I once read a comment from a reader/viewer criticizing me for telling writers they shouldn’t quit.
In the context of the thing they were leaving a comment on, it really wasn’t appropriate. When someone’s message is meant to inspire or encourage members of an audience to or not to do something, if you don’t agree, you can just … you know … click away.
But in general, the comment made total sense. If a writer wants to quit, they should be allowed to quit. Some people walk away from their creative outlets and that’s completely their choice. I would never judge anyone for saying they don’t want to write anymore. You do you, friends. The way I look at it, if writing no longer makes you happy, setting it aside might be the best decision for you personally. Do what’s best for you.
There’s only one situation in which I stand by my philosophy that quitting is not an option. And that’s deciding to quit solely because someone else says you should stop writing.
The more I’ve grown and matured as a writer and as a human, the more I’ve encountered reasons that could totally justify trading in my career as a writer for something much more practical.
It took me a long time to get to a place where I understood — and I mean REALLY understood — why people quit writing. I’ve talked a lot on various channels about people who quit because they don’t want to or don’t know how to put in the work and people who aren’t willing to change their habits. These people do exist. And they exist in far more contexts than writing alone.
But as someone who claims to really want to focus on the “human” side of writing as much as possible, that outlook can feel insensitive in many situations. Because here’s what I learned: Sometimes you really enjoy doing something, you are willing to put the work into it and do whatever it takes to make that thing happen, but you are mentally or emotionally incapable of doing that thing. You just don’t have it in you anymore. At least not right now.
I’m not talking about serious mental health concerns here — though this does happen, and if you do feel like you need help, please, please seek help. It’s possible to feel physically and emotionally drained just from life in general. Life is exhausting. You don’t need a diagnosis from a doctor to know you’re Tired with a capital T.
(But as a health communicator I do have to say that doctors can be very helpful, and it never hurts to get checked out by one if you feel you need to and if you are able.)
Can I be honest with you? I’ve thought about quitting a lot this year. I know I’m in a major position of privilege when I say this, but something that happens to you when people start noticing your work is that all the mean spirited people in the universe poke their heads out of their caves and start screaming. At you. Loudly.
Why? I don’t know, I’m not going to get into the psychology of it all. But it happens. You can call them trolls, you can call them bored attention seekers, you can call them much worse names than that (I won’t). The point is, they exist, and there is nothing on this earth that has contributed more to my desire to quit than people who try to make me feel like my work isn’t worth it.
What many people don’t realize, especially on the internet, is that there is a person behind the articles and things that appear on websites. Sometimes someone is getting paid to make a certain argument about something, and they work really hard on making that thing one of the best things they’ve ever created. And sure, some people might say “good job” and that’s nice, even though it’s not the reason they wrote the thing. But there are so many meanies out there. They don’t say nice things, and it can make even the strongest person on the planet question why they’re putting themselves out into the world.
It’s a process, learning not to let other people get to you. I haven’t let someone else drive me to quit yet. But I know there are aspiring writers out there who have, or who are considering killing their dreams because they just don’t seem worth the stress and the comments and the darkness.
By all means, quit if you’re too overwhelmed. Quit if you need to make a change. Quit if the work you’re doing just isn’t fulfilling you the way it used to. Do it. Quit.
But don’t give up because of what anyone else says to or about you, even if they don’t tell you directly that you should stop. Words can hurt, and they can hurt anyone, not just people who are more “sensitive.” Even those who mean well can unintentionally leave scars.
Words hurt. But hurt can also inspire more words. Sometimes. Other times criticism makes you want to curl up into a ball and stay that way. And ultimately, if for whatever reason you just can’t handle that, of course you can give yourself permission to stop. You should never force yourself to do something you don’t want to do.
But don’t let someone else have that power over you, the power to shut down your ambitions. Gosh darn it, if writing is what you want to do, then anyone who tries to say you shouldn’t do it isn’t worth listening to. ANYONE can write, if they want to. Anyone can write books, short stories, poems, song lyrics, WHATEVER you want.
You don’t have to make a living writing to be a writer. You just have to write. That’s it. That’s the only requirement.
So if that’s what you want to do, DO IT. Do it because it gives you purpose. Do it because it fills you up. Do it because you don’t know what would happen to you if you didn’t. Do it because you want to. That’s the only reason you need.
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.