What if You Want to Quit Writing?

By Patricia Stoltey

Recently I've read quite a few blog posts by discouraged writers, Yahoo! Group posts from writers who are tired of the struggle, social media updates that read like the last whimper from someone who's given up.

Back in the old days, when we took on a job, we were expected to stick with that employer/career for a lifetime  (assuming the job was a good one and there were opportunities for advancement, of course). In an odd way, that decision has also applied to those in creative fields--painters must paint forever, writers must churn out more words--even when a day job is necessary to put food on the table and maintain shelter.

But times have changed. Job hopping is normal. Changing careers in the middle of the stream is a growing trend. Our work lives are more like this: Try something new, master it or not, decide it's not the ideal life you thought it would be, and move on.

I'm hearing a lot less of "I write because I have to write," and a lot more of "This is a monumental waste of my time."

There was an article in the Los Angeles Times by Carolyn Kellogg last year about Philip Roth ("Philip Roth has quit writing fiction. He means it. Really.") that should make all of us think about what our writing means to us and why we keep flailing away when the process is not going well.

"What does Roth do instead of write? 'I swim, I follow baseball, look at the scenery, watch a few movies, listen to music, eat well and see friends. In the country I am keen on nature,' he says. He added, 'Barely time left for a continuing preoccupation with aging, writing, sex and death. By the end of the day I am too fatigued.'

Of course, Roth is over 80, has published more than 25 books, won awards, and has earned a joyful retirement. He retired and he doesn't miss writing fiction, just as many of us retire from real world jobs and don't miss them at all. Roth stuck to his writing until he had accomplished great things and could enjoy his remaining years.

What if you haven't achieved as much as you'd hoped, or worse, you're just beginning and are feeling overwhelmed and suicidal?

Back in 2012 Chuck Wendig at his Terrible Minds blog posted 25 Reasons You Should Quit Writing. The whole writer angst thing is part of the writing process, part of the of the writing life. But Wendig's #24 reason to quit writing is:

"I don’t think you like writing very much. Mostly you just complain. Boo-hoo pee-pee-pants sobby-face wah-wah existential turmoil. Writing is hard, publishing is mean, my characters won’t listen to me, blah blah blah. I don’t get the sense you really enjoy this thing, so why don’t you take a load off?"

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers is an organization of writers at every stage of the craft from beginner to published to winning awards. It will be the rare member who doesn't periodically cycle through stages of whining, feeling rejected, dumping projects, and wanting to quit. Most of us will cycle back into productivity and optimism.

And some will quit. There lies the truth behind today's blog post. Some will quit. Maybe at 25 after two years and no writing success. Or at 80 after a successful award-winning career. It's not the end of the world if you quit writing and do something else. It's not the end of the world if you take a five-year break and write more when you're older.

I played at writing during my real world working years but didn't get serious (if you can call the way I do it "serious") about it until almost five years after retirement. I think about quitting almost every week. Sometimes twice in one day.

So how long have you been writing? How often do you feel like quitting?

Patricia Stoltey
Patricia grew up on a farm in central Illinois so naturally had to use the old farm in her first mystery. The second Sylvia and Willie tale takes place near and in the little touristy gold mining town of Oatman, Arizona. Patricia's third novel, a standalone suspense called Dead Wrong, was released November 2014. Dead Wrong was a finalist in the thriller category for the Colorado Book Awards. Visit her blog at http://patriciastolteybooks.com

24 thoughts on “What if You Want to Quit Writing?

  1. Hi Pat– I’ve been writing a really long time and have quit a couple of times. Always, it’s the people who bring me back. I don’t want to lose touch with my writing friends. We were laughing about this just yesterday. How many times I’ve said, “If this book doesn’t sell, I’m quitting.”

    • Good morning, Shannon! I hope the post gives newer writers a heads-up that they’re not alone when they hit the down days/months. I always say the same thing you do, and then I eventually go back and try again. This is the journey….

  2. Excellent post, Pat! I think a large proportion of the “writers” quitting ostentatiously that I’m seeing are people who got into it via the Gold Rush mentality. When they don’t make J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyers money, they get annoyed and quit. I’m firmly of the opinion that writing was likely never their thing in the first place.

    • I suspect you’re right, Jeffe. Luckily, I never expected to get rich. When I think about quitting, it’s usually because there’s something else I want to do (or try) with my time. As with any other goal that requires dedication, one needs to focus on writing. Being a creature of eclectic interests leads to scattered thoughts and activities which is counter-productive.

  3. Hi Pat. Thought provoking post. Of course, I’m not a writer in the sense like all of you, but I’ve come and gone with it several times during my life, meeting some success each time, and I always keep at it on a personal level. I don’t know where I stand with it right now, and I’m OK with that.

    I have to admit, after seriously considering writing a book and learning about the industry, I definitely don’t have the drive, ambition, passion, tolerance– whatever you want to call it– to tackle it. Makes me admire the rest of you all the more.

    • Hi Julie! You’re right. Drive, ambition, passion, tolerance are requirements, just as though we aspired to become Olympic athletes, concert pianists, or master chefs. But life is short, and some of us want to sample a little bit of everything.

    • This last week of avoiding writing has not been healthy for my brain, though. I’ve been suffering through computer problems….but I have high hopes today’s session with Microsoft has fixed everything. It sure would be lovely to get back to writing (see….now I’m in one of my “I love writing” phases…as well as a “I hate computers” phase), 😀

  4. So many beginning writers have unrealistic expectations and then have trouble accepting the fact that it’s a lot of work, takes a lot of time and mental energy and is filled with failures and disappointments. If it’s making a person miserable, they should quit.
    Susan Says

  5. Timely post. I started writing in the 80’s, got discouraged and didn’t say I quit, but I wasn’t doing much writing. About three years ago, I took a class and started a novel. Now, I don’t know how I managed not to write for so long. I agree that new writers don’t understand the time and dedication it takes to create a polished product. Without a doubt, I didn’t. But I’m revising a first novel, and I’m nearly finished with the first draft of another. Of course, I hope to publish, but I’ll keep writing this time.

    • Hi Kay! Or like some of us, stop and start, stop and start. I keep digging in my heels like an old mule that won’t go….and then someone/something lights a fire under me and I binge on writing as though nothing else in life matters.

  6. I am a writer and as such, there is no quitting for me. Sure there are times when I am not writing, but I am plotting while I work on the house, phrase building when I in the shower, crafting new ideas when driving down the highway. Frustration is there, doubt is there, but quitting is not. Levels and phases are part of life, are part of writing. One can always stop doing anything, even breathing. It’s a choice. I choose to write. If I don’t, colors fade, life shrivels up, and the world is less “worldly.”

    I write so the sun can shine on a rainy day, monsters can have birthday parties, and even the most novice fisherman can catch his first fish. Smiles on the page.

  7. Patricia, great post. I may feel like taking a break, but like Dean, my mind is always plotting, and I’m always writing in some for or another. Nope, don’t think I’ll ever quit. What I want to quit is the submission process. I’d rather clean gas station toliets. I hate promoting my work, my ideas, and myself, but I can’t find away around that monster. Thanks for bringing this all to the surface.

    • Hi Charlene! I’m not too fond of the submitting and promoting either and I’m very lazy about doing both. I think most writers feel that way. I wish everything beyond the writing part could be handled by one of those little elves (or the brownie that cobbled the shoes). 😀

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