You know it’s a bad writing day (week? month?) when you start fantasizing about going back to the real world and getting a job. You’d be paid actual money! Your colleagues might respect your work instead of hitting you with troll reviews on Amazon. There would be conversations with actual adults instead of days of silence punctuated by reading your work to the cat.
Everyone has these times. It’s completely normal to have days of doubt. However, there are times when it no longer feels temporary. You really want to quit. Maybe you feel like you’re wasting your time. Your novel’s sales are in the toilet and your publisher isn’t happy. You need more money than you’re making and you don’t see things changing. Your reviews are painful, or you’re getting trolled by assholes. You’re discouraged by bad writing that’s finding an audience. Or good writing that makes you feel like crap. Your agent dumps you. The work of being a career writer is (ironically) killing your writing joy. There’s so much else going on in your life that writing isn’t a priority, and you can’t see the day when it ever will be again. You Just. Don’t. Want. To. Do. It. Anymore.
Been there, done that. It happens to all of us. I don’t know any writer who hasn’t wanted to chuck it and go back to the safety of the cubicle farm. Or go live in an ashram and become Dr. Strange. Whichever. Most of us realize it’s a temporary thing and keep plugging along until the doom cloud lifts. Others need a little help.
That’s where this post comes in.
What do you do when quitting seems like a good option?
Talk out your frustrations with friends and family. Or maybe even a therapist, pastor, or other counseling professional. Sometimes other people can provide much needed perspective, showing you when your concerns are valid, and when you’re being an idiot. At the very least, just the act of talking about it can make whatever is wrong seem less scary, or help you work through it. Shutting yourself off and wallowing is the worst thing you can do.
Get checked up/out.
If you’re really feeling down about things, or you’re exhausted, can’t focus, are easily agitated, or feel like some other physical/mental/emotional problem might be at play, go get a checkup at the doctor. You’d be surprised at the physical problems that can make you feel like you hate your work. Everything from anemia to thyroid issues and more can make you feel badly, both physically and mentally. And things like untreated depression and anxiety are known career torpedoes. Go to the doctor and rule out all problems before you even think of throwing in the towel.
Join a writing group.
Find a writing group. The support of other professionals can be rewarding. These don’t have to be hugely successful people, just people who are in the trenches every day like you. Try to find a group that supports your particular kind of writing, be it novels, non-fiction, freelancing, poetry, etc. Each form has its own ups and downs, so finding a tribe of like-minded people can be helpful.
Try something new.
If you think it might just be a matter of what you’re writing, try changing genres or niches. Maybe you hate writing for corporations, but you feel like you could love working for non-profits. Perhaps you no longer want to write about personal finance, but want to try writing about animals. Or, you’ve made some gains as a sci-fi novelist, but you don’t enjoy it anymore. Try horror or westerns. Whatever. Yes, you may have to rebuild some of your “street cred” and court new clients or fans, but it will be worth it if it makes you happier.
Ditch anything toxic.
Writing, particularly once it moves into the realm of publication or full time freelancing, can be a strangely toxic experience. Online trolls, spiteful reviews, social media negativity, nightmare clients, bullying, and more can make you feel negatively or downright unsafe. If it’s not bad behavior, it’s being forced to do things you don’t want to do, don’t agree with, or don’t find worthwhile by a publisher or client. If toxicity is making you want to quit writing altogether, find ways to eliminate it.
Don’t read reviews or engage on social media. (Yes, I know people say it’s necessary to network and sell books, but if it’s making you uncomfortable, don’t do it.) Stand up for yourself and say, “I appreciate that you want me to do X, Y, and Z, but I can’t,” and insert your reason. You can’t afford it, you’ve tried it and it doesn’t work, you have a better approach, it’s too much work for you to do alone, etc. You might get accused of whining, but as long as your reason is valid, stick by it. Demand better treatment from those who use you as a doormat. If they refuse, walk away.
Quit this project.
We all get ourselves into projects that end up sucking. Maybe it’s a novel that goes nowhere, or a project for a nightmare client. It happens and it can ruin your love for all writing. If at all possible, quit the offending project. Trunk the novel. (If it’s under contract, you’ll have to find a way to make it work, but you can start over. Find a new angle.) Drop the client. (Yes, this may leave a small stain on your reputation, but hopefully you have some protective language in your contract that allows you to back out if the project changes, the client doesn’t give you what you need, or the project drags on beyond the agreed upon time.) Just get out if you can and then see what the world looks like. It may not be writing you need to quit, just that project.
Ask yourself why you want to write.
Go back to why you wanted to do this in the first place. Was it for money? Fame? The love of slinging words every day? A desire to influence people/change the world? Then ask yourself if those reasons are still valid. Is that still what you want to do? Is your work accomplishing your goal? Can you see a way to bring your writing back into alignment with that goal? Are there other goals that are more important now, or better ways than writing of achieving your original goal? Often going back to the beginning shows you the way forward.
Think about what you’d lose. And are you okay with that?
If you quit writing, what would you lose? Freedom to set your own schedule and work in your PJ’s? Friends who are fellow writers, or who work in your publishing house/client’s offices? An introvert might lose the ability to hide out and be forced to interact. (Horrors.) Would you lose the ability to work from home, or a coffee shop or park? What about childcare? Would you lose the connections with your fans? It may be more than writing you’d be giving up if you quit. Ask yourself if you’re okay with that.
See if you can fix the external problem.
Perhaps your problem isn’t with writing, but something else. First, identify/admit the problem. Caring for young kids/elderly parents makes it hard to write. Schedule changes can take away your writing time. An unsupportive partner can make you feel like you’re wasting your time. Financial pressures can make writing seem like a luxury you can’t afford. Whatever the problem, see if you can fix it. Can you enlist some help, like child/elder care a few days a week? Will your partner listen to your concerns and try to help you? Can you alter your schedule to carve out more writing time? Sometimes there are ways to fix the underlying problems that mean you don’t have to quit.
Look back at past success.
This is particularly useful if your reason for wanting to quit is because you feel like you’re failing. Something must have gone right in your writing life at some point. Someone probably said something nice about your work, you won an award, or you achieved a long-held goal. Look at that and remember how you felt. Remind yourself that the feeling is likely to repeat. If not today, maybe next month.
Take a part-time job.
One of two things will happen: Either you’ll realize that you really like working out in the world and you want to go back, or you’ll realize why you quit to write in the first place. I suppose there’s a third option: You may enjoy the job enough to keep it while shifting your writing to part time. That may be a way for you to have the best of both worlds.
Go ahead. Quit writing. Go get that full time job, or simply take a sabbatical and do other stuff. Travel. Go back to school. Do whatever else it is that you think will make you happy. As with the part time job, one of two things will happen: Either you’ll realize that you are happier without writing in your life, or you’ll run back to it with open arms, swearing never to venture into the icky world again.
Of course, if anything fails to reignite the spark, it may be time to move on. There’s no shame in that. We all change as we go through life and what suited us years ago may no longer be a good fit. Maybe you’re ready to try something new. Maybe your life has changed and you need a steadier income to save for retirement, college, or just to pay off some bills. Perhaps there’s some greater cause or purpose calling you that writing cannot fulfill.
If any of that is the case, shelve the writing thing. Life is too short to spend it in misery. No one will look down on you for growing out of writing and moving on. People change careers every day, for hundreds of reasons. You may decide to come back to it later in some form and you might find yourself better for the time away. But even if you never return to writing, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or “less than.” It’s simply another time in your life that was fun for a while.