever. Sometimes knowing when to surrender simply means waiting a while before ultimate victory.

This post originally was published Oct. 19, 2020, on Storyteller Squad:

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