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Monday, August 31, 2020

What to Do When You Want to Quit Writing

We've all had it. That dreadful thought that passes through the mind: Maybe I should quit. 

It's often depressing. 

And discouraging. 

And to be totally honest? Completely normal!

So I wanted to do a post talking about it today. But before I get too far into this, I need to explain some things.

There is a difference between "passing thoughts" and "intentional thoughts."

Passing thoughts are what they sound like, thoughts that just enter your head, don't carry a lot of weight, don't really take much root, and pass right through your mind.

All of us have passing thoughts.

When people ask others things like, "Did you ever think of giving up?" and the person replies "No," it's a little misleading. The reality is, all of us, all of us have passing thoughts about quitting. The thought will just naturally come to mind when you are struggling. How can you really go years without it ever crossing your mind? You can't, because inside, you know it's an option.

When someone says they never thought of giving up, what they really mean is, they never thought seriously about giving up. It was never an intentional thought.

All of us will have passing thoughts of doubt and quitting. I know I do!

Most of us will probably even have serious thoughts of quitting. 
And really, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Doubt and skepticism are super important parts of the human mind. They keep us safe, alive, and grounded. They help us learn to discern better and to think more critically. They even help us to grow. 
I mean, if you never experience doubt and skepticism, then there is a good chance that something is . . . wrong. (But, hey, I'm not a therapist or anything!)
And in reality, this is sometimes more of a spectrum than an either-or situation, because there are different levels of seriousness.

Step 1: Evaluate Why

When you want to quit, one of the most important things to do (in my opinion) is to evaluate why you want to quit.

There is something that led you to feel this way.
Because if things were going great, you probably wouldn't be considering it an option.  

Rather than throw in the towel, examine how you got here, emotionally. It helps if you can be specific, rather than vague. 

For example, "Writing is hard!" is a little vague. But, "I can't for the life of me find the right turning point for this scene!" is more specific.

When you are specific, it's easier to discern what's really going on, and what to do about it.
Reasons for feeling this way are probably infinite, and sometimes indirect. 
Some direct reasons may be:
- Writer's block, you can't figure out what to write next
- An underdeveloped skill is making writing difficult (you need to learn how to write better dialogue, write better theme, write better middles, etc.)

- You don't like the direction your story has taken

- You realize your draft needs a lot of revision

Some reasons may be slightly more removed:

- Your work isn't getting picked up by agents or editors, so you're getting discouraged

- You're getting negative reviews, and can't face one more

- Few people read your work anyway, so why continue?

- You don't believe in yourself as a writer

Some reasons may be more indirect

- Money is tight, and you can't afford to keep investing in a skill that hasn't made you much income

- Your loved ones complain you spend too much time writing and not enough time with them

- Priorities have shifted--you now need to spend more time and effort being a caretaker

- You fear this will turn out to be a waste of your time on this planet.

And some may not even be negative

- You've discovered you're more interested in pursuing a different skill

- You've realized you are satisfied, or "satiated," when it comes to writing

- You've had an amazing opportunity come up that competes with your writing time

- You want to spend more time with your family

Looking over this list, I'm sure you can glean why evaluation is important. Some of these situations require wildly different approaches. 

If you don't know how you got to this point, it's going to be harder to figure out what to do about it. 

Step 2: Accept Your Feelings

Some may argue this should be step one (hey, again, I'm not a therapist!), but I've made it step two because when you know why you are feeling what you are feeling, it's easier to more fully accept it. 

One of the worst things you can probably do (I'd imagine), is to sit and stew and be upset with yourself as a human being--and doubly so if you don't even take time to evaluate the situation. 

And often, I find, for me these days, if I stop and evaluate first, it suddenly becomes obvious why I feel the way I do. Because frankly, almost anyone would feel the same way in the same situation. 

For example, last week I was struggling with an underdeveloped skill that I have. Once I realized that's why writing had become so difficult, it made complete sense why I was feeling somewhat frustrated. 

Most people would probably feel the same way. 

Often we feel like quitting because we've hit something difficult, kept struggling with it, and began internalizing failure.

This happens to just about everyone.

But these negative feelings and struggles are often a normal sign of growth. (Or at least, growth opportunity.) In fact, what often looks like failure, is actually the building block of success. 

Just as doubt and skepticism aren't inherently bad, neither are negative feelings. 

Some negative feelings can help refine our progress as human beings. Again, if you never feel negative emotions then . . . chances are, there might be something . . . wrong . . . maybe.

Let's look at some other examples.

Oh, you've submitted this manuscript a hundred times and have gotten no requests? Yup, it's totally normal to feel at least a bit sad or frustrated or doubtful. That's allowed. 

Oh, you're afraid pursuing writing might turn out to be a waste of your life? Join the club. Loads of other writers feel the same way. 

Oh, you want to pursue something else, like the culinary arts? Cool, that's okay.

(Though, I do feel there is a difference between moving on and quitting, but I want to acknowledge that some reasons for quitting are more positive.)

Often, it seems, we actually end up beating ourselves up if we don't just accept how we feel. If we accept it, there's no need to get angry with ourselves or others about it. Because it's allowed to exist. It's accepted.

Step 3: Consider What to Do

Once you know how you got to this point, and have accepted it, you can start looking at what to do about it. 

If you don't evaluate and accept, you're more likely to make the wrong decisions (in my opinion). So do those things first.
When considering what to do, try to be specific again. Think of it as making a plan. 
For example, last week, when I realized writing was extra difficult, I was tempted to just "try harder." But when I stopped and evaluated, I realized I hadn't fully developed the skill I was trying to use, that I needed to use. 

So I decided to go online and read articles and buy writing books to help me develop that skill. 

If I hadn't paused, evaluated, accepted, and planned, I may have just been trying harder and harder and getting more and more frustrated (losing more and more patience, and wanting to quit more and more). 
If your manuscript isn't getting picked up by an agent or editor, maybe you can consider hiring a freelance editor, doing another draft, or going to conferences to pitch to someone in person. 

What you can do will largely depend on what the problem is, of course. But here are some options that might come up:

- Take a break (sometimes we just need some space!)

- Work on a different project

- Take a writing workshop on a skill you need

- Join a writers' group

- Look into building up confidence and self-esteem

- Find ways to pinch pennies

- Set aside designated time for writing and designated time for family 

- Brainstorm how you might fit in both writing and the culinary arts

- Decide to write for yourself

- Try a different writing approach

Step 4: Why do You Write?

For some situations, those three steps will be enough to keep going. For others? Not so much. 

Before you quit completely, take some time and consider why you started writing in the first place. 

How has the writing experience changed for you? 
Can you pinpoint why it changed?

For many, they begin writing out of pleasure--it's fun! And creative! 

But as you work to become a better and better writer, or even perhaps, a more professional writer, the journey often gets more and more difficult. There is so much to learn. And so much to master. And so much time to put in! 
And at times, it can totally suck out all the fun. 

Why are you writing? 

Can you replicate how things used to be? 

Also, there is no sin in writing strictly for fun. And there is nothing wrong with writing for a hobby. 

Consider if you'd be happier only writing for yourself. Maybe you were trying to be a professional writer when you really are more of a hobbyist. Writing as a hobby is amazing in its own way. The problem is, a lot of other people don't see it as a worthwhile hobby, often because they don't understand the benefits of it. But if writing makes you happy, then chances are you do. You don't need others' permission.

It's okay to write for yourself, and it's okay to write for fun. Just as it's okay to play basketball at the local rec center, or play D&D, or go fishing, or bake pastries, or knit. You don't need to be professional. You don't even need to be a professional to enjoy the community, writing conferences, or writing groups. Do what you want and what you think is fun. That's okay. It's your life.
There are a lot of other benefits of writing besides completing a great story. Writing helps you develop other skills too.
Or maybe it's not as fun anymore, because you've found something you like better. You know what? That's great. Isn't it great when we are at a place in our lives where we get to pick between two positive things?

Or has the writing experience changed because you've changed? Maybe you just don't like it anymore. That's fine. Everyone changes from time to time. 
Revisiting why you started writing to begin with and where you are at now can help put things into perspective. 

Step 5: Quit or Move Forward

Ultimately, whether you quit or move forward is your decision. 

And really, make sure it's your decision. Not your mom's. Not your grandma's. Not Joe's (who lives down the street). Not your nibling's.

This is your decision. 

Quitting is allowed.

And persevering is allowed.

And there is also something in between called "taking a break"--also allowed. (Years-long breaks? Also allowed.)

Changing your interests, priorities, or direction? Spoiler: Allowed.

Maybe after evaluating, accepting, considering options, and recalling why you wrote in the first place, you realize you'd genuinely be more satisfied in life if you quit. 

It doesn't mean it was a waste--because as I said earlier, writing helps you develop others skills. And remember, it's healthy to have some fun in your life. Besides, growing as a person is more valuable than growing in a specific skill--and growing in any skill is an opportunity to grow personally.
On the other hand, if you truly want to keep writing, good news: You can! 
Almost every journey in life includes hardships. 
I find it's worth keeping in mind that there will always be struggles in life. Some of these we choose and some choose us. When you have a choice, choose the struggles that are worth it to you. You can't escape negative feelings in this life. Life isn't about avoiding negative feelings. It's about choosing to pursue the things that are worth those negative feelings. 
I like to think of perseverance as a muscle. I find the more I exercise it, the stronger it gets. And the things that used to send me spinning into lots of legitimate doubts, don't so much anymore. I believe as you practice perseverance, you'll get stronger too.

When I'm struggling with making a decision, I often ask myself these questions: Who do I want to be? And where do I want to go? Level of difficulty isn't a direct factor. 

Negative feelings are natural. Will you quit or persevere? It's up to you!

Related Articles:

The editor of Kotobee Blog suggested I share this website with everyone. It's a list of over 300 writing courses you can take online. And considering many of us are spending more time at home, it might be worth checking out. 

1 comment:

  1. September, this is an EXCELLENT article. I just wanted to thank you for writing it. Currently going through a mid-life writing crisis...


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