Should I Quit?: What to do When it Seems Hard
I was inspired to write this post by a discussion on one of my online writing groups. A discussion, which, incidentally, was inspired by another post on the habits of successful writers.
Since that discussion, I’ve had cause to reflect on the nature of dreams (specifically, writing dreams, although non-writers will relate to this), and when to effectively give up on those dreams.
Here are my thoughts.
Writing is hard, because it matters to you
There’s no doubt that writing is hard, in the same way that pursuing anything that matters to you, can be hard.
I know people who have been nurturing their writing dream for years, yet, are terrified of taking that seemingly small step to sit down and start writing whatever is on their heart to write.
I also know people who have been pursuing their writing dream for many long years. They started off with hopes of landing a traditional publishing contract. A lack of success in that area led them to self-publish, to deafening silence.
Undeterred, some have persisted, by self-publishing more books to largely the same reaction: indifference from the world.
Traditionally published authors do not fare better, necessarily. Due to poor sales some have had their contracts terminated by their publishers. Others have been fired or have fired their literary agents for complex reasons that only makes sense to people working in the industry.
What now? I’m asked by these writers. Should I give up on this writing dream, because, clearly, writing and the writing industry itself is not meant for the mentally stable.
The truth is, there is no way to absolutely know when to quit, after all, most success narratives tell us that the moment we want to give up is when we should actually double down and work even harder, because that moment usually means that success is round the corner.
At the same time, the true mark of success is knowing when to quit. So, perhaps the question isn’t so much as quitting, but about knowing when to quit.
So before hanging up your keyboard, pen or notepad on your writing dream, take a minute to think through the following.
What were your expectations of being a writer?
Be honest with yourself: why do you want to write? Most writers write, because they believe they have something to say and share with the world.
A tiny percentage of people write, because they think it’s an easy ticket to fame and fortune.
Your reason for writing will shape your expectation of the reality of writing itself. So, if you want to quit, perhaps you should examine your expectations, first.
Having experienced the reality of writing, perhaps as a budding author, poet or freelancer, rather than quitting, maybe you just need to re-align your expectations and success criteria.
If your book did not set the publishing world on fire, that’s not a good reason to quit (my view). The most important thing is that you wrote the book that was on your heart to write. Millions of people a day type in ‘Chapter 1’ (and stop right there, the best intentions and all that), so the fact that you actually started and finished writing a book is a major accomplishment. Even if it impacts one person, then it’s done what it was meant to do (unless of course you thought writing your book would lead to fame and fortune).
So instead of quitting the writing game entirely, I would say this: continue working on your writing and marketing skills (yes, marketing is very important), and for the love of God, read more books. Writers are readers. End. Of.
Did your business book fail to bring in those expert speaking opportunities you wanted? That does not make you a failure. In my experience, in business, writing one book is enough to establish someone as an expert in their field. So rather than quitting, it may be that you haven’t found the one platform (Linkedin, YouTube or Medium, for instance) that will result in those opportunities for you, so you may need to look at that.
Recognise the time and season
The Bible talks about a time and season for everything, and in my life, I’ve found that to be true.
I’ve written books across multiple genres, been a freelance writer, ran my own content business, worked in human rights, and attempted the corporate life (twice, because the first time wasn’t horrific enough).
To outsiders, my career choices (in different writing industries and genres) might have seemed baffling (why don’t you just stick to one thing? I was asked, countless, boring times). But the truth is, I made those choices in line with my personal circumstances, and where my creative head space was, at the time.
I started off in religious publishing, decided to branch out, and so I wrote a book for a general audience, which was subsequently nominated for a literary prize. Then, I was approached to ghostwrite a biography (and then another one, and then, another one). Then, I was given further opportunities to write for a corporate audience. Somewhere in between, I considered giving up writing altogether, because I’d grown to hate it, as I was under so much stress. But alas! The bank balance! The bank balance! So I persevered.
It turned out that as stressful and frustrating as those seasons were (I call them the writing wilderness years), I didn’t know it at the time, but I was actually experimenting and trying to figure what type of writer I wanted to be (ghostwriter, novelist, business writer…)
It might be the case that you’re going through your own writing wilderness years, so don’t hang up your proverbial keyboard yet.
If you decide to quit writing, you need to be clear on what it is you’re giving up exactly.
Is it the act of writing itself or are exploring another writing industry/sector? If you started out wanting to write books and you realised that it’s something you’re not suited to, maybe you should try blogging instead.
And if you do decide to quit writing altogether, there’s no shame in doing so. It wasn’t working for you, that’s all. Besides, I’ve known people to ‘quit’, only to pick up the keyboard again, years down the line.
I ran my own content agency for three years. It was a dream of mine and I did it, only to realise that it wasn’t what I wanted, at all. So after three years, I wrapped it up. I didn’t quit writing, I quit something that wasn’t working for me (even if that something was a writing business).
After wrapping up my agency, I went back to a 9–5 and realised that what I loved doing was writing fiction and helping writers. So I started over. I launched abidemi.tv and started working on my far-too-long-neglected manuscript, and I can honestly say that I have never been happier. I am passionate about what I do and I love, love, love working with writers.
First and foremost, I’m a writer. But I’m also a businesswoman (owner and founder of abidemi.tv, thanks for asking) . One does not cancel the other. By starting over, I’ve come to accept these twin facets of myself, even if it’s taken me a while to get there.
The answer to your question: should I quit?
So, in answer to your question: should I quit my writing dream? I say: first, examine your reasons for writing and then decide if starting over, rather than quitting, is what you need.
Originally published at www.abidemi.tv on February 21, 2017.