Can one quit being a writer?
This is a post I’ve wanted to write – and dreaded writing – for a long time. For about as long as I have no longer considered myself a “writer,” at least outside of my freelancing career. How long has that been? It’s hard to say. There wasn’t a single defining moment when I decided. It came gradually, in waves. I would realize I hadn’t written anything in weeks. Then it was months. I would try to write, and make a little progress. Then the cycle would continue. Sometimes I would send a story to a magazine and its rejection letter was met with a shrug. I just didn’t care about it.
It’s hard to talk about these things without sounding like I believe I’ve been touched by some divine hand of creativity. I don’t want to sound like a snob, or really up myself. But the fact is writing was the first thing I was ever good at, and it’s been there for most of my life. Maybe I took for granted that I would always find something to write about. Maybe it was personal life issues that made writing seem futile or made me doubt my ability.
Either way, when I started to notice my desire to write slipping away, before I stopped caring, I got angry. I was angry at myself for relying so much on being published by paying magazines (the result of a goal I’d set for myself years ago to get a grant). I was angry at those magazines for seemingly favouring experimental, short writing that I don’t and can’t do. I was angry at the writing community for making me feel like if I wasn’t promoting myself every minute of every day or producing work at breakneck speed, I was failing. I was angry at all the things I’d tried – workshops, prompts, contests – that just made me feel more disillusioned.
Some of those things didn’t deserve my anger – I knew that even then. But that’s the thing about it. Writing was the only thing I’d ever wanted to do. I didn’t go to university or college because I knew I was going to be a writer so why bother? Writing was something I’d always had, always loved, and so when I felt it leaving me, I didn’t know what to do or what to think, or how to make it stop. I lashed out. I would have a couple of things published online, writers would add me on Twitter or Facebook, and I felt like a huge fraud. Didn’t they know? I was no more a writer than I was a parakeet.
I’m reading this over and I sound like I’m sitting at my laptop weeping, or asking for a pep talk. Neither of those things are the case. I know that creativity is fluid and this isn’t necessarily over, but I also know that some creative people just walk away from their art of choice and never return to it. There’s a weird sense of judgement when you lose interest in your craft, like maybe you didn’t deserve it in the first place. It can be so intertwined with your sense of self that you lose your equilibrium.
I suppose I wanted to talk about it because I don’t hear writers or artists talk about giving it up, or even taking very long breaks. The narratives you always hear are “Talented genius lives and breathes writing and has 10 books published” or “Person calmly doing something that is not writing until age 40 when they decide ‘Hey I’ll give this writing thing a try’ and is immediately beloved.” Or they get writer’s block for a little while but then gleefully return to writing. I want the in-between, the stories in the grey areas. There have to be some out there.
2 thoughts on “I quit writing.”
I’ve enjoyed reading these posts of yours and now understand the decreasing regularity of them. Personally, I wrote a blog, faithfully, once a week for several years. Then last fall, I just stopped, and I stopped writing fiction at that point too. Maybe my story is in the grey area. Anyway, here it is, as well as I can tell it.
I’ve always been a good writer. But I went to college for a health career, which I loved, and I had kids, whom I loved, and time went by. In my 40’s I decided to give full-time writing a try. I got a lot of positive feedback. I loved that, and the writing itself. I made myself a “platform” on social media, which included the blog. I got some stories published. I got some cool grants and opportunities. I wrote a few novel manuscripts, got an agent and worked with her for years. But none of those manuscripts sold.
The reality of my novel failures hit me last fall. Then: Mr. Trump got elected; my niece was diagnosed with a terrible eating disorder; my son moved back to town and my daughter got pregnant. As you can see, it wasn’t all bad news that got me off track, although the first two items certainly took their toll. The last two have filled me emotionally, perhaps in a way the writing had before. I also took a job as a local magazine editor, with regular and decent pay, which gives me many opportunities to write, edit, mentor, and communicate with lots of people with interesting stories to tell. But still no fiction, no blogs, no social media. For now over half a year.
I mean none of this as an excuse. I mean none of it as “Oh, I just did that unpaid fiction-writing thing, full-time for ten years because I was…sad/happy/bored/whatever.” That’s simply not true. I did it to explore an opportunity, to use my creativity, to extend myself into the writing community. I loved it–mostly. But I’ve not missed it. If I missed it badly enough, I’d be doing it. I’m not.
Life comes at us in bursts, I think. There is never any shame in trying something new, and there is never any shame in giving something up if it doesn’t do for us what we want or need. Sometimes I’m sad I failed to get a novel published, or that I don’t have the energy to try again. Sometimes I get defensive if people suggest I didn’t have the staying power. Fuck them. Life is short. I may get back to the fiction writing and I may not. Nothing in this life stays the same for long.
I would suggest you follow your heart. The fiction-writing may come back to you, or it may not. Don’t trouble yourself about it. Do good work, whatever you do. Love deeply. Have some babies, or grand babies, if you are so disposed. Live each day, each hour, each minute. These are things you will never regret.
Thanks for listening, and good luck.
Hi Donna! Thank you very much for your comment. I apologize, though – this is a post from 2015 that I re-published today under the original date; I hope you didn’t get any annoying or confusing notification somehow that this post was live again! Gremlins in the machine, most likely. I’m happy to report that since I wrote this post, I’ve returned to writing, and in fact finished the first draft of a novel a few months ago.
In any case, I loved reading your comments. In that weird limbo between writing this post and returning to writing, I explored other things, not necessarily writing-related but at least creatively or emotionally fulfilling. It was somehow *more* relaxing to release myself from the obligations of “writer,” and let myself not think about it for months.
You’re very right – there is absolutely no shame in putting something aside that isn’t doing what we want or need. And allow me to add my own “fuck them!” to anyone who doesn’t suggest you didn’t have staying power. Life is indeed short, and it’s up to us how we live it. Whether or not writing is in the cards, living the life one want is key (even if it can also be difficult to understand that!).
Thank you again for your comments – it’s good to hear from you and I hope you and yours are doing well.