I will never forget the night I almost gave up on my novel.
I was very close to finishing this thing, and I knew it. But in all honesty … I was worn out. Exhausted. I was so sick of looking at it that I convinced myself I would not feel bad if I closed out the document it lived inside and never bothered to open it again.
I’m not sure exactly what prompted me to put my head down and finish the thing. Part of me — the very stubborn part — knew I couldn’t just give up. I had put all this work into this project and had spent countless hours and questionable nights of sleep working toward this goal, sprinting toward this finish line.
As much as I so desperately longed to give it up, to “throw in the towel” and move on, as they say (do they still say that?), I did not quit. I decided that I would keep writing, little by little, whatever it took, until the first draft of the book was done.
I figured it would take a few months of stopping and starting, of kicking and screaming the whole way. But I assumed this very, very wrong. Because a week after I almost gave up, I finished.
There’s a lot to learn from this experience. Even for me.
There is nothing “wrong” with quitting something — especially when it comes to writing — just to be clear. Sometimes moving forward is not the best thing for you, and you instead have to actively choose to move in a different direction and leave the past behind.
But in my experience, it is always when you are about to give up that your efforts finally pay off in a big or small way. It’s almost never exactly how you expect or hope it will happen, and it never happens when you want it to happen. But it almost always happens. Either something good happens, or the thing that’s weighing so heavily on you just stops acting as your burden to carry.
This happened when I was at the end of my patience with a job I loved years ago, but was constantly overwhelmed by. I wasn’t getting paid enough, my boss wasn’t listening to my concerns, and the people working under me had absolutely no respect for me or my vision for the company. I didn’t know what to do. I knew that if I quit, everyone would have to scramble in order to regroup. If I stayed, I had a strong feeling things weren’t going to get any better.
I wrestled with this choice. I was going to lose either way, and I could not figure out what was stressing me out more — the thought of leaving or the thought of staying right where I was. But I eventually decided to stick with it. There was something to be learned from the experience. I just had not figured out what that might be yet.
Not long after that, my boss announced she was retiring the company. Which was awful, because it meant I no longer had a job. But it was also wonderful, because I no longer had to choose between two unsettling options. I waited things out and in the end did the right thing. I stayed in that job until it ended, helped wrap everything up, and left on good terms with most of the people I worked with (except the intern who wanted me to sign off that she had worked 300 hours when she had only worked 80 — I wonder what she’s doing now …).
Should you keep doing something that’s making you miserable until you figure out a more favorable solution? Unfortunately, that really depends on the specific circumstances. Never continue to do something because someone else says you should or that you have to. Never continue to do something if it’s negatively affecting your physical or mental health. Or your relationships. Or your finances.
But there are situations where it’s OK — even necessary — to stay where you are and keep your head down and do the work until you can figure out a viable alternative. Not everyone can afford to quit their jobs no matter how unfavorable their working conditions might be. Some people are under contracts and other commitments they can’t break. Sometimes your personal and professional lives just aren’t in sync, and you need to sort things out personally before you can take the time to get a better handle on things professionally.
But overall, what matters most is that through all this questioning and reflection you are completely honest with yourself. You have to be honest about what you want, what you don’t want, and why. If you have a good reason for quitting — you’re not spending enough time with your partner who deserves better, or it’s causing you so much stress that you can’t sleep — it might be time to say goodbye. Or, at the very least, set whatever it is you are working on to the side while you take care of yourself.
But if all you can come up with in doing this is a long list of excuses — it’s too hard, it’s not fun, it takes away from your Friends re-watching time — calm down. These things are not worth quitting for. Yes, you might be tired and worn out and overwhelmed. Stress gets to you, and makes you not want to do the things you have to do. Do them anyway. Write the book anyway, finish the blog post anyway, send that email to an editor anyway.
Why should you keep pushing yourself even when you want to quit? Because the finish line could be right around the corner and you just don’t see it because you’re so distracted by how awful things are along this long stretch of road.
Don’t give up just because things are hard. Take breaks, sure. Take care of yourself, absolutely. Do the best work you can under the circumstances, always.
But there is almost always something wonderful waiting at the end of this journey you are on. My advice is, has always been, and will continue to be: Write when you’re tired, when you’re unsure, when you’re upset, when it seems the most pointless. This is when breakthroughs happen. Sometimes, you have to hit your breaking point — or the closest possible thing to it — before you can slow down or stop long enough to realize how close you actually are to emerging from all this victorious.
You got this. I believe in you, even if you don’t (yet) belive in yourself.
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.