When is quitting justified as a writer?
If you’re working on a project and you feel it’s just not going as well as you’d hoped … should you give up and move on to something else?
Answers will vary for everyone and for specific situations. But here’s a perspective that might help: If you’re moving on because you genuinely don’t think something is worth your time and you’re completely uninterested, you’re not necessarily in the wrong.
But if you’re quitting simply because you’re facing a challenge and don’t know how to overcome it … you should think twice before you close the document. Here’s why.
It’s probably not as terrible as you think. If you’ve ever read something you’ve just written back to yourself and absolutely hated it … you’re not alone. But there are actually a few completely rational reasons to explain why it often feels like everyone is a better writer than you.
- You’re usually not seeing other people’s (very) rough first drafts. And you’re ONLY seeing yours.
- We’re automatically hyper-critical of our own work because we genuinely want it to be the best it can possibly be.
- We want everything we write to come out perfectly the first time. We want to believe we have that ability … but quite literally none of us do.
Chances are, your current work-in-progress isn’t nearly as awful as you think it is. You have every right to stop, close that document, and do your best to forget about it. But don’t do this simply because it’s not as good as you want it to be (yet).
The only way to make your writing less terrible … is to keep writing. There can be benefits to quitting a writing project. But this practice becomes problematic when you consistently stop working on something you’re writing when it becomes challenging or you get stuck.
Writing is hard. The more we grow, the more skilled we become, the more we have to challenge ourselves to do the best work we’re capable of. This means extending yourself beyond your perceived limits. Writing things that make you feel uncomfortable. Accepting that you’re going to make mistakes and write things that just aren’t all that great along the way.
This is how we learn. We don’t become better writers by giving up as soon as writing becomes more difficult.
A “bad” piece of writing is not a waste of time. This becomes more obvious once you’ve been writing for a while, dare to go back and look at something you wrote a year or two ago and realize what you’re writing these days is actually a huge improvement over what you were writing back then.
The problem with progress in writing is that it’s not always easy to see. If you have written consistently over the past year, there’s a pretty good chance you are a better writer today than you were exactly one year ago. You won’t notice. You might even feel like you haven’t improved at all. Changes are slow and subtle. Unnoticeable.
You have the potential to learn something new about writing from every good and bad thing you write. So if you’re writing something you don’t think is that great, keep working on it. Figure out what you don’t like about it, what could make it better, how you would do things differently next time … or how you’re going to do things differently right now.
Writing is an exclusively learning-by-doing activity. The only way to become progressively less terrible at it is to keep doing it over and over, day after day, with a willingness to mess up, learn, and constantly change the way you do things in an effort to outdo your writer self of yesterday.
Don’t give up on something just because it’s going to take more effort, or it’s not happening fast enough, or you’re scared or unsure. Write terribly. Write terribly over and over and over until you find yourself with something that maybe isn’t terrible at all.
Start at the bottom, at the worst of your craft. Go from there. From terrible to … less terrible. Anyone can do it. It just takes years of effort, patience, and resilience to get there.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.