In 2018, I stopped calling myself a health science writer.
This wasn’t a decision I made in response to a single incident. Over a span of several years, I watched as my joy and excitement for pursuing my dream slowly faded. It finally got to the point where I dreaded having to do it which, to me, was a sign it was time to say goodbye.
But before I finalized that decision, I spent hours making lists and reflecting deeply on my feelings, my passions, and my goals. I realized what I really wanted out of my profession wasn’t something I could obtain if I continued down the path I’d been struggling down.
It was in that moment I told myself, out loud, “It’s OK. You don’t have to do this anymore. You’re the only one forcing yourself to do it, and no one else will care if you stop.”
So I stopped. And now I’m able to spend more time doing work that actually reaches and helps people. You! I’m talking about all of you. My growing hatred for creating content in the health space was starting to bleed into all my other work, and that almost made me hate doing this (blogging about the writing life). That wasn’t cool. Thankfully, my passion for what I do is stronger than ever.
I know it may not always be that way, though. That’s why I “check in” with myself about once a year to make sure that what I am doing is still worth the time, energy, and effort.
About at the end of every calendar year I ask myself, “Do you still want to do this blogging thing?” Almost as if there’s an invisible contract up for renewal and I’m obligated to decide whether or not I want to sign it.
Of course, for the past 10 years the answer has always been “yes.” And I don’t think that’s going to change, at least not in the next few years anyway.
But there is a reason I check in with myself consistently like this. I personally believe it’s healthy to question why we continue to do the things we do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with forming habits. But there is always the chance you will fall into a rut, start feeling stuck and bored, and stop enjoying what you’re doing — and/or stop doing it altogether.
Every now and then, I give myself permission to quit. If one day I think long and hard about it and realize blogging is no longer something I want to do, I will stop doing it. But then there is something additionally motivating and almost thrilling about actively deciding, “Yes, I want to keep doing this, and I’m excited about that. I’m not quitting yet.”
Many times, the reasons writers decide to quit are pretty terrible. “I’m not good at it.” “I’m not making enough money.” “I don’t have time.” All valid reasons, don’t get me wrong. But people still make themselves sick with guilt when they do stop because of these things. They don’t give themselves permission to stop. They do it out of anger or frustration or because of a single, isolated event.
If you decide you want to stop writing because it causes you more pain than joy, then go ahead — quit. But give yourself the freedom to do that. Remind yourself that even if you had your heart set on writing, if it doesn’t end up being the thing that defines your life, that’s not the end of the world.
If you’re going to quit, do it because you know it is the right decision for you. Don’t do it because someone else said you should. Don’t stop writing because it’s taking too long to succeed or you don’t believe it’s possible. You are welcome to quit anytime you want. But think about it. Make a pro-con list. Ask yourself, “Am I making this decision based on a negative emotion, or because doing so will make me happier? If I quit, will I feel more miserable than I already do, or will I feel at peace?”
Sometimes, even when we don’t want to make a choice, making it overwhelms us with a sense of calm and serenity we haven’t felt in a long time. When I quit writing about nutrition on the internet, I was disappointed. BUT, I felt relieved at the same time. The pressure was gone. I gave myself the choice to quit, and when I did, my life significantly improved.
My dream didn’t die. I just put it aside and decided to focus on other, more fulfilling things for a while. If I hadn’t given myself that permission to stop, I might have found myself sad and angry and filled with guilt. This was my dream! I gave up! What is wrong with me?
Instead, I looked at all the reasons it was no longer the best path for me (for the time being), and I was able to justify what turned out to be a pretty good reason to say “no more.”
If you’ve said for a long time you want to write for a living or publish a book or host a popular blog — and maybe you’ve come pretty close to achieving that goal — but you don’t want to pursue that anymore, well, DON’T. But don’t tear yourself apart about it. If it’s making you miserable, what the heck is the point? You deserve to be happy. You don’t HAVE to write. The best writers write because it’s what they WANT to do, even if there are parts of it they’re not all that fond of.
And hey, you never know. You might come back to it one day. It may just be the wrong time, you may not be in the right mindset. You may need to take care of some more pressing matters first.
Or, you might give yourself permission to walk away, think about it for a while, and decide, “Nah, I’m good. This is tough, but I’m not backing down.”
The most important thing here is that the choice is yours and yours alone. No one can or should make it for you. Whether you give up trying to write full-time and keep it as a moonlight hobby or you stop writing altogether, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, a bad person, or a failure. It just means you’re actively making a choice. What’s so wrong about that?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.