Should You Quit Writing?

Well, fuck.

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:




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.

Five years.

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.

Still writing.

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.


  • When I did quit, I was sick from it. I need to write, but I also want to publish. I have a college friend who writes but never shares her work. That is not me. I’d rather write, fall flat on my ass, learn from that, then write some more. No matter, my fingers belong on a keyboard. And when I can’t write, I edit. Or promote. Or outline.

  • I read a lot here but don’t comment (I’m a quiet person).

    Just wanted to say thanks for this. There are two things I’ve wanted to do in my life that I’m good at. One is writing, but I write to write so I wax and wane and am very happy on that front. I tried, for a bit, to be a “successful” writer until I realized the stress of it all outweighed the joy of writing–clearly not what I am really meant to do.

    The other is science, specifically life histories of deep sea invertebrates. I studied and trained and kicked all the ass in undergraduate, but due to the recession and a few ticked boxes on life’s difficulty setting, it didn’t happen. It’s absurdly similar to writing without success, I discovered, but with much more pain because I like it more than I like to write, and I need more than a notebook and pen to do the sort of sciencing I love best. I’ve been wondering if it’s worth trying to get back in, when I’ve been trying for five or six years now to no avail.

    But you say you failed for seventeen years and look at you now. I’ve still not hit seven. I think I can find it in me to try again. So thanks for the new hope.

  • March 24, 2015 at 8:33 PM // Reply

    I wrote for years, almost never got paid for it, finally got published AND distributed and had my publisher and the book store chain that hired us go bust thanks the Global Financial Crisis. Given all the other dues I’ve paid, and the very little I have to show for it pushing 50, and I WANT to fucking quit. Like, fucking yesterday. I am SO over being treated like a source of cheap labor by every maggot with a distribution system, when they either get eyes on their shit,and/or MONEY for other people’s uncompensated labor.

    Thing is, given how shitty the economy is outside of the fucking stockmarket and silicon valley, I HAVE to find a way to hit ‘the long ball’ and deliver some kind of published, and well sold work, or my life really has been kind of wasted, mostly doing bullshit day jobs with MORONS. This is my remaining motivation, thin shit though it may be…

  • Chuck, I think you really nailed it on the horsehead bookend when you ask, “Do you want to write, or do you want to be published?” This is an issue that often comes up in the field in which I currently make a living (while word herding on the side): Acting. I have asked the same question of young performers when they question whether or not to continue, and the answer is always: Do you want to be an actor, or do you want to be a movie star?

    It is hugely important to understand the difference between motivators of each of these endgames, because oftentimes those who have the “movie star” in mind as the ultimate goal are the most impatient with the time, sweat and frustration that come with getting to even the most basic levels of accomplishment, let alone the celebrity status they seek. Noone (that I have met) relishes the excruciating process of becoming a skillful writer. It sucks. Just like being a bad actor sucks. Fortunately most writers don’t have to learn by bombing on stage front of an audience, and wake up to the sound of their own screaming for weeks afterward. So…that’s a plus for writing.

    • So that’s why I wake up screaming… no, seriously, this is a great observation. When I was in nursing, I worked in a teaching hospital, where we took young residents and turned them into real doctors. I also supervised many young nurses, whose only goal was to get promoted so they wouldn’t have to work the bedside anymore. I actually had one say, “I like being a nurse, I just can’t stand being around all these sick people.” I thought she was joking, I laughed. She wasn’t. I think it’s hard for (some) twenty somethings just starting out to imagine all the hard work their elders have put in to get to where they are.

  • Aw Chuck, you are such a softie. I’d’ve just answered with a straight, “Yes.” If some poor soul quits because somebody on the internet says to, well, that poor soul was just looking for a reason. Probably better off.

  • The notion of “do you ENJOY writing?” reminded me of David Rakoff when he said writing, to him, was like pulling teeth from his dick.

  • I’ve had rough times, when I just couldn’t write, but I can’t quit. However, I also can’t write full time…and I’m okay with that. Sometimes, your passion leads you down unexpected routes.

  • Well said. Point taken. In writing, and in other professional areas of my life like nursing. I’ll probably never totally quit either one!

  • Somehow you always manage to be so prophetic, even when waxing about the pros and cons of quitting. Amazing as always. Love this blog, love your books. Don’t YOU ever quit.

  • Dear chuck
    I enjoyed your reply to the question SHOULD I QUIT WRITTING?
    it was really helpful for my case as a not published writer. I enjoy writting and editing especially after reading edit your shit the great pices of you. Button line I enjoy the process of writing but there is only one problem that I love writing while getting stoned and drunk.
    is this a problem?
    Please answer

  • This post particularly resonated with me. Recently I provided some gentle feedback to a newbie writer wannabe on her first fifty pages. Her response was, “Should I quit writing?” So I sent her a link to your blog.

    An aside: Yesterday, I pasted a link to this post in my FB status update. Today that post gone. Did you remove it? Did I just commit a netiquette faux pas? I’d love to get an answer on this, even if from someone-other-than-Chuck.

    I hate having my head up my ass, even though I do get to look through my belly button made of glass.

  • I quit writing once. It wasn’t a conscious decision, though. One day I just… stopped. I think I spent a year and a half without putting words to paper, and the loss never really struck me… until I came back and realized the pain of not writing was there all along, I was just that good at ignoring it.

    Haven’t quit since then. Will never quit again :}

  • I’m a fan of temporary quitting. Sometimes I have to take a hiatus from writing for a while – I suspect a lot of people do – but eventually I come back. I quit for years in my twenties, but finally went back to writing in my thirties with the thought “Hey, what if I succeeded at doing what I always wanted to do when I grew up?” A few months later, I got my first acceptance letter. It was one of the greatest moments of my life, but I don’t regret my long hiatus; I was sorting out other things in the meantime.

    Besides, just remember what Mark Twain said about quitting smoking: it was easy, because he’d done it a hundred times.

  • Personally, I need to write like I need air to breathe. From 1998 to some point in 2001, I wasn’t really writing anything. I was just drifting day to day, going to work for the sake of making money and paying my bills to get myself out of debt. Once I was out of debt, I was still not writing anything. I was working just for the sake of working, drifting from one day to the next. it took the September 11, 2001 incident to get me inspired to write again. To actually feel again, because for those years that I’ve mentioned, I had blocked out all emotion, because I didn’t want to feel any more pain in my life. However,ironically, the September 11, 2001 incident gave me back my passion for writing. It gave me back my purpose in life, through inspiring me, and gave me the courage to actually feel again, even though it was the emotion of pain I felt at the time. Just as soon as I started writing again, I never stopped. I’ve been writing and composing just about every day ever since, whether it’s typing away on the keyboard of my computer, or using pen and paper to write my compositions. Writing makes me feel alive.

  • You crack me up……. I love your blogs more than any I have ever read. Thank you for the chuckle today and for the info and unique perspectives of past posts.

  • I need to write, and I often love to write.
    I need to write poems. If I don’t the ideas are like little mind ants making tunnels in my head and to kill them properly I need to dismember them and squash each part good and hard. Sometimes a nice poem comes out of this process. Sometimes it just means my brain is free to go onto the next thing.

    I love to write fiction. When I am scribbling on paper or tapping on the keys of my laptop, it feels like I am a conductor making music happen by a flick of my fingers. Better, I feel like a fairy godmother (why aren’t there fairy godfathers?) with a magic wand, or that blondie recluse in Frozen, making shit appear out of thin air, veritably creating people and making them do shit for me.
    There is no greater feeling. Seriously. I’ve bungie jumped, parachuted, fired guns, surfed, rock-climbed, had sex… eell, maybe making babies gets up there… but you know what I mean.
    I never honestly thought I’d be published (apart from a few poems over the years) until I was. I kept writing the next book more than bothering too much over sending work out again and again – though I did send that shit out again and again, after I changed it again and again….

  • Thank you for this: “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.”

  • I know that I’m a bit late, but I really needed this post today. Thank you for posting this. Your 3 questions helped me out a lot. I was able to answer them immediately and before reading on. That told me all that I needed to know. :)

  • This morning I googled “what if I want to quit writing” and this post was one of the most helpful that came up. Thanks Chuck, and thanks also to all the commenters. You made me laugh, and think, and sigh in exasperation. I’ve been at this for a Very Long Time, but it’s not yet as long as you spent before “getting somewhere.” It took you five years to complete a draft? It only took me two years to finish a first draft that I now realize needs complete restructuring. Well, I realized that it needed restructuring even as I was writing it. But lately an online revision workshop is driving home just HOW FREAKIN’ MUCH there still is to do, and how much research I personally need to do to tell this story, and it’s overwhelmingly discouraging sometimes. Especially on top of a writing-related job that keeps me glued to the computer for more than full time, already. THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN STARING AT A MONITOR! Or there should be.

    I don’t know if I’ll quit. I might, and if I do I may feel relief from the requirements of butt-in-chair-time and critique groups and blogs and submissions. I may revel in the free time to go have non-writing-related fun with loved ones, or to cheer on my writing buddies at their signings and other events. Or I may miss writing after a decent time away, and come running back. But I’ll have to wait to find out how I’ll feel if I quit writing, because I won’t be quitting today.

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