“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over.
Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
Not too long ago, I saw a writer quit.
I’ve seen this happen before. And every time, I’m struck to the core, completely aghast.
You can’t help putting yourself in the author’s shoes, wondering what’s driving the decision. Money is always a huge component — if you’re not making money, it’s very hard to justify the time and effort you’re spending, but I don’t know a lot of authors who would stop writing if they weren’t getting paid. It’s part of our souls, something we’re compelled to do.
But for a writer to actually quit — there’s more to it than the living.
Is it fear of success? Of failure? Actual desperation and depression, a cry for help?
I don’t think you can ever fully know the reason a writer — an artist — decides to walk away from their art. It’s a heartbreaking decision, no matter how you cut it, both for the artist and for the fans.
I think the first time I saw a writer publicly quit was my debut year, when an author I followed religiously started to unravel. Here I was, on top of the world, unable to connect with this author’s struggles. I couldn’t imagine wanting to walk away, couldn’t imagine what had happened to spoil this glorious job.
A decade later, I see the struggle that author was having all too clearly.
I’ve been though my own turmoils. I’ve lost faith in myself, I’ve lost faith in the industry. I too thought about quitting. I got myself stuck in the middle of a huge creative quagmire, when nothing was working and everything I touched seemed to blacken, curl up, and die. It wasn’t a fun time.
That’s when I read Julie Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY and realized how ungracious I was being toward my gift. At the end of the 12 weeks, I’d found my voice again, and had the energy and faith to start over again.
So when I saw my writer friend quit, I reached out immediately. This is part of what I said:
No one, and I mean no one, is a successful author because of either conference attendance OR swag. The only thing that brings success is writing, more and more and more, getting better with each story finished and never giving up. Cultivate readers, not other writers. Treat your writing like the job it is. Invest in yourself: your brain energy, your reading, your awesomeness. Most importantly, get a book called THE ARTIST'S WAY by Julia Cameron. Do the work, religiously. I guarantee you'll feel differently about your career after. I did. And remember, we all go through this.
Let me emphasize one point: We all go through this. We do. We lose the forest for the trees and the words turn to muck and we can’t see a path, any path, that allows us to feel like a success.
And that’s okay.
You’re allowed to have fallow times. You’re allowed to walk away for a bit. The seesaw balancing act authors have to do now, coupling the business with the art, takes its toll. Hang up your laptop for a while. Walk away from your story.
Use the time wisely. Walk. Meditate. Journal. Read. Develop a yoga practice. Volunteer. Adopt a pet. Do The Artist’s Way. But figure out what it is that’s really holding you back.
Be honest with yourself. Honesty is the only path out. Figure out if your expectations of your career are realistic, or if you’re just sitting back waiting for lightning to strike.
If this is your path, you will find a way back to the page. Remember that everything happens for a reason. You may need to change genres. You may need to change agents. You may need to take more time off.
But be gentle with yourself.
This is a big decision. And thankfully, it doesn’t have to be final.
In case you’re wondering, both writers I mentioned in this piece are still writing and publishing. They didn’t need to quit.
Like me, they simply needed a break.