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.

136 responses to “Should You Quit Writing?”

  1. LOL. I’ve quit writing before. Many times. But it’s useless because I always come back to it. It’s a thing for me. I can’t avoid. And I don’t hate it, not at all. So yeah, quit today start up again tomorrow. Good one, Chuck. Thanks.


  2. Okay, I will admit it….you say too much sometimes. You are brutally honest and a pain in the neck. (I would say pain in the ass, but I am trying to be better than you! Ha!) But I enjoy your writing and your commentary, and quite honestly, you deserve to write! I am glad you stuck to it for 17 years because I would not have had the pleasure….Thanks for your blunt commentary. You were spot on!

  3. i actually LOVED writing until THE PAIN… but when things cause me pain i tend to get angry about it… before the pain, writing for me was like reading, like reading a book from ‘the muse’ and jotting it down. i have another novel, lazily scritching it’s tiny claws trying to get into my skull… but…

    THE PAIN. the novels i wrote after the pain were shite.

    I have developed all these defences to the pain, and … oh fuck it, you’re right, i should try whiskey. (yes that’s the advice i took from your wonderful article) My editor had nicknamed me Ernest anyway. Always ready to get drunk and shoot myself in the head over my sheer heavenly brilliance hahahahahaha

  4. I tried to quit writing once…. yeah… once.

    Do you have any idea what happened to me???

    I was okay for the first three days. I ate, slept, caught up with housework… went shopping… you know the drill. My house started looking like any other out of House & Garden. It started looking like my Mum’s house:

    Tidy, clean and everything in its place… ie: boring.

    Then the problems started:

    I couldn’t watch a movie without mentally writing the script in my mind.
    I couldn’t watch a movie without mentally describing everything they were doing on the screen.
    I couldn’t sleep because I started getting ideas about new stories.
    I couldn’t sleep because those new ideas started talking to each other…

    well, you get the idea….

    So, I got up at 2am and started writing down all the ideas on the computer.

    By 4am, I was finished and crashed as soon as I saved them and turned off the computer.

    My neighbours didn’t see me for about 3 days because I was catching up with sleep…

    My house started to look like I hadn’t cleaned it in years – again…

    Yep… I happily said hello to my computer into my life again and started writing again…

    I never, ever, stopped writing again – not if I wanted to sleep again.

  5. Oh wooooord. All of this is pretty spot on.

    Especially the quitting isn’t forever bit. Sometimes in the moment it’s hard to remember.

  6. I remember reading somewhere (can’t remember where right now, maybe it was Stephen King who said so) that Thomas Harris *hated* writing. It was akin to pissing razor blades for him. This is the dude that brought us Hannibal Lecter, btw. If writing was so painful for him, I can only wonder what the thought of *not* writing did to him. Because he continued, you know? Good words, Chuck.

  7. I quit once. About 18 years, 8 of it with a NY agent and still no sale, I made it into the finalists of American Title IV. It was the American Idol of books culminating into whichever of us wordslingers won getting a publishing contract. I got kicked off the island in about round four. At the time I thought, what the hell, I have a successful PR company, why should I continue to beat my forehead against the keyboard?

    Yeah. That lasted all of 30 minutes.

    Because after making the decision to walk away, I realized something. The stories were still going to be coagulating in my brain. I was still going to have to process them out to stay somewhat on the legal side of sane. So what were my options?
    A) Bore my friends to death with the endless retellings of the same story while I worked out all the word kinks in my brain.
    B) Go get another job to pay a therapist to listen to my word ramblings.
    C) Write it the shit out.

    Well, since I did like my friends very much and didn’t want to lose them, and I sure as hell didn’t want to be working a second job and never see my children all for telling some person a story, I chose both the least damaging and most economical choice – C.

    Once I made that decision, I realized it would be stupid to just continue to write and stuff it in endless spirals of 1’s and 0’s in the depths of my hard drive. I might as well send it out. If it never sold, well, at least I did something with it.

    Another two years, and a different agent later, I finally sold. 20 years of writing fiction without a paycheck.

    How’d it turn out? 17 published books with three different publishers and still clicking the keys…sometimes you don’t get to decide. Sometimes it’s just something you have to do.

  8. Well you clarified several things for me, by asking the right questions: I don’t know if i’m “a writer.” I DO know that i communicate better through the written word.

    I journal.

    I write letters.

    I like to record certain events that have happened and share through the written word with others.

    I suck at “telling” stories.

    I WANT to write a novel because I love reading more than anything in the whole world and have shit stuck inside my head that won’t come out.

    I am WRITING a memoir about accepting old age and death, but is it a story? OR is it the recording of events that don’t mean shit to anyone except me?

    I have a 10,000 word written outline for a screenplay that reads “caper.” It was a true event that I was involved in that keeps bouncing around in my mind like a fucking ping pong ball. It’s been sitting for over five years. Is it a story? Or just some bullshit I want to record (again)?

    And finally, I can’t find my voice. It’s clear as a bell inside my head and when it periodically spews out on paper it reads like a freak show.

    Am I writer? If I imagine myself in ten years NEVER recording an event or “writing” anything for my own pleasure, than I would likely lose my mind.

    I am a writer.

  9. My only struggle I’ve had writing was finding out what I’m suppose to write. I started out writing high-concept SF stories, but they never dazzled me, no matter how many revisions. My critique circles were a a Meh ATM. I wanted to quit, so I did for a few years. After relating some tales of my fundie days my wife and friends insisted I put them on paper. I started writing about my own experiences and suddenly everyone loved what I was writing. Even I started loving my writing. So instead of being Harlan Ellison,I let the experiences filter through my brain like a charcoal filter and come out pure story in my own unstuttering voice.

    I had to give up writing to learn to love it again.

    • That last line resonates with me. I wrote all through out my teens, then when it came time for college, I majored in Journalism, thinking that since I loved writing, I might as well major in it. Well, it about sucked all the love of writing out of me. Between the ages of 18 and 24.5, I didn’t write any fiction (save a short story for class). That was about 3 years ago. Since then, it’s been a long, painful, often depressing road, where I came close to quitting many times. But within the past…several months, I’ve done that ‘charcoal filtering’ process and I’m starting to like it again. I writing what I *want* to write, not what I *think* I should write. My current WIP is a typical YA romance. No fantasy, no dystopia. Just two teens falling in love while going to school. And it’s still hard work, but it’s so much fun. This time last year, I would have scoffed at that idea.

      • @Maya I’m also a failed journalism major! I’m not sure if I should thank or be mad at the news writing course I took; he was this salty, bitter, “journos get paid squat” kind of guy and had nothing but tough love advice. I was a first semester freshman–17 no less–because I got AP English credit to test out of freshman college English. LIkely had I heard disgruntled reporter’s advice as a junior, I might have had more perspective.

        BTW I also write YA contemporary with romance! We should chat. I’m on twitter @StephScottYA 🙂

        • (I realize now maybe you aren’t a “failed” journalism major; just that you didn’t like it. I switched my major to social work)

          • @Stephanie Scott, in case this ends up somewhere random— Oh, I’m a failed Journalism major, lol. I have the degree, yes, but I never did anything with it. I graduated right after the economic crash (our commencement speaker thought it would be inspiring to mention that the 2009 class had the worst employment prospects since the Great Depression) and settled in a place that didn’t really have a need for journalists. I’m still here, though! I’ll connect with you on the Twitter; I love making new writer friends!

        • Former Journalist here as well. I went into the major for the same reasons Maya did. By the end of college I hated writing. I didn’t even pursue a career in it after graduation. I did focus on graphic design about a year after I graduated and in that regard I did have a creative outlet, just not writing. Six months later I began writing fiction again. After that I spent time on and off of writing. The last few years I’ve slowly wrote a novel, a couple of short stories one of which I self-published, I try to blog at least once a week, and now I’m trying to make it a daily part of my life. Some days I am able to do this, some days I cannot. But, I’m not stopping. I’m motivated to make this into something, whether it’s being published, or just blogging on a regular basis. Without a creative outlet, especially writing, I can tell a difference in my well being. Good luck and keep going.

      • We could be the same person, because I did the same exact thing. I haven’t written fiction since before college, and stupid journalism made me hate everything. I broke down and finally got back into writing again after college, except for a year or so it was strictly non-fiction (had been stuck in journo mode for so long). I got seriously burned out writing as much as I did, so I took a break and now here I am trying to make fiction happen again. I feel like I lost so much time in those few years.

    • I’m a very new writer, so I struggle with finding my voice too. I do pretty well at writing blog posts. When it comes to writing fiction though, I comes out … fake. Sounds like you’re doing a good job now. 🙂

  10. Just when I thought I was out, Wendig drags me back in again.

    In my most dark and bitter hours I ask myself “WWWD?” Then I get a recalcitrant goat, chocolate ice cream, whisky, and a fashionably styled ergonomic butt plug and the world just seems right again.

  11. So the guy who created Hannibal Lecter hated writing; that explains a lot.

    On the question of to write or not to write, it seems to me it’s a bit like the Rolls Royce question: if you have to ask (how much it costs) you can’t afford it. If you have to ask: should I write? you probably shouldn’t. Writing is a calling, you do it cos you have to. Enjoyment is a bonus.

  12. I have been engaged in a “1000 words a day, every day” challenge since the start of the year. It’s been pretty great because I love writing but I’d always binge write to the exclusion of all else, burn myself out, and then do nothing for three months but play video games and wish I was writing. Having a job and a social life and keeping up with all the great television and movies and video games and books and short stories and concerts and family and friends and everything is hard enough, but throw a requirement in there that you have to write every single day, and not only that, but every single day you write a minimum of 1,000 words?

    It feels impossible.

    But I keep coming back to the table and carving those words with bloody fingernails if I have to (so far a computer has worked fine).

    Part of the drive is your incessant babbling to SHUT UP AND WRITE. It’s good advice and the only advice that feels universal. If you’re a writer then you should be writing. Simple as that.

    • Oh yeah – before I even got to the end of that particular question I was going completely William Wallace at the mere thought of it. Even if I suck at writing, as long as I don’t force-feed it to the innocents I HAVE THE RIGHT TO CONTINUE SUCKING!

  13. Interesting. If I hadn’t quit writing novels 3 years ago, I’d probably quit now.

    Just saying, there’s one other reason to write that you didn’t mention… beyond just writing, beyond being published. Wanting to make money off your books. That’s a good reason to write… and a good reason to quit, if your writing isn’t making you the money you want.

    And since I failed to make that money in 20 years of writing, turned out it was actually not that hard to stop. Remembering 20 years of failure makes it easy.

    Mind you, if I ever figure out how to sell the books I’ve written… any of the fifteen of them… maybe I’ll write some more. But in the meantime… there’s always the lottery. Much better odds, anyway.

    • Well, being published and being published professionally is for me the same thing — so the notion remains the same.

      And writing is nowhere near like playing the lottery. I know plenty of writers who are happy writing — some financially comfortable, others not. But conflating writing with lottery-playing is a toxic idea.

      • For me, writing for 20 years and seeing no financial reward has become a toxic idea.

        If all you want is to know that your book has been published… well, I’ve got plenty of those. But my intention, from the beginning, was to make this the alternative to my spending my golden years greeting Wal-Mart shoppers. And my books aren’t showing any sign of ever doing that. In fact, a year’s worth of sales is enough to buy me and my wife a decent steak dinner. If we skip drinks.

        So right now, playing the lottery is looking like the better strategy… and less frustrating… than writing for retirement income.

    • Are you sure you’ve quit? I’m not trying to be snarky, or shitty, or anything else. Just curious. Because the fact that you’re here, reading this blog, kind of makes me wonder if you’ve truly given up. 15 is a lot of books. I hope someday they do see some sales

  14. I was actually dealing with a “to quit or not to quit” issue today, not about writing, but another aspect of my life. This post really came in handy. Thanks so much for posting it!

  15. I write because I love it at the same time it is driving me crazy. I actually scream in frustration at times, trying to frame the perfect sentence or paragraph. But man, on those occasions when I finally get it just right, I actually jump in the air and do fist pumps. Writing is like the opposite of hitting yourself with a hammer. Hitting yourself with the hammer feels good when you stop.

  16. I quit. I quit for six whole years. Six miserable, loathsome years until I crawled back in on hands and knees begging my muse to take me back, baby, I was wrong. You’re so right about quitting the quitting. If writing’s what you really want, it’ll still be there, waiting for you.

  17. “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.” ALL THE LOVE. Thank you for the big guffaw that just loosened my sad sorry TMJ.

    (This is not a question for me, by the way. I will always write, because: yes. So it seems I am reading about writing, when I should be sleeping, and despite your nifty meme above, simply because you wrote it. You villain.)

  18. I love writing, but without being published, won’t writing be sidelined by your regular job? I want to write and make films for a living, but pretty much everyone discourages me from it. I’m 21 now, and everyone expects me to get some bullshit degree in something I hate and go live an unhappy life so I can earn my living. I don’t understand why they can’t digest the fact that I’m willing to struggle as long as I can do what I am passionate about.
    Any advice?

    • YMMV, but taking financial panic out of the equation can actually make it a lot easier to be creative. It takes a while – and some discipline – to figure out how to handle the juggling act, but a stable, not hateful, “good enough” job that takes up no more than 40h a week and keeps you in food and rent isn’t antithetical to arting harder.

      • I help out my friend with his media firm. I write content for him once in a while which is fast cash. It’s not too much, but it isn’t the ‘enough’ that everyone talks about.
        Also, I’ve worked with a production house that I have complete faith in. So if I need, I can get a job there. It’s just, right now I really want to focus on my writing. It’s difficult to explain that to people.

    • What I’ve been told is you at least need a job that covers your living expenses because if you are going to bed hungry every night, you won’t be focused on writing and making your writing the best it can be. Cover your necessities (food, shelter, clothing, and some entertainment). Most writers have day jobs. Working with others exposes you to people and situations you may not come across otherwise. Doing things other than writing gives you experiences that will inspire your writing.

      • That part about getting experiences is convincing. I like how you’ve explained all that you have. But almost everyone says that, which is kind of discouraging :/
        If it does’t really work out, I might join a film school. But just the thought of attending lectures and giving exams makes me reconsider. Also, in India most of our teachers are useless. It makes learning much more of a struggle than it already is.
        I understand the other’s point of view when they tell me to get a job or a degree. That is what makes it so hard. I try to understand their point of views, but they don’t try to understand mine :/

    • Go get a bullshit degree in something you don’t hate. After all life is real. I am a believer in Plan B. Or don’t. Smile and nod politely to anyone who discourages you if they are important to you or you don’t want to break up the family. Then never speak of your passion for writing to them again. Blow off the rest of the naysayers. You don’t need that kind of negativity around you. Then GO WRITE. If you can, gather a supportive cohort. Writer’s groups, meetups. If you can’t, write anyway.

        • I said “bullshit” slightly tongue in cheek. Many degrees CAN be used. A program that gives you a trade is even better, like a radiology technician or welder. If you approach an education with an open mind and an opportunistic attitude, it is amazing the contacts you can make while broadening your horizons. This is true if you are flipping burgers, too, but I’d argue that your exposure to people with the opportunity to talk to them and learn from them is greater in an academic setting than when punched in on the clock cleaning the deep fryer. One is not better than the other, but the person who I replied to has parental input to consider. Me? I just chucked it all (chuck pun not intended), but ended up going back later because I got fricking tired of starving and then not being able to provide for my kids.

          And then some degree programs are just fun. It might be argued that I have a twisted sense of fun, but in the end, what is life for if not to be fun–which I maintain will inform your writing. So will the pain and suffering and struggle and prostituting yourself for your art, but I’ll opt for fun every chance I can get.

          • @dianadiehl1, I apologize if I offended you, I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek as well. What I meant was that one shouldn’t spend the ridiculous amount of money IF one does not intend to use the degree. I have a degree in economics which I use everyday, and will continue to use until I sell enough books to support my family on. I also have a good friend who is will be paying for his philosophy degree for the next 30 years, who currently works in a factory. He had a blast during college, but I’m pretty sure he regrets going now, as about a third of his income is due for student loans each month.

            p.s. A twisted sense of fun is the best kind 🙂

          • No offense taken in any way! But thank you for your kind response. There is always another way to look at something. Well, nearly always. Hey, that’s a good trigger for another story.

  19. I just woke both my wife and dog with ruckus applause after reading this. Of course the several “damn straight” or “no shit Sherlock” verbal comments of affirmation along the way had already roused them from their REM levels.

  20. I know a certain talented friend who hit world headlines as a child prodigy. Won so many awards heading into young adulthood. And still a really lovely person with a great work ethic, despite all the razzle-dazzle.

    Then a certain new Euro critic trying to establish their cred cut this friend down in the most savage review. It was not well-founded criticism, but the friend had a crisis and quit doing their wonderful thing. Tried to disappear into wait staff uniform and was lost there, for about a year. Maybe more.

    I can’t say what eventually brought this person back out into the world after all that time, but it did happen. For sure, quitting doesn’t need to be forever. And even those who seem to have it all are vulnerable.

  21. Great article, Chuck. I love the comments too. It looks like everyone here IS a writer and not ready to give up.

    So, since I feel inspired now, I hereby commit to the vigorous act of endless headbutting. Forever and ever. Or til death do us (writing and myself) part. Whichever comes first. Amen.

    Ahem … what exactly does “vigorous headbutting” mean? JK (Please remember I’m an ESL writer.)

    Well, thank you again for an awesome article. You knocked my rice filled socks off and now I’m dancing barefoot and bear-naked (please don’t ask, I won’t tell) in my backyard, with a pint of chocolate icecream in one hand, and a bottle of whiskey in the other, chanting “I’m a writer, I’m a writer, I’m a writer”. etc, etc, etc.

    Something good will come out of this. I’m sure of it. 🙂

  22. This is such a fab post Chuck – your posts almost always make me giggle! This bit was sheer genius though: “you can always quit the quitting”. Thanks for cheering me up.

  23. The number of times I’ve asked myself this over the last 6 months…

    I was first published the year after you, Chuck, and I still consider myself a failed novelist at times. Certainly, I’m struggling. I’ve sunk more money into my work and promotion than I’ve earned back, and in a few months I’ll be releasing a sequel to a book that maybe 20 or so people have read.

    But I’m still here. Still writing. Still looking for new ways to promote myself. I don’t think I could cope without at least the possibility that, one day, I’ll get to do this for a living.

  24. Wise words as always. It took me five years to write my first novel. It took me about two weeks to write my second. Neither of them were any good. I must have submitted five or six poorly written manuscripts to long-suffering literary agents before realising that I still had a long way to go before I’d be any good.

    Thirteen years after starting that first novel, I finally sold my first short story. In the two years that followed, I managed to sell two more stories. It’s been an incredibly hard journey to get to this point but not once have I thought about quitting. That would be like deciding to stop breathing. Not gonna happen!

  25. I don;t know who it was that said it but I roll this quote out at times like these:

    “Whoever can be dissuaded from writing SHOULD BE.”

    Yes it sounds harsh, but think about it.

    • I used to have that GRR ARRGH feeling, too, and there’s still a part of me thinks that if you can so easily be swayed from it, maybe it isn’t for you. But I also know it’s all too easy to take the idea of writing or being an artist or creating anything at all that it’s very easy to be dissuaded from it — from parents, from teachers, from supposed friends or from society at large. I’ve seen it happen, and I do wonder how many artists we’ve lost because they were told it wasn’t smart, or practical, or a good idea at all.

  26. It took 16 years for the idea for my first novel to germinate. Along the way I jotted down snippets, wrote fragments, daydreamed, and constantly watched a bunch of weird people walking around my brain spouting amusing soundbites.

    But it wasn’t until 18 months ago that I finally realised that all the above + life experienced = it’s time to tell this story to the world.

    Writing it all out is hard.

    Even though I’ve always been a writer in one way or another (in the business, academic, and social justice worlds), writing out the fictional stories in your head, set in a fictional world that has been evolving and becoming more and more real to my mind’s eye over the years is like catching smoke using a fun-house mirror – making what’s in my head come alive OUTSIDE my head in the form of words is harder than I ever thought.

    It’s like giving birth to triplets one millimeter at a time over the course of months and months.

    So I take it step by step, bit by bit. It’s taking ages to even get the first draft done but I want to tell that story and give my characters life outside my head and so it’s worth it.

    • “catching smoke using a fun-house mirror” Great line! I know exactly how you feel. Dreaming up the world and mastering the craft to bring it to life are two different animals, aren’t they?

      • Yes, absolutely.

        What I found is that writing is akin to painting with words and it is devilishly difficult (sometimes) to describe an emotion, a scene, or a character’s actions exactly so. And it must be “exactly so” in order to accurately convey what the story is about and to flesh out well-rounded characters, and help your reader suspend their disbelief.

        It helps that I write and tinker with my writing in what little spare time I have and I am not putting myself under any deadline pressure given that I already work two jobs at the moment. The important thing is to get this draft done, and then begin as many rounds of edits as possible to whip the whole story into shape.

        It also helps that my characters have never failed to amuse me! So it’s like telling a story about a bunch of very interesting people (to me, at least) who get into all sorts of madcap scrapes. The day I stop writing (or at least, trying to) is the day I am no longer amused.

  27. Feel like you watch me sometimes when I’m thinking and writing a chapter, not knowing if it will ever be published, Who know… but I sure feel great when its finally done and I’m on to the next page…

  28. don’t like to write but I love to visit the world i’ve created and walk with the characters and the only way to do that is by writing

  29. God, Chuck, I fucking LOVE you! Somehow, I know not how, you seem to understand what I need to hear and when I need to hear it. And you say it in the abso-fucking-lutely awesomest way best guaranteed to get my attention and make it stick.
    Your NO and YES were spot on. Yes, sometimes I have a quit-ass moment or two. No, I’m not gonna quit. Yes, I suck. But I’m damn good, and getting better. Because like you said a couple of days ago, getting it wrong is the only way you get close to getting it right.
    Your questions? The best. First: yes, I like writing. I like writing even when everything sucks, and I can’t figure out what the hell I’m doing, or what my character is doing, and why am I even doing this at all. Because even when everything sucks, I know that sometime, sooner or later, it’s going to go right, and there is nothing in the world, nothing at all, not even sex, not even VERY GOOD SEX, that comes close to how that feels. Because even VERY GOOD SEX only lasts for a while, and then you forget how it felt except you remember that it felt very good indeed, but I remember how it feels when the words come out right. I remember exactly how it feels, and how it felt, and how it’s going to feel when I get it right again.
    Second: No. Absolutely not. I cannot see me not writing. I can’t not write. Like you, they would have to take my hands, take my tongue, take my mind itself in order to stop me telling stories, even if only to myself. That is why Alzheimer’s scares the everlovin’ FUCK out of me, because I watched my Mother’s fine mind just leak away until there was no-one left, and I am nothing without my mind. Without my creativity. Without my ability to write poetry, and songs, and stories.
    Third: I would love to be published. My goal when I have finished the book I am currently writing (and its four siblings) is to submit it for publication and actually have it and them published. That’s my goal. But I will still write, even if that doesn’t happen. Because I can’t not write.
    So, not gonna quit. Even in the times when I have a bad week, like this week, when I spent the last three days sitting down to write for seven hours and spent them all on Pinterest, because even when I was doing that I was thinking about what I wanted to write. That I was pinning *this* picture because it reminded me of my setting, and now I had something to look at so I could describe it more accurately. That I was pinning *that* picture because there was something about that man’s expression that made me think of my character and how he felt, and now I know exactly what it looks like. Because even when I couldn’t focus on writing I was still focused on what I wanted to write.
    There’s a quote I pinned a while back; “Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about.” I won’t quit, no matter what. No matter if every word I write sucks moatwater, no matter if I’m having a day, no matter what. Because I can’t go a day without at least thinking about writing, even if I don’t get a word on paper. Because it’s still going on in my head. Thinking about a scene, how the dialogue should go, how the fighters will move. I chase videos on YouTube, because I can see the fighters move, I can see the cars skid in the rain, and if I can see them there then I can write them down so that others can see them, too.
    I can’t quit, because I can’t not write.

  30. Thank you for this post, Chuck! Best answer ever to this question. Not one I’ve ever asked myself, because my only answer would be hysterical laughter and “oh yeah? Quit writing? Good luck with THAT, pumpkin!” Not being a Famous and Super-Published Author Already used to irk me when I was an impatient teen, but I realised pretty quickly that even if I gave up on the idea of ever getting published, I would still be writing anyway.

    I have to ask this though… are there REALLY actual, real people out there who write but DON’T LIKE WRITING? As in (presumably) they want to be rich and famous authors for – ooh, just some random reason like “I think I’ll be E.L. James today!” – and think of the actual writing part of that process as some sort of horrible endurance test they must suffer in order to reach their goal? What the what? How does that even… my brain can’t even compute that. If there’s anyone out there that feels like that, can they please explain it to me? Seriously – I’m not being judgemental, I would just really like to understand how that happens.

    • Sure. I’ve talked to writers who don’t like it, and hey, if that’s what works for them, so be it. I don’t really understand it, but just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s not a thing. From my (probably limited) perspective, though, it seems maybe better to find something you do enjoy if possible. A privileged stance, admittedly. But writing tends to be a privileged hobby or job.

    • Given you brought up EL James, I’m just going to go ahead and say yes. There are people who see her success and say, I can do that. And hey, maybe she’s a catalyst for someone to start writing, and that’s fine, but a goal of replicating her success that’s the issue. Her success story is so bizarre and unique, it cannot be replicated, so that’s a rather lousy benchmark, but I have literally seen people say this.

      Personally, I think part of what people don’t like about writing is improving their writing. No one likes hearing that what they spent hours and weeks writing is cliche, tropey, poorly conceived, or needs a fresh voice. But more times than not, it is those things and we have to work harder. I LIKE that part; not the rejection, but the learning new stuff (assuming you do too based on comment). The getting better part is exciting.

      I tend to naively think every writer strives to improve their writing, but having been to half a dozen writing conferences now, I still see the social media and agent panels full while often the crafting and character development courses have leftover seats. There’s no magic social media that will sell your book, and agents will always tell you they can’t predict the next trend because no one can. Those panels have their place–I’ve been to them–but I would rather spend my conference money learning to write a better book.

      • Hello kindred soul 🙂

        I’ve had my share of rejection and “Whoa, this sucks like a Dyson”-esque comments about my writing too – all it ever did was make me want to work harder at it. Maybe the reason I don’t really understand how someone who doesn’t like writing could devote a lot of time to trying, just for the fame or whatever, is because when I try to think of comparisons in my life it still doesn’t add up for me. Sport, for instance.

        I am not a sport person – running to the fridge for a Galaxy bar is my idea of sport. Therefore I avoid sport as much as humanly possible. If someone came up to me and said “Let me train you for twelve months and I will make you a top athlete, guaranteed” I would say “Mmmm, no thanks, because I hate sport.” The person could protest to me “No honestly, I guarantee I can do it – trust me, you’ll make a thousand quid a month as a top athlete” I would still say “Nope, because did I mention I hate sport and I’d rather devote all that time to getting better at something I LIKE doing than something I HATE doing.”

        That’s the part I don’t get, I suppose. I have of course done jobs I hated in the past, but only because not doing it meant having no money to live on (and the minute I found something better I was out of there.) But since writing is something you can do outside of your job – i.e. it’s something you choose to do in your life as a whole… I dunno, maybe I’m just being precious, having an attitude that I could never devote acres of time to doing something I don’t have to do, just for the money/fame, if I didn’t enjoy doing it.

        The E.L. James thing winds me up actually. Not her – the way the media painted her and her apparent ‘overnight success story.’ All that guff about her being the ‘shy housewife’ who just rattled off her first novel as a bit of fun and then made squillions… The woman was an executive in an advertising company, for heaven’s sake – a savvy businesswoman who knew how the media worked from the inside! It’s not like she’d never written anything creative in her life before she sat down to write that novel. But I guess the Cinderella story sounds better – and fills millions of heads with this idea that writing a novel is something anyone with fingers can do in a weekend.

        Ending rant now. Deep breaths.

  31. “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.”

    These are the things I would love to hear you say. Do a vine or something dammit. lol

  32. This…. this really made a difference.

    We’re all familiar with crippling self-doubt. But asking myself the three questions you asked gave me some much needed insight.

    Yes. I absolutely love writing. When it’s going well, it’s pure ecstatic magic. When it’s not, there’s still something badass about pushing through anyway. It’s great to be able to pat myself on the back and say: “See? You made that shitty day YOUR BITCH!”

    No. I can’t picture myself not writing ever again. The very idea… I don’t care that I suck. I don’t care if my writing never sees the light of day. But it’s the only thing that keeps me sane. It really is.

    Finally: Both, ideally. I want to write, and write, and write, no matter where it goes. I would LIKE for this to be a viable career (though I’m not quite there yet).

    Thank you, Chuck. As always.

  33. You know, until today, I had never even considered the notion that there are people who want to be writers who don’t like writing. I just… I don’t get that even a little bit. I’m not being judgmental, I just don’t understand. What’s the drive then? If you’re not doing it for the sheer joy of it, what other incentives are there? There’s no great money in it, no respect, no social status, nothing except the fun of it. It blows my mind that there might be other motivations for writing than “because I love it and I’d be miserable if I didn’t.”

    Obviously that’s more a reflection on me and my limited scope of experiences than it is on anyone else, but still. I need someone to explain this to me, because I just don’t understand even a little bit.

    • I think it’s a case of wanting to have written a book but not wanting to put in the hard work and effort. So many people I’ve met seem to think that writing is easy or that anyone can do it. They see success stories like JK Rowling and Stephen King, and think that all they have to do is scribble down a book and ta-da! they’ll be rolling in cash. They don’t like it when they find out that there’s actually a helluva lot of hard work involved.

      Spend a couple of days on the Books and Authors section of Yahoo Answers and you’ll see people like this every day 🙁

      • Oh, that makes sense. I guess it’s like how I want to have read all the Russian classics, I just don’t want to read them. Because I don’t like reading them.

        I just never considered that “published writer” was something people imagine comes with a lot of perks. But if they’re imagining Rowling and compatriots, well, yeah, alright. It’s a little silly, but I get it. Thanks.

  34. I wanted to write a book for so long and didn’t, I feel like I’m making up for lost time.

    My biggest question is how you manage to write insanely funny and motivating blog posts of this caliber almost every day. Blogging is clearly your thing. (and thank you!)

  35. I did quit writing for a bit. From 1993 until 2003, nothing that I wrote was for me. I wrote for coin, for corporate, and to satisfy my mother’s foretelling that “authors don’t make any money, so you better take typing so you have something to fall back on (all her well-off women friends were secretaries in the auto industry or legal world).” I also was a soldier and in boots on the ground situations constantly. That drought of creative flow (although I still kept a journal) would swell into a volcano. I started writing again in 2003. I look now on that drought as a hoarding of stories, of creative juice. Man, is it flowing now. So I’m a failed novelist since 2003. In 2011, I successfully published my first short story. The writing continues. I’m not quitting. If I follow the math of Herr Wendig’s path, just a few more years and I’ll have it mastered, right? 😉

  36. I find that on days that I question whether I should keep writing, my issue isn’t about writing – it’s about PUBLISHING. With only four published books under my belt, I still find it WAY too easy to fall into the trap of comparing my work, my productivity, my sales, etc. to other people’s – and of course, I always come up short.

    When I sit down to write every morning, I really have to shove publishing out of my head.

  37. I kind of already have a plan B. Refer to my previous comments and you will know what I’m talking about. Sadly it’s not enough for my parents.
    I am keeping the negativity out. I’m focusing on writing and editing. Maybe that’s all I need.
    I really liked how you responded to my comment. This was perhaps the best advice I could’ve gotten. Thank you 🙂

    • As I mentioned above, my parents weren’t really down with me writing either. I won a writing contest when I was in the 7th grade. I was so excited to tell my mom, but I didn’t start with “I won this, mom.” I started with, “I’m going to be a writer, mom!” She said I better take typing in high school so I had something to fall back on (secretarial pools were the big thing back then and they pulled a decent wage for a WOMAN). So I went into journalism, newspapers. I still got to tell stories, but I got a regular paycheck. Long story short, I didn’t give up. My typing skills not only help me write faster, but gave me jobs where I learned to write better. Don’t give up. And don’t forget that many a successful storyteller/writer had a side gig to pay the bills until their stories did it for them.

      • I’m never gonna give up. Even if it means having to go to a job I hate. It’s just, I would prefer to not have a job.
        It’s good to know that you found your way through it all. It gives me an extra bit of hope that somehow even I’ll figure it all out. 🙂

        • Like others have suggested the “side gig” to pay the rent is about gathering characters, storylines, and other ideas. So, in essence, you can look at it as contributing to your writing life. Just keep the write-life in the viewfinder of your radar. And write every day. Every day.

    • I haven’t told any of my friends or family I write. I just do it, and get plenty of encouragement from the fine people around here 🙂

      Also you have to keep in mind that even if you’re a fantastic writer, that’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed commercially. As it has been said, most writers have a day job.

  38. I considered not writing once, a few years ago, and it physically pained me. It was a rough 10 minutes or so, there was a lot of sobbing. My cat came down stairs to make sure I was not dying. That said, I stuck with it, and something very interesting happened two nights ago.

    I was wading through 2k words of what I believed was brand-spanking new shit, only to churn out 630 more before I went to bed. Ugh, I hated all the words on this new MS, but I thought I’ll fix it later, just get it out. And after I wrote those 630 extra turds I went back to see the damage.

    It was a little crappy yes, but my storytelling instinct had taken over. I inserted a plot point I was not even thinking about (because I was thinking about how crappy my dialogue was), not even remotely considering, but a plot point that would be vital to building a sense of dread later. It just…appeared. Like a reflex. I was amazed. Through all my in-the-moment negative self-talk, the WRITER in me got shit done.

    In terms of quitting, I don’t have a choice. That writer’s a bitch, and she’ll get me when I’m not looking. Which is pretty cool, actually.

  39. It’s surprising how many writers want to quit after not achieving instant success. There are no true overnight successes in this business.

    Sure, we can all get discouraged from time to time, but the only way to make it is to write like your life depends on it and never slow down.

    Like Chuck said, it took him over 17 years. If you don’t have that kind of fortitude and dedication, then by all means, quit.

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