Six Signs It’s High Time To Give Up Writing

The saying goes, “be a fountain, not a drain.”

By which they mean, “be nice, not mean, be optimistic, not pessimistic, be a shining beacon of light and positivity, not a searing enema of shadow and negativity.”

Oh, I’ll be a fountain, all right. I’ll be a fountain of urine. In your eyeball. PSHHHH.

HA HA HA HA HA.

Sorry, a little punchy today. Sleep in this household has gone the way of the dodo, the yeti, the honest politician — it is extinct. Turns out, that only stokes the fire in my belly. It pokes the coals of madness.

And so I emerge, sleepless and enraged, full of battery acid and asparagus pee, ready to once more use your head like a football so that I may kick it through the goalposts of good clean penmonkey sense.

Everybody always wants to tell you how to be a writer. How to follow your dreams. How to follow your stinky bliss like a cracked-out beagle. Eh-eh. Nuh-uh. BZZT. Not here. Not today. Today I’m going to tell you how to quit following your dreams. How to abandon your writerly ambitions on the side of the road (like a broken freezer or a fat ugly baby) where they may very well belong. Think of me as the medical examiner, and we’re going to look over your hopes and wishes and determine how precisely to determine the time of death via lividity, morbidity, and poop stench.

Trust me, I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news. I hate to be the guy belching forth my septic tide, a tide that will thrash your tiny dream-boat against the black bleak rocks of reality. But, hey, fuck it, somebody has to. Last time I did a quick head count, the Internet is home to 45,691,213 writers. And you’re multiplying. It’s like a feral cat colony up in this motherfucker. You might be saying, “Chuck’s just trying to thin the herd.” Well, duh. I’m not just trying to get the dilettantes out of my way — I’m hoping maybe I get lucky and convince a few of you actually-talented-sumbitches to give up the ghost, too. C’mon. We can’t all be writers.

Anyway, let’s go through the signs. If any of them apply to you, please hold up the little yellow card I’m giving you — *hands out aforementioned yellow card* — and I’ll attend to you with this rifle. Thanks!

You’d Much Rather Talk About Writing Than Do Actual Writing

If the words you use to talk about writing outmatch the words you use in your actual writing by, say, 100:1, then you might be one of those types. The ones who would rather play pretend instead of actually wading into battle with a pistolero belt of fountain pens and ink phials forming an ‘X’ across their chests.

I mean, c’mon. You know if this is you. You know it. Someone — an aunt, your mother, your colonoscopy technician — asks you, “How’s the writing going?” and you can talk at length about all the things you plan on writing, but what you can’t talk about is all the things you’re really truly writing? Can you remember the last time you commented on a writer’s blog or wrote a post about writing advice but can’t remember the last time you sat down and wrote a goddamn story? This is not good. This is a bad sign.

You Spent Your Time Doing Everything But Putting Words On Paper

Let’s try a test.

Here’s a video game. You can play this, or you can write. No, no, let’s pretend it’s one or the other or I’ll shoot you in the face. I just picked “video game” out of a hat, but we could be talking about any activity, really, that you’d do for pleasure: watching TV, riding a dirtbike, dicking around on Twitter, reading blogs, planning your next roleplaying game session, hunting humans for their genital pelts, manually stimulating frost giants for their icy hoarfrost seed (used as a ritual component in various magical potions), etcetera.

If you always choose the fun thing over the writing thing, that’s a hash-mark. That’s a check-minus. That’s a Mr. Yuk sticker slapped across the face of your future. Note that I’m not saying you shouldn’t sometimes choose the activity of leisure — but if you spend more time with the “fun” than with the “writing,” then doesn’t that suggest that writing for you fails to be any fun?

Your Production Levels Are *Poop Noise*

Or, if you’d prefer — *sad trumpet*

Or — *lone coyote howling*

Or — *Pac Man dies*

Or — *wilting erection*

Sooo, uhh, what are you writing? Yeah? Nothing? What have you finished? Oooh. Also nothing? Really. So, all that’s left in your wake is a trail of manuscript corpses? Empty pages? Unfinished stories? Nothing done? Did you write anything today? Yesterday? Last week? No, no, and no? Oooh. Zoinks. This isn’t looking good.

You have heard the old chestnut that writers write, right? You wouldn’t say, “I’m a mountain climber” without ever actually climbing a mountain? The thing you are presumes a sense of action, of presently doing. Not “never done” or “haven’t done in a long-ass time.”

“I’m a porn star.”

“Wow. Wow! Really? Dude. I figured you were a bit old, but hey, whatever makes somebody’s grapefruit squirt. Good for you. Good for you. What was your last movie?”

The Nine Throbbing Fists of Adonis.”

“I… have not heard of that. Is it out on Blu-Ray?”

“No. Super-8.”

“…when did you make that movie?”

“1971.”

Yeah, see? No longer a porn star. Writers write. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

That Teetering Tower Of Rejections Threatens To Crush You And Your Cats

You know by now if you’re at least a little bit good. You know because someone’s told you. Or because you got an acceptance on a short story or even a nice rejection. Or because in your heart you’ve cast aside the fog and seen into the truth of the matter: “I’m not great, but I’m good, and I can damn sure get better.”

Then again, maybe you look over at the end of your desk and you see it. The rejections. All 9,000 of them. Not a single acceptance nestled in there, like a glittering brooch inside the nest of a foul diarrhea-having bird. You’ve sent your work to the far flung corners of the literary world — editors, agents, lit mags, Field & Stream — and it always returns with a big red stamp across it that reads, FUCK NO.

By now, just by dint of taking so many shots at the hoop one of them should have gone through the little hole. If you’re having no luck, it might be time to set aside childish whims.

You Got The Wrong Idea About Writing

You think, “I really love books.” Great. So go read some. I love cookies and porn, you don’t see me starting up a career as “The Masturbating Pastry Chef” on PBS, do you?

You think, “Gosh, I really want to work-from-home.” So stuff some envelopes. Writing isn’t some pyramid scheme. You don’t just come home and poop out a bestseller because you’re tired of the cubicle farm.

You think, “I want to be famous someday.” Writers aren’t fame junkies. You want fame, go make a YouTube video where you get rammed in the balls by a charging donkey.

You think, “I want to be rich.” Hahahaha. Heheheh. Ooooh. Oh. Woo. Yeah. No.

Writing is about writing. It’s about telling stories. That’s why you do it.

Writing Is An Endless Sisyphean Misery

If you don’t like writing, stop writing.

Good goddamn I am amazed, astounded, astonished at how often I see writers bitching about writing. I don’t mean bitching like, “Oh, shucks, I had a bad day,” or, “Man, this story’s a lot harder to write than I anticipated.” But bitching like, an endless stream of complaining about the very act of putting words on paper, as if it strains them, as if it’s a ceaseless misery, as if it’s a colon full of fire ants.

If you hate to write, what the hell are you doing?

It’s not like writing offers some myriad reward, some treasure trove of benefits. Like, you could hate working on Wall Street yet love the buckets of money that come pouring over your head. Fine. Writing ain’t like that. Writing offers you one chief benefit: writing. If that is not a task you enjoy, if it’s not a task that offers you a sense of long-term satisfaction (even if you don’t feel immediate daily satisfaction), then nobody would judge you for not writing. It’s a thankless career. Don’t do it if you hate it. Why would you do that? Just be direct and eat a fistful of broken glass or something. The pain is faster and the blood is brighter.

“Hell No, We Won’t Go!”

If you’re over there, nodding along, saying, “Yeah, you know what? Maybe I’m not cut out for this,” then good for you. Quit now. Other better dreams await you. The world needs more zookeepers, botanists, janitors, space janitors, snipers, professional video game players, cat ladies, drug mules, and porn stars. Go be one of those with a Longaberger basket full of my blessings.

If you’re over there, your butthole clenching so tight it could break a broomstick, and you’re growling, “You go to hell, Wendig, you go straight to Hell on the goddamn Disney monorail system,” then good for you. Don’t quit. Continue on this path. Be a writer. Embrace it, enjoy it, claim it as your own. You got rejected? So what? We all get rejected. Countless times. You hate writing today? You might love it tomorrow.

A writer’s gotta go through this time and again. He’s gotta walk through a series of gates over the course of his career and it’s like a grabby TSA screening: sometimes they’re going to lift your junk and check all your holes just to make sure you are who you say you are and that you want to continue forward to the next checkpoint. I’ve gone through this. You think I haven’t? How can you not? Writing is a career that offers a tireless parade of moments emblazoned with self-doubt and uncertainty where you’re forced to ever reevaluate who you are and why you do this. You’ll often have to hold up your dream and examine it in the harsh light of day just to see how substantial it really is.

You have to look and say, “How far am I willing to go with this?”

Don’t worry about what some asshole on the Internet — ahem, me — says. You know the truth of your dream. You know whether or not you have the stones to carry it forward.

You want to be a writer? Then commit. You want to keep riding this dream pony? Then buckle the fuck up. Because writing is about patience and perseverance and above all else, writing through the nonsense.

Because writing takes more than wanting to be a writer. Writing isn’t about making money or reading writing blogs or seeing your name in print. Those things will come, but they’re side effects.

Writing is about writing.

Tautological enough for you?

Stop talking about writing and write. Stop reading about writing and write. Stop dicking around with your Xbox, with Netflix, with Facebook, your penis, and write. See where I’m going with this?

Go forth. Put down 100 words. A 1000. Whatever. Write something. Finish something.

The other stuff will follow. For now, embrace the purity of the dream you’ve chosen and do the thing it demands that you do. Put words on paper. Tell some stories. Be awesome.

And for fuck’s sake, don’t stop once you start.

* * *

If you dig on the apeshit crazy-face no-holds-barred profanity-soaked writing advice found here at terribleminds, then you may want to take a wee bitty gander-peek at: CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY, which is available now! Buy for Kindle (US), Kindle (UK), Nook, or PDF.

80 comments

  • This is a late comment but I just stumbled upon this.

    Chuck, I want to thank you for being straight-up honest and not bothering with the bullshit. I read your site from time to time and it’s always entertaining. This entry helped me make a decision that I’ve been putting off making for far too long.

    I don’t know if I’ll stop writing fiction forever, but it has not been fun in over a year. So for now, the best thing I can do is just stop and focus on other things.

  • I have given up writing. I’m sick of it. After a million hub page articles that made me ZERO money, and a million children’s books that received a million rejection letters, I’m putting it to rest! Woo-ee…I got 3 whole short stories published in pet magazines and was convinced that made me practically famous…. (ha)! It’s like winning 20 bucks gambling, and then gambling away the rest of your life waiting to win some more money again – but in effect, losing it all.

    I feel fantastic about this decision. I have found something much MUCH more enjoyable than writing and it’s name is ART. Drawing, painting, sculpting, decoupaging…..I don’t need to sell these things to enjoy them. Writing can go to hell! (Except for leaving comments, of course).

  • I love this! Thanks for writing what we were all thinking. I’m so tired of people making a buck lying to wannabes about how much they can make while the field is commoditized and the writers are multiplying like feral cats. Go stuff envelopes instead. Probably more lucrative these days, anyhow. I’m done too and I wrote for say 15 years (not easy, not loving many years of it) for a good amount of money while the gettin’ was good. It’s gone, I’ve lost everything and now I’m ready to lie to myself that I can go try something else. Good luck to you all!

  • Love this point of view. Really, I shouldn’t be here — but I found you, so I’m keeping you.
    I’m still in school. Do I want to write? Yes. Need’s practice, though. But, I really like what you say about scrabbling out 1,000 words a day. Seems like a goal that I could manage, if we divide that by ten and make it once a week.
    Honestly, I’ll try.
    But there is a lot of competition, right? I guess we will see.

  • Thank you. I’m quitting writing now. There are just too many writers and most people will never get heard, and as you said, it’s thankless. I should have trained to be a nurse..

  • I was poking around the ‘net, looking for encouragement “not to quit”, and I came upon this. I wanted to hate you for it. I ended up hating myself. When I came to the page, I felt, as you said: “If you’re over there, nodding along, saying, ‘Yeah, you know what? Maybe I’m not cut out for this,’ then good for you. Quit now….” As I read through your bullet points, I felt even more like that. But maybe this post was the kick in the ovaries I needed. We’ll see. I used to write every day; I need to write every day. I love writing, but it’s a tough mistress who doesn’t always love me back. Sometimes, when I don’t write and call myself a writer, I feel phony. But for as much as I feel like I’m not cut out for writing, I don’t feel like I could ever be happy doing anything else in the world. Satisfied, maybe. Happy, no. So thanks for backhanded encouragement. I shall go forth into the word-woods now with my rifle in hand and try not to make too much of a mess.

  • Thank you for this. From all of us who googled “Should I quit writing?”, in a pathetic appeal to the ether after yet another rejection, and chanced upon this, I have this to say: You go to hell Wendig! Straight to it. On whatever godawful public transport you see fit.
    But they won’t let you in because you are an absolute angel. I’m officially backing away from the cliff. For now.

  • Always a finalist, never a winner. Today’s email ‘Congratulations you made it to the finals but unfortunately only shortlisted, not a winner.’ That’s me. Going to chuck it in now. I love writing, I really do. I write everything all the time. There is fifty stories in my head on any one day. I write children’s stories, I write adult short stories, murder mysteries, spec fiction, horror, plays, you name it. I was a journalist too in my young life. I’ve wanted to write since I can remember. But there is too much competition for my piddly efforts to stand out. I should have written the janet evanovich stuff but I was too late. I threw my ten manuscripts out the first day her number one book came out. I should have been Roald Dahl but I’m too late by decades. I write like everyone else who makes it big. My stuff makes it in comps, makes it to shortlisted, makes it to finalists, but I’ll never be a winner. From now on, it’s just housework for me and I’ll never write again. I’m too old now. I’ve been writing for forty years and getting nowhere. Writing is a young person’s game. Writing is about working the net. It’s about being more and more lewd to get those jaded readers. Goodbye sweet pen….I will miss you. Great post BTW I love it, have sent to my writer friends.

  • Holy Moly. You nailed it. All six points apply to me way too often… All the time… But guess what? I am going to swim against the tide and keep on writing. Oh yes… I’ll keep writing the sick and twisted stories, no one will ever want to lay their eyes on. Unless they are Nabokov’s and Andersen’s… Then they will devour that shit with pathological pleasure.

  • Money… if that’s the motivation I don’t see how you even can write. Writing should feel about parallel to a crippling addiction: if it’s been a while you should be getting serious withdrawal symptoms. It should be mildly intoxicating at least. (Not the shitty parts though, that’s like when you drink too much and throw up).

  • Yeah, I’ll tell you to go to Hell…once I stop laughing. I swear, out of all the writing websites I scrolled through on Google -All the “Ten Steps to Being A Better Writer,” “Best Writing Tips Ever,” “208 Reasons Why You Are A Born Writer,” etc.- I clicked on this so I could have a good fight over whether I should keep writing.
    Instead, I get a good laugh over my own petty fears, and inspiration for my next short story. Thanks.
    Now you can go to Hell.

  • I just got a rejection. Googled ‘give up writing’ and up this pops like a proper slap in the face.

    Who knows what I was expecting. Maybe a sad face and an offer of a nice warm cuddle, I imagine a big-bosomed Scandinavian woman. They always make me think of great cuddles. Or maybe I thought I’d get assurances that I’m actually fucking awesome. Whatever I was expecting I got what I needed. This is what I needed. A big can of man-up; a punch in the nads with a reminder of why I do this in the first place. Definitely not for some strangers acceptance.

    Fuck ’em.

    I’ve saved this article. I’ll read it every time I get a rejection and there will be plenty of those I’m sure. I write every day. It’s good. It’s only going to get better and writing still makes me smile, sometimes as much as playing with the x box, with my dirt bike or even my penis.

    Just what I needed.

    Fight another day. The rejection’s taken some stuffing out of me. Enough to call it a night for one night at least. I’ll go and play with one of the above. Whichever’s the most appealing.

  • I have no idea how old this blog post is but it’s exactly what I needed today.
    I’m in the middle of a pile of drafts for a story that can’t make up its mind how big it wants to be, characters that are trying to graduate from wooden to Real Boy, and thinking “this sucks. I suck. This story is going to be a heap of hot garbage on a beach in New Jersey in August.”

    And then I read this, and remembered. Of COURSE my first draft of my first decently-big story is going to suck. But that’s not a reason to give up, it’s a reason to push ahead. If I can get through the sucky first draft stage, I can get to editing, and hopefully not-sucking, and then I’ll get to put this story to bed and work on the next one that’s demanding my brainspace.

    Thanks Chuck!

  • Thank you for putting out these points, Chuck. Enjoyed reading this post. Especially loved the near gobbledegook at the beginning which flies in the face of all the received wisdom about writing for the net (‘keep it clear, simple, straightforward etc.) I also write a lot at night, late into the night and this type of writing is the kind of thing that comes out sometimes. Inspiring to see how you just kept it in and made it work. Whatever you do keep writing. As for me, any day now, it seems I’m going to have to stop writing and get on with something which also pays some regular money. Like teaching…

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