Should You Quit Writing?
Yesterday, I said, Hey, Ask Me For Advice.
And a lot of you jumped in and asked great questions.
Which is awesome. It’s gonna take me some time to pick through and find suitable questions with answers that I pluck indelicately from my most hindmost netherquarters.
But between the comments section and the Tumblr page, one big question stood out:
SHOULD I QUIT WRITING?
Whhh… ennnh whhh… well.
That’s a hot humdinger of a question, isn’t it?
Let’s get this out of the way right now: I am not qualified to answer this question. You should probably not listen to anything I have to say on this subject. Your entire writing life and career should not hinge on anything that comes oozing out of my beard-hole.
My answer to this is a completely unhelpful YES and NO.
Let’s start with the “no.”
I say to you, no, you should not quit. Quitters are assholes. You try to quit, and I will hunt you down and I will break your legs with karate. I will literally ruin your legs so bad they will be like tube socks filled with rice pudding. And I will take your broken, shitty, quit-ass body and I will plunk you down onto an office chair. I will bolt the office chair to the floor. I will staple-gun your wrecked body to that chair. I will boot up the word processor of your choice. And then I will watch you write. Your fingers aren’t karate-broken, are they? NO THEY ARE NOT. You will write 2000 words or I will explode you with grenades. Because writers gonna write. Writers gonna write right now, if these hand grenades and karate have anything to do with it. Thus I will confirm that you will do the opposite of quitting which is anti-quitting which is to say you will make a LEGAL SOUL COMMITMENT to write a little something every day even if it’s ten goddamn fucking words and if you fail to make this commitment your soul is forfeit to me and I will use your soul for whatever grim and salacious purpose I can imagine on that particular day.
Now, let’s go the other way — let’s check in with “yes.”
YES, you should jolly well motherfucking quit. If you’re seriously asking me if you should quit, then that’s it — that’s your answer. Quit now. Give up. Goodbye. You even asking that question is a sign that you already have all that you need to know. Oh, what, you’re not good enough? Probably true. You’re not. See ya. Don’t let the door hitcha where the ANCIENT GOD MITHRAS splitcha. What, you think every writer who wants to be a writer can and should be a writer? Mmmmnope. Some folks can’t hack it. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re meant to be a painter, or a rocket scientist, or a horse jockey. I don’t know. I don’t care. The road behind is littered with scads of writers who couldn’t put it together. I always say that a creative career is you putting a bucket on your head and trying to headbutt your way through a brick wall. Sometimes you get through, but most times? The wall wins. Quit now. Save yourself the headache.
Both of those answers are bullshit.
Because I don’t know you. I don’t know your heart. I only know my heart, or rather, I know the soot-black thatch of dead birds I call a heart. And I know that I have been writing since I was 18, which means I have been writing for 21 years, which means I have been writing for longer than the period where I wasn’t writing. (Further, let’s be clear that even during the first 18 years of my life I was writing — I wrote my first ‘book’ in like, fifth grade or something. It was horrible.)
Now, that may sound like, God, he’s been writing for that long, he’s really got it together. But I want you to realize that my goal from the age of 18 was to be a novelist, and I also want you to realize that my first novel was published in 2011, which means that I was a failed novelist for — *does some quick math* — 4,591 years.
Okay, that can’t be accurate.
*asks wife to do math for him*
There we go. I was a failed novelist for 17 years.
That is not a short amount of time.
That is a rather long time to dick up the thing I thought I was meant to do.
Yes, okay, for a period of about ten years in there, I did quite a bit of freelancing for pen-and-paper roleplaying games, so by some metric I was still a successful writer. But just the same, the thing I really wanted to do — write novels and maybe short stories — was a thing at which I failed repeatedly. I wrote lots of shitty unfinished novels. I wrote a handful of shitty finished novels. I ejaculated into the world a crass spray of horrible short stories. Sometimes I made incremental improvements. Sometimes I took steps backward and felt like I was making worse “art” than I had been producing five years prior. I mean, Blackbirds alone was a novel that took me five years to write. Hell, it took me five years to finish one complete draft.
Also not a short amount of time. I mean, okay, short in the grand scheme of all temporal existence. But five years is still a pretty good stretch of road, you dig?
And along that way, I thought more than one time:
I should quit.
Should I quit?
Probably should quit.
I’m gonna quit.
I’ll do this one last thing and then… ennh that’s it, game over, goodbye.
I’m horrible, I suck, I’m a talentless toad, a worthless wang.
Better to give up than keep embarrassing myself.
And it’s not like the world disagreed with me. Gods, I still have family members who think the life and career I’ve chosen for myself is utterly irresponsible.
Yet, here I am.
Haven’t quit yet.
What’s this mean for you?
Well, again, I have no bloody idea. What it means for you is really up to you. If I had to really force you to consider this and to come to an answer, I’d say, okay, ask yourself three questions:
First: do you actually like writing?
What I mean is, a lot of writers want to write but actually hate the process. And I don’t mean a little bit — we all hate it a little bit. I mean there are writers who consider it an execrable task. They talk about writing like they’re just punching themselves in the face all day, every day. OH GOD HAVE TO WRITE. *punch punch punch* THIS ART WON’T COME OUT OF ME UNLESS I *punch punch punch* BOOKS ARE DUMB WORDS ARE DUMB WHY DO I DO IT *punch punch punch* *teeth clatter on the floor* *the sound of ugly crying*
Some folks will say to me that they hate writing and yet they do it anyway, and hey, more power to them. I don’t see the allure. If writing as a total act is just a long stretch of misery on par with letting a drunken goat perform rectal surgery upon you with his mouth and horns, I’d say that’s a pretty good sign to quit. Not because you’re no good but because the act is no good for you. Life is too short to punish yourself that way.
And it’s worth reiterating here the difference between short-term happiness and long-term satisfaction. Every day of writing is not a jizzy giggle-fest for me. I don’t end every thousand words with a pantsless pirouette. It isn’t rainbows firing from my nipples in glorious prismatic beams. Some days are shitty. Some days I want to just hide under my desk and eat a bowl of chocolate ice cream and by chocolate ice cream I mean chocolate ice cream plus a whole bottle of whiskey. But the overall thing is satisfying to me. I am satisfied by the craft of writing and the art of storytelling. Satisfaction matters. Happiness is an unpredictable bullseye. Satisfaction is like the climate, but happiness is like the weather.
Second: can you envision yourself not writing?
Look ahead. To tomorrow. To next week. To five years from now.
Pretend the life you see is a life without you writing.
If that fills you with dread? That’s telling.
If it fills you with relief? That’s even more telling.
Regardless of making money or being published or whatever, I know that no matter what, I’ll always find a way to tell stories. Break my fingers, cut off my hands, club me in the head with a horsehead bookend (“perhaps man’s highest cultural achievement is the horsehead bookhead“), I’ll still find a way. Will you?
Third: is your goal to write or to be published?
Some writers want to write.
Some writers want to be published.
You can want the latter, as long as you also want the former.
If your only goal is to have a book in your hand with your name on it — if you’re more interested in the romantic notion of *swoons* being a published author (HOLD FOR LAUGHTER), then that’s maybe a sign, too. Writing and storytelling — both the act and the career — are all about the journey. Wanting only to be published is like wanting to read only the end of a book. It’s maybe a sign that you have your priorities twisted up like a pair of wedgie-bound underwear.
Maybe those three questions will help.
Maybe they won’t. If you’re worried about not being good enough? Hey, let’s remember, I wasn’t good enough for 17 years. (If you read some of my negative reviews, then ha ha ha, oops, I’m still not good enough.) You don’t have the skill or the instinct yet. Maybe you haven’t found your voice yet. Keep at it. Eventually you’ll knock over that brick wall if you commit to the vigorous act of endless headbutting. If you’re worried about the business side of it? Best not to agonize over what you cannot control.
So, quit or not to quit?
Like I said, I don’t know you. Not really.
You gotta check your gut. See what gurgles around in there.
Here’s one last thing:
If you’re still not sure? Then quit. Quit right now. Walk away from it this very moment. Because here’s the trick: it’s not permanent. It’s not like I’m asking you to remove the WRITING MICROCHIP from your brain so I can pulverize it with the heel of my boot. Quit writing now and if in a day, a week, a year, you wanna come back? You can. That’s important to realize. If you walk away from it and your life has been enriched by your escape from the shackles of your own miserable expectations — then that’s important to realize, too.
But you can always quit the quitting.
No exile from writing needs to be forever.
And if it is? That’s good, too. Moving onto something else — that has meaning. Not everything we begin is a thing we must finish. The sooner we move the roadblocks out of the way and find the thing we really want to be doing, the better. No harm in quitting, and no harm in keeping on.
Gotta follow your own truth on this one, I’m afraid.