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To Quit or Not to Quit: Readers Respond
Return to The Writing Life · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

In March, Shiela J. posed the following question to our readers:

"At what point should an author give up writing? I can hear gasps and immediate response of 'never,' but let me elaborate a bit. I make a living as a professional nonfiction writer. But what I love writing is fiction - adult and children's stories, poetry, even a novel that earned a bit of local media play and good reviews. Yet, despite a social media presence, website, and word of mouth, it's almost impossible to reach a wide net of readers (unless your book happens to be a soft porn phenomenon and gets mainstream media attention that leads to a movie deal). Yes, authors can keep on writing because they have a passion for it, but when does it become an exercise in futility?

Here's are some excerpts from Writing-World.com's readers had to say in response (in no particular order):

It's a Gift, Not a Calling - Marion O.
When I first started writing it was because of the love of it... the fact that I could craft words and turn it into something magic with my imagination. I never write because it is a way of earning money. I think what you have lost sight of is that being a writer is a gift not a professional calling. So what if you don't succeed in writing fiction as far as making profit is concerned! You will have already lost the point of what you are doing if money is all you want to gain accolades for your talent. You have already lost the battle and your gift because you don't believe you have any talent because no one wants to buy your books. I have received numerous rejections and almost gave up on the whole thing because ... my wallowing in the guilt of [other people's] opinions almost made me lose sight of why I was doing it in the first place. I write now for the pleasure of it and because of that my gift has grown and my pride of self along with it. Get your ego out of the way and just let it be what you are.

Sometimes the Fire Burns Out... - Donna M.
I believe that all writers have agonized over this question at some point.

With every life in an ongoing state of transition, no matter how much we may love to write, many of us will go through periods when the writing fire simply burns itself out. But that doesn't mean that we are no longer writers, or that we will never write again. There are no rules against taking a break to focus on something different. As a matter of fact, the very act of immersing yourself in an entirely different pursuit could be the catalyst that sparks the match once again. I truly believe that if we're meant to delve into the writing life again someday, then we will.

We Can't Help Ourselves - Barb R.
My take on writing is that writers write because they can't help themselves, much as a photographer must take one more sunset picture. We do it because we love it. However, when trying to make it into a business becomes a chore or a source of resentment or sadness what then?

Personally I'd just go back to writing for the pure, unadulterated pleasure, not for any fame or fortune. I've had a writer's group for 13 years. I've seen many facets of writers, some stick with it and some give up and go onto other things. Sometimes a new member will say apologetically, "I'm really not a writer. I haven't written a book." Who says writing a book makes you a writer? I've read some pretty awful books and would debate if that makes that person a writer.

I don't believe it is about being published. Write because you love to write with or without the money. Don't give up on your writing. Do what makes your heart sing.

See Where It Takes You - Derek T.
It's an interesting question that I'm sure many fiction authors ask themselves from time to time. The first thing I'd do, in Shiela's situation, is ask myself a few important questions. 1. What does success mean to me? 2. What aspects of being writer do I actually control? (The quality of the writing, a good understanding of the genre and creating a vibrant network are three things to consider. 3. How much time can I commit to marketing? 4. Am I able to invest in professional marketing services?

One final, heretical thought is that just because you enjoy something it doesn't mean it will bring you financial rewards, even if it has merit. Be glad you've found doing something that you love and see where it takes you!

It Satisfies My Core - Janis H.
I've had three books published by a traditional publisher and have not become rich by any means. Am I disappointed? Absolutely not. I actually don't care if I make a lot of money. As the old saying goes, "when you love writing, you can't not write."

I eagerly write and finish one book to get it out of my system so I can move on to my next one. Having it published by a traditional publisher or via self-publishing gives me a satisfying release.

I never consider my writing an exercise in futility because writing is "in me" and it's got to come out. It satisfies some deep core inside me.

If one is writing solely for money, there will be inevitable disappointment. And if money is the objective, perhaps that person should consider another vocation.

Follow Your Dreams - Jacqueline S.
Never give up on something you love doing. Of course, most of us would like to became rich and famous authors, well admired and respected for our work. That can't always happen. What we can do is follow our dreams. My advice, be as tenacious as a pit bull. Keep writing, improving, and sending writing out. And appreciate the successes you do accomplish.

Why Are You Writing? - Joy N.
It depends on why you are writing, on why you started writing in the first place. It is good to earn a living with your writing, but not all us are that fortunate. There are many reasons why people write. If your reason is to make money, then you must find that genre that pulls in a lot of money.

I started off writing because I love telling stories, and people who heard my stories were always in awe of how I created my story web. A friend asked me once how I come up with the ideas I write about, and that for me made my day, and encouraged me to weave on. Who knows, one day, someone may discover my stories. I hope it happens while I am still alive. In the meantime, I continue to strive to make my stories better. I take courses in writing, I network, and I read and review a lot. Above all, I enjoy what I do. Maybe, you should find a job that will support you and your writing.

Pursue What Makes It Fun - Alaina S.
When does it become an exercise in futility? When it's not fun anymore. Consider whether what you're doing is making you happy. You can quit promoting and write only for yourself and for your loved ones, but it really depends on what gives you joy. Is it writing itself? Sharing your work with strangers (publication)? Sharing your work with those you love (no formal publication necessary)? Ask yourself what makes it fun, and keep pursuing that goal.

Let Go If It's a Chore - Steve S.
If writing becomes stressful, keeping you awake worrying about the article and starts feeling like a chore or a job than it's time to let go.

Be Realistic - Martha E.
No one can tell Shiela whether to keep writing fiction or to give up. However, the problem as I see it is one of attitude. Specifically, it's easier to have a negative, defeatist attitude (ie,: "it has to be soft porn"... not true) than to put forth the effort required for success or to admit one's work doesn't rise to the level of a bestseller. First, write down your goal. What does success look like to you? What will it take to get there? Are you being realistic? If realistic, are you willing to put in the time and work to reach your goal? If your goal isn't realistic, are you interested enough in writing to put the work into setting a realistic goal? It sounds harsh, I suppose, but maybe it will be helpful.

Keep on Running! - Ginger H.
The same question arises with runners. We wonder why we should keep running. We never run well enough to receive an award. We never run fast enough for a PR (Personal Record). We become too old, too fat, too slow. I encourage runners to keep going, never give up. If you have that passion and it's fun for you, keep running. Otherwise, how will you ever know if you can reach that PR? How will you ever know if you can complete a marathon or ultra, a triathlon or Ironman? If you give up, how will you ever know if you will become a better athlete? Persevere. Your next race may be the breakthrough you've been waiting for.

Writing is no different than running. We may never write that great American novel. We may never write well enough to be published. We may never write well enough to be of interest to readers. If you have that passion and it's fun for you, keep writing. If you give up, how will you ever know if you can write that great American novel? If you give up, how will you ever know if you will become a better writer? Persevere. Your next submission may be the breakthrough you've been waiting for.

It's Like Breathing... - Marilyn M.
Writing is like breathing. It is something writers do to take us through the day. If you love to write, write no matter what.

It Depends... - Debbie F.
My response to Shiela is 'it depends.' If you truly love writing, the obvious answer is 'of course you keep writing.' Using myself as an example, although I have yet to publish a single work of fiction, I write nearly every day and can't imagine not writing creatively to me, it would be like not eating. So, even though I'm not published, I keep writing because I must, regardless of the salability of the results. I never think of it as an exercise in futility. It simply is. On the reverse, if you have no passion and are frustrated at a lack of commercial success, then it is probably time to stop and find something else to do that you can be passionate about.

Stop Thinking Short-Term - Barbara T.
Shiela, you're thinking short term. First, the more you write, the better you become, so it's not an exercise in futility. You never stop learning and the more you write, the better you become. And second, think about the long tail instead. With this new world of publishing maybe your book - as long as it's always available on all possible platforms and in all possible formats - will be discovered next year or in ten years. As long as it has a good cover, good blurb, good proofreading, just watch it grow. And keen writing because you'll never know which book will take off and become a bestseller. Writers are the worst judges of their work. Ms James is not the only exception - Hugh Howey is another and he doesn't write soft porn. Yes, they are exceptions, not the norm. But more and more writers can live off their fiction writing - if they stick to it.

Writers Write... - Fred W.
Writers write. You just can't turn off the passion. I've sold one novel (due to be published this summer) plus short stories, a little poetry, and review articles, most to the same on-line magazine. I have many more rejections than acceptances. But I cannot imagine quitting. If I never sell another thing, I'll still be writing until I am mentally and physically unable to do so... I'll probably croak over shortly after.

Forge On... - Richard S.
Forge on. As a writer who has published over 2,500 articles and may be self-publishing my first book of poetry with Amazon, I say forge on. But then I am a writer who cannot, not write. (Double negative intended.) I was first published as a third grader, got my first royalty as a HS senior, won the college prize for fiction, went on to the Iowa International writers and then got nowhere for the next ten years. Then I published 100 poems, getting paid for most of them. Then nothing for three years, then a 15-year stint as a journalist, then nothing, then a finalist in theater and movie scripts. So, just do it. Forge on, Forge On, FORGE ON!!!

I Write for Me - E.B.
You're housed, fed, and can buy a new pair of shoes so money isn't the question.

You love writing.

What has me in the gray area is while you're financially stable and love writing, why are you concerned with major commercial publication?

If some power said you had to give up all writing, would that be a gut wrencher beyond belief? It would for me but then I'm me and that's peculiar. I write for me because I just gotta, hafta, without exception, rain, snow, or dark of night put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard. If nobody reads it or it never sees a publisher, I've had the pleasure. Then if it sells a trillion copies and sees not only Hollywood but Broadway, so much nicer but those are pluses, not the rock core of why I write.

Quit writing? Horrors! Truly so. It'd be like no fried chicken. Unimaginable for it's in my genetic makeup.

Write with Your Heart - Ishola T.
Hmm, giving up? Heck nope... there is a saying that some have caps without heads while some have heads without caps. What that means is that, many want to write but are not courageous enough to and vice versa. Many wished to write but the waves of life deprived them of their hands... so you got your hands to type your question, then keep writing! Even when those hands are nowhere to be found, write with your heart. I love to write but have never been published, still not given to surrendering. Keep your ink pouring! You are almost there!

Write for Yourself - Anne N.
One good test is to not write for a few weeks. If not writing makes you depressed, then you should not give up writing. You might not get published, but you can write for yourself. If you have a lot of stories inside, waiting to get out, then write them down, even if no one cares. If you have children, you can give them your stories in the future, or you can give them away to family and friends. I know it's not the same as being published, but at least people get to read your stories.

That's What Writers Do - Linda O.
I knew from the start that most writers are never published. At the beginning, I wrote because it was fun to play with words, then I continued because I was in love with it. I keep working to learn and perfect my craft. If my fiction ever is published (which I realize will have a better chance if I'm as diligent about submitting it as I am about writing it), that will be wonderful. If not, I'll keep writing, because that's what writers (this one, anyway) do.

No More Dinosaurs - Jim P.
In this day, our books and stories need not ever disappear. Amazon or Barnes and Noble, like diamonds and James Bond, may be forever. And our works can stay there for a long, perhaps a long, long, time. So what is the futility continuing to market, even occasionally throughout the year, your book or short story? None. They can still sell, even years later. The other day, I bought a book from Amazon on writing confession stories. The book I bought was written back in the 1980s. It contained advice that is probably no longer relevant. But the point is, the author keeps on marketing. Even if you have to do it in your pajamas and robe, keep on telling the world about your work. I seriously doubt that such a tale will ever be futile. The only dinosaurs are the ones they keep digging up.

I Walked Away... Audrey H.
More than a decade ago I actually did quit writing. For years. I only started writing again just a few years ago. I had been writing since I was 11 years old. I still have a book of short stories I wrote when I was 15. It is one of my most treasured possessions. I studied journalism and sociology in college and worked briefly as a newspaper reporter in my hometown.

I enjoyed writing spot news but wanted to write more in depth features. I didn't have much success pursuing magazine assignments, however. I eventually suffered a severe case of burnout triggered exacerbated by life struggles and lack of income. That's when I walked away from writing to become a pure researcher.

To cut through what could become a long story I eventually came to believe that what I need is balance. I'm still working on the particulars, but so far I'm enjoying writing for money and developing my platform. Finding specialties for my "for money" writing has helped a lot. I earn more money and I draw fulfillment from my writing that helps me maintain the energy I need for developing my sustainability-oriented platform. Sheila didn't mention whether she had specialty subjects but if she doesn't, I strongly suggest she develop at least one or two.

It is so easy to become overwhelmed with making a living. I'm guilty of that myself. But I am finding that the only out of that kind of trap is to get out. In other words, yes, making a living is essential (duh). But you can't get caught up in the everyday grind to the exclusion of all else. Finding my way out has involved finding better paying markets and prioritizing my spending so that I have more time to develop my platform. Once she finds something she loves to write it should be easier for her to find time.

The Bottom Line - Moira A.
Why write? Only Shiela can answer that question, as each of us must answer it for ourselves. One person's goal may not be another's; one dream may not be sufficient for another. But here's a thought to part with: If your dream is causing you pain, it may be the dream that's the problem, not the writing. If what you don't have makes you miserable, find out what you can have that will make you happy -- and go for it. Whether that means writing, or digging ditches, find a dream that works instead of working for a dream that hurts!

Find Out More...

To Quit or Not to Quit, Part I - Moira Allen
http://www.writing-world.com/coffee/coffee93.shtml

To Quit or Not to Quit, Part II: Understanding The Writing Continuum - Moira Allen
http://www.writing-world.com/coffee/coffee94.shtml

Copyright © 2015 Moira Allen
This article is not available for reprint without the author's written permission.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
All materials on this site are the property of their authors and may not be reprinted
without the author's written permission, unless otherwise indicated.
For more information please contact Moira Allen, Editor

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