When was the last time you seriously considered tossing your writing life aside for good?
Has it been a few years? A decade? A week? A few hours?
Wanting to quit is a completely normal human reaction to things that aren’t going our way. The difference between writers who succeed and those who don’t, however, is those who succeed know when putting something aside is the right thing to do and when it isn’t.
Most of the time, you shouldn’t quit when you face the temptation to do so.
In fact, the moments you want to quit the most are the ones you should work the hardest.
This advice might not make sense to you. But give it a chance, and allow me to explain.
If writing is your true passion and you have your heart set on pursuing it — either as a professional, life-long career or a hobby you partake in on the side and/or just for fun — it should take something significant for you to seriously consider quitting for good.
To be clear, this does NOT mean you should wait until you have physically injured yourself (yes, even writers can hurt themselves pursuing their craft) or you’ve pushed yourself so far into burnout that you have come to despise even the thought of typing out even one more paragraph. I am NOT advocating for doing something repeatedly that you no longer wish to or have to do.
What I am saying, however, is that in the majority of cases, writers quit not because they no longer want to write, but because writing has yet to or has stopped providing the satisfaction or gratification it once promised.
Think about it: If you were just starting out and following the advice that writing for exposure can be effective in justifiable amounts and circumstances, how would you feel if, after two months, you still weren’t getting any paid work? You’d probably feel pretty awful, right? Maybe even awful enough to quit?
You wouldn’t want to quit because you suddenly hated writing or no longer had any interest in pursuing it. You would want to quit because it wasn’t giving you the very specific results you expected.
The same thing happens when new writers’ blogs don’t grow “fast enough,” when they don’t gain followers at the rate they expect, when they are promised views on their work and it simply doesn’t happen. It’s not writing we are falling out of love with in these situations, it’s the fault of impatience, boredom, discouragement, and other negative emotions often associated with just not getting what you want when you want it.
Which is EXACTLY why you should work harder than you ever have before when you’re starting to feel like your work is never going to pay off.
I understand that sometimes quitting isn’t a choice. I’ve been in more than one situation throughout my writing life during which I had to put a project on hold or set it aside altogether because Life Happened.
I get it. I get that there are things in this world we cannot control, things that interfere with our ability to express ourselves creatively and stop us from being able to do what we want to, need to, and/or love.
But we can’t let every interruption, every inconvenience, every unpleasant surprise stand in our way.
It’s one thing to actively decide to take time off to deal with a health issue or tend to a loved one or just give yourself the few days of rest you have earned (take those days of rest! Take them all!). It’s another thing entirely to passively put off writing, avoid working or stop writing without a return date in mind because you Just Can’t Right Now.
Yes, even a creative hiatus needs to be planned in “advance.” Not to stress you out more, not to defeat the purpose of a break, but to make sure that in some way, in some form, you actually come back to the thing you once loved.
I suppose if you don’t want to return to writing and never do, that’s your choice and I’m not going to tell you that you don’t have the power or right to make that choice. But there’s a big difference between saying “I’m done” and walking away and saying “I might go back to it someday” and spending the rest of your life wondering if today will be the day you finally return to writing.
Why spend your whole life saying “I’ll do it tomorrow” — or wondering whether or not quitting was the right decision after all — when you could take a deep breath, set a small goal, and keep working until you’ve achieved that — and then another small goal, and another after that?
Sometimes we want to give up because we are overwhelmed with too many tasks, or tasks that are too big.
Sometimes we are so focused on the big picture that we forget we have to take small steps to get to the finish line, and many days it’s easier to dwell on the small steps than it is to wonder if the finish line is even worth running toward.
Why keep going when you’re convinced it isn’t worth it? Because not having reached the finish line yet isn’t a good reason to say running isn’t worth the prize. Having yet to reach your ultimate writing goal is a terrible excuse for deciding you don’t want to be a writer anymore.
Unfortunately, many aspiring writers do let this excuse rule what remains of their potential careers. They give up. They stop writing. Or they stop taking writing seriously.
But you don’t have to. And if you keep writing, your chances of success are already greater than the chances of those who decided not to keep pursuing their passions in the face of possible defeat.
It’s also often said that you don’t know how close you are to achieving something big until it actually happens. What if you sat down in the middle of the road and refused to finish the race not knowing the finish line was just around the corner? What if you quit your blog or your book or your job just before your “big break”?
As you struggle, and as you spend time with these questions and decisions, keep this in mind. Weigh the pros and cons, the benefits and risks, the costs and rewards. Is pursuing your passion worth the effort? Do you want to walk away because there doesn’t appear to be another option, or because you’re just tired or impatient or frustrated? Is the real reason you want to quit nothing more than a lame excuse?
Don’t let a lame excuse stop you from achieving your dreams.
If you have to stop and take some breaths and take care of yourself and get your life in order, do it. But make a plan to come back. Set a “start date.” Give yourself permission to not write. But don’t keep your return open-ended. If this is something you care about, don’t let it fall away. Take a break. But not forever.
You deserve to do the things that make you happy. If writing is one of them, don’t give up on it because the journey is hard. Pursue it because you have faith the journey will be worth it.
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.