Sometimes I forget how easy it is to stop writing. To lose motivation. To want to quit.
It’s the curse that often comes with training yourself to write a lot, every day, consistently.
I’m not afraid to admit that I forget to look back at where I have been. To remember that there were times I couldn’t write at all, couldn’t form more than a few sentences on a page in my journal before I gave up. I forget that there have been moments of such intense discouragement that I once spent months looking and interviewing for jobs that had nothing to do with my writing or my passion at all because I was just so tired of being tired.
When you really think about it — if you allow yourself to think about it hard enough — writing, like so many other things, would be so easy to quit. All you’d have to do is take your hands off your keyboard or drop your pen, stand up, walk away, and never go back to it again.
Would that really be the worst thing you have ever done? Would quitting destroy you? Probably not. In the end, you would probably be just fine.
It had been a long time since I experienced such strong feelings of “I don’t want to write.”
But last night I was having quite the “I don’t want to write” pity party, all alone in my office at 10 PM.
There is usually only one indicator I have to go off of to let me know I need to walk away from my work. And that’s when I try to start writing something, get a hundred words or so in, switch over to something else, get frustrated when the exact same thing happens, make another switch, and try again.
When this process has repeated itself three or four times, I log out of everything and shut it down. Which is exactly what ended up happening last night when I was sitting in front of my screen desperately craving the motivation to get my work done and realizing there was none to be found.
I shut everything down angry with myself that I had not met my writing goal, again, for the second day in a row — and it certainly wasn’t the first time this had happened this month, either. And then I started to wonder, as I climbed into bed angry — you know, that thing you should never do.
What if I just stopped writing right now?
What if I just woke up tomorrow and didn’t write anything, and then I didn’t write anything the next day either, or the day after that, or the day after that …?
Deadlines and commitments aside, that would not be as difficult of a move as it might seem. To not do something is so simple. So passive and effortless.
Perhaps this is why so many aspiring writers never reach their goals. Not because they are not capable of reaching them, but because it is so much easier to quit than it is to put in the work necessary to make success happen.
We quit things because they’re hard things, and hard things aren’t always the right things for us.
But sometimes your urge to quit writing is scary and leaves you feeling confused and concerned.
Maybe, like me, you don’t want to give up. You “want to” want to keep going. But at the moment you just aren’t sure if you can, or how.
What do you do when you want to quit writing but don’t REALLY want to quit writing?
- You keep pushing forward but schedule a break. This is what I should have done weeks ago and now I am paying the price. Not fun, but hey, I’m still learning too. Sometimes you have no other choice but to keep going, and if that’s the case, you need something to look forward to in the meantime. Promise yourself that if you get the rest of your writing done this week, you can sleep in on Saturday and maybe take the day off from writing.
- You make a list of all the pros and cons of quitting. Very Rory Gilmore of you, but hey — if it works, it works. Worth a try. What often happens when you list out the benefits and risks of doing something is that you realize you don’t actually have a good reason to stop doing what you enjoy doing. And you very much might regret not doing it anymore down the road. Or not. That’s really up to you.
- You give yourself the night off and try again tomorrow. Sometimes I get in really bad moods when the sun goes down. I don’t know why, it just tends to happen and I have learned to deal with it. When I’m frustrated and “don’t feel like” writing — but most importantly, I don’t feel as though the writing I am currently doing is my best work and it really needs to be — I take my urges to give up and set them down on my desk. I walk away, go to bed, and return to them in the morning. Uusally by then they’re gone, and I can continue moving forward with my writing endeavors.
- You ask yourself all the “why” questions. Be honest. Why are you really facing the urge to quit? Is it because you don’t like getting rejected and don’t want to deal with the negative feelings associated with it again? Is it because you’re tired and don’t want to put in the effort anymore? Or is it because there are more pressing matters taking up space in your head, or you need an indefinite hiatus, or you just aren’t enjoying what you are doing anymore? It could just be that you’re having a hard time right now, but that it won’t last and you can keep going even when it’s not the most fun idea you’ve ever had.
The thing about quitting is, if you really want to quit, you are absolutely welcome to quit. I’m not here to tell you that you absolutely have to keep writing or that you are some kind of disappointment or failure if you do (which is so not true), and no one else has the right to tell you things like that either.
But if the thought of quitting upsets you more than the thing you want to quit, chances are it’s probably not the writing itself that’s the problem. You’re human. You have bad days. You feel burnt out and emotional. Things happen that distract and derail you. You are not perfect.
The most important advice I do have on this subject is that you should never make the split-second decision to quit writing. It should always be a choice you put a lot of careful thought and consideration into. Because while there is nothing wrong with deciding you don’t want to write anymore, quitting out of frustration at a moment’s notice, for example, just isn’t a good idea. You’re going to be upset with yourself later one way or the other. And you risk feeling the need to come back to writing, only to rage quit again the next time something happens that doesn’t go the way you originally planned.
It’s your life. You gotta do what you gotta do.
But make sure it’s really the right thing for you.
Don’t make the easy choice simply because it’s the easy choice.
Hard choices are always the most worthwhile. Whether that means leaving writing behind or taking a deep breath and diving back in, always remember that no matter what, storytelling in some way will always be a part of you. I hope you find a way to let that part of you thrive.
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.