Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How to Keep Writing When You Want to Quit

Note: This is a guest post by Ali Luke. Ali has been writing for a living for eight years, and she blogs weekly about the art, craft, and business of writing on her site Aliventures.

You’re at your desk, and the words just aren’t flowing. You feel like getting up and walking away from your writing… and never coming back. However much you love writing, it’s hard at times. It can feel like a relentless, unrewarding slog.

And those doubts (that were at the back of your mind all along) start getting louder:

“No one cares about what I write.”

“No one’s ever going to read this.”

“I’m wasting my time.”

I’m too old (or too young) to be a writer.”

“I might as well give up.”

… and maybe you do give up, for a day or a month or even years – but writing draws you back in.

Trust me, I know what it feels like. I’ve been writing for a living for eight years now, and writing novels for far longer, and I still find myself questioning. Doubting. Thinking about quitting.

Sometimes, of course, quitting is sensible. There’s no point carrying doggedly on with a project that you’ve long ago lost all interest in.

But often, quitting isn’t the right choice. A week later, or a month later, or five years later, you find yourself wishing you’d just stuck with writing a little longer.

(After all, since you’re reading this post, it’s a safe bet that deep down you don’t want to give up.)

Here’s how to decide when to stick with it and when to quit, whether you’re considering giving up on a single project, or writing altogether.

#1: Should You Give Up on a Writing Session?

Twenty minutes into your planned writing hour, you’ve accomplished precisely nothing. Maybe you wrote a sentence or two, hated them, and promptly deleted them. You’re feeling very, very tempted to give up and try again tomorrow.

Occasionally, this might be the right choice. If you’ve hit a block in your work-in-progress, for instance, perhaps you need to take a step back and do some extra planning.

Often, though, the reluctance is because you’re tired or in a bad mood or overwhelmed. So:

  • Set a timer for five minutes, and write—without deleting!—until your time is up. You can do anything for five minutes, however much you don’t feel like it initially.
  • Now, reassess. Do you want to carry on? If you still really don’t feel like writing, stop. Be kind to yourself. You might want to spend a few extra minutes journaling about why you’re feeling blocked, or what’s going on in the rest of your life.

Of course, one skipped session isn’t going to derail your project – just like one cupcake isn’t going to ruin your diet.

The problem is that one skipped session usually leads to another – and the longer you spend away from your work, the more resistance you’ll feel toward getting started again.

#2: Should You Give Up on Your Work in Progress?

If you’ve stalled on a project, it’s easy to start thinking about giving up. Maybe you got ten chapters into a novel, only to run out of steam, and plot. Or you started a blog, posted regularly for two months, but life got busy. Or you’ve been working on a non-fiction manuscript for years now.

If you’ve genuinely lost interest, then quit and start something new. I went through two blogs on topics that didn’t really inspire me for long, before starting Aliventures (where I’ve now been blogging for six years).

If you’re still at least a little bit in love with your project, though, don’t quit just because life’s gotten in the way. Instead:

  • Read over the material that you’ve already produced. Does anything there excite you? You might well find yourself engrossed – and you may be surprised that there are sentences, paragraphs, whole pages that you don’t even remember writing.
  • Recommit to the project – tell yourself you’ll see it through, and make a plan so that can happen. This might mean scheduling specific times during each week to work on your project.

#3: Should You Give up on Being a Writer?

Maybe.

I don’t mean to be discouraging: I wouldn’t want anyone to give up just because their life or their writing was going through a rough patch.

But if you don’t actually enjoy writing (or at least enjoy having written) and if you’re only writing because someone else told you that you should… then, of course, you can give up.

Most of us, though, feel called to write. Perhaps you’ve been writing, or you’ve wanted to write, for many years.

Why are you thinking about quitting altogether?

Perhaps you’re going through a difficult season of your life. Maybe, like me, you have very young children. Or, like several writers I know, you have a chronic, energy-depleting illness. Maybe you work crazy hours at your day job.

Perhaps you’ve had some really discouraging feedback. A nasty comment on one of your blog posts. A scathing review of your first published novel. An unusually harsh critique of your work from a writing buddy.

Perhaps your nearest and dearest don’t “get” your writing. I’m very lucky with my family – they’re a wonderful source of support – but I know many writers have spouses, parents or friends who see their writing as a waste of time.

None of these are easy to overcome. Some people might glibly tell you that “You’ll find time for it if it’s a priority” or “ignore trolls and haters” or “join a supportive writer’s group.” But of course, it’s not that easy.

Here are some ideas you can try, though.

If your life isn’t currently very compatible with writing:

  • What’s realistic right now? After my second child was born, I desperately wanted to write. “Realistic” was fitting in 15 minutes of writing after lunch, while he and my toddler were both napping.
  • What can you control? Perhaps you can’t do anything about the crazy shifts you work, but you could change your days-off routine around so you can write first thing.
  • Who can help you? This might be family and friends (e.g. for childcare) or paid help (e.g. with housework).

If you’ve had some discouraging feedback:

  • Give yourself time to be sad or angry about it. Don’t force yourself to “get over it” – but give yourself a sensible limit. (Maybe take this week off from writing, then move on.)
  • Find any popular book on Amazon – preferably one you loved – and read the one-star reviews. All writers get negative feedback; no piece of writing will be right for every single reader.
  • Read some of these great excerpts from rejection letters that famous authors have received for now acclaimed books.

If the people around you don’t “get” your writing:

  • Stop talking to them about your writing, and just write. If they often interrupt, write with headphones on and the door shut. If that doesn’t work, get out of the house to write at a library or coffee shop or friend’s place.
  • Get to know fellow writers. A local group is a great option if your area has one, but online groups (or forums, or Twitter chats) can also be really encouraging.
  • Tell yourself that you will succeed anyway, just to prove them wrong. (Not, perhaps, the nicest way to think. But as Holly Lisle puts it, sometimes what you really need is one good enemy.)

I can’t talk you into sticking with it. I can’t sit with you while you write, and encourage you to keep going, much as I’d love to.

But I can tell you this.

That blog post you’re half-way through could be exactly what someone needs to read, right now.

That fan-fiction piece you’re working on could be the one bright spot in someone’s crappy day.

That novel you’re writing could become someone’s dog-eared favorite for years and years to come.

That book you’ve outlined could be exactly what someone needs to finally break through a barrier and reach one of their goals.

And this won’t just happen once. This will happen over and over again, for people whose lives you’d never otherwise have touched. You just have to keep writing.

Don’t let your fears or doubts rob the world of what you have to give.

Are you tempted to quit writing? If so, don’t struggle alone. Share why in the comments.

About Ali Luke

Ali Luke is an author (of fiction and non-fiction, both self- and traditionally published), and her blog Aliventures covers the art, craft and business of writing. Her Facebook group for parent-writers is completely free and open to everyone who wants a place to find support, understanding, and fellow writers-with-kids to talk to. Grandparents, carers and parents-to-be are all very welcome, too!

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  • Ali, at this point, your post helps me a lot not giving up. Thank you for sharing and thanky ou Jeff for hosting you. i’m finishing my first novel and on the verge to pubish in the ebook format; I feel like I’m in a bad state of mind, like sabotaging something that I longed for so many months… What can I do ? Stop reflecting, take a break, start a new novel ? i’m lost, sad… what’s wrong with me ?

    • So glad to help, Annie. It can be incredibly tough to let go of our work. Have you had beta-readers or an editor take a look over your novel? If they think it’s good to go, then send it out into the world!

      If you’ve not had any feedback yet, I might suggest holding off on publishing it. Maybe take a break, work on something different (perhaps a short story or two), while you find someone who can beta-read or edit for you. For me, this feels like an important safety net: if there are issues with the novel (and there invariably are, with mine!) then I can iron those out before releasing it.

      • I had 3 beta-readers. One of them is a professional teaching in university. 2 of them are authors (One of them has published 3 books already) They gave me , helping editing, good advices and feedback. I am struggling with a fear I don’t understand. Something irrational. 🙁 My novel the text is readdy; I can let it go but I don’t know how to approach the publishing “word” and don’t know how to market it ! I feel like an impostor !

        • Your English is outstanding! I think taking a break might be helpful here — give yourself a week or two off, when you don’t worry about your novel.

          Then, sit down and come up with the first three steps you need to take in order to get ready to publish. (e.g. finding a cover designer, learning how to upload the manuscript to Amazon). I know the whole world of publishing and marketing can feel very overwhelming — it still seems that way to me, a lot of the time! — but if you take it step by step, you can and will get there. 🙂

          • Thanks so much. I found the designer and had the first draft yesterday. My spouse can help me to upload the manuscript to Amazon. Then, I have to go on my networks. i really need to have a break but it seems that as I’m doing that I will be depressed.. But anyway, i’m really grateful for your answers. Thank you for taking time for me 🙂

            • Corey W

              Annie, I know what you are going through and it is something that has stopped many people from publishing their work. This includes me! It is something i am working through right now as well, but I’m father along on the process I think. I have written, edited, and fished designs on a book but couldn’t publish due to the same feelings.

              I am working through it by making sure all my steps are planned. You mentioned the you don’t know how to market the book so I would have that had your next step. Research and find a good mentor for this stage to find your audience and build a mailing list. In a way this is a break from your book and will give you confidence!!

              Learning the marketing has helped me deal with my fear of the book failing, out that people would think horribly of it. Now I have people who know me and are asking for the book 🙂

              • Thank you so much your answer is so encouraging. I started to build a small list for my blog but it’s so small. And many are just people who don’t care about me at all. Even if I had the best novel, they just don’t care. I just can ask my good friends to connect and help me. Just know one mentor who can help me but the langage barrier is hard. I can’t really express all my needs with an american writer because most of them don’t know anything about France and french culture and the way mentoring is perceived in France. I can’t afford a training. Just have Jeff Goins and Mickael Hyatt who are really a source of encouragement for me and also a well-known coach in Quebec, Franck Nicolas.
                So, I’m planning my marketing now and wait for the second draft of the cover; Then, it’s up to Denis, my spouse. 🙂

  • Lacey Wolfe

    I’m on the verge of walking away. Mainly because I’ve been doing this for almost 5 years and sales have just been so bad. Where I used to make an income, I don’t any longer. the advice to keep writing and putting out more doesn’t help when you have 30 novellas and novels out and you can’t make your car payment anymore. Instead if walking away all together, I’m just taking a break. I won’t be working from home anymore and instead getting a job part time and fitting in writing where it fits for the time being. And maybe in a few years, I can get back to writing full time.

    • Oh Lacey, what a horrible and frustrating time for you. I’ve known a fair few writers over the years who’ve gone back into paid employment to take some of the pressure off — often a very sensible plan. The writing/publishing world is changing so fast right now, and perhaps in the interim, you’ll find a different type of writing or a different way of marketing your novels and novellas that turns things around. Best of luck, hope it all pans out for you.

    • Barbara

      Lacey,
      Thanks for writing this. I’m on the verge of quitting too. For the same reason–poor sales. Thanks for putting into writing something I’ve been ashamed to admit.

      • Lacey Wolfe

        Hey Barbara, thanks for the comment. It’s a hard thing to admit. I hope things improve or you can find a way to enjoy writing again, as I’m hoping to do for myself.

  • Hey Ali,

    Nice to see you here. I visited here because I wrote about My500Words.com on my recent post. This is my first comment on Jeff’s blog, I guess.

    Maybe I haven’t written that much, to get the dreaded writer’s block yet. But, I almost quit, by choice.

    I had stopped writing/blogging, but restarted again, now, and have started writing daily.

    The five minute exercise can be a good one. I’ve mentioned about Five Minute Friday and 100words in my recent post on my new blog.

    One skipped session – that IS the problem with many things in life. One skipped session creates a chain which never seems to end. Not writing becomes a habit, and then a trait. It’s the same for any other skill.

    I’m not into fiction writing, so I don’t know whether fiction writers read a lot when they get the writer’s block. But in other types of non-fiction writing, reading about the subject, or taking a break, gets us restarted and re-energises us to continue writing.

    • Nice to see you here too, Raspal! 🙂

      Yay on your writing daily. That’s brilliant. I try to do 500 words (give or take) on my novel each day, and while it feels like slow progress on a day to day basis, it really adds up. I’ve actually written more fiction in the past 6 months than I used to manage before I had kids!

      I agree with you about skipped sessions, that’s a tricky one to overcome. I’ve started a new practice for my fiction writing of having a hour-long extra session most Sunday evenings (8pm – 9pm) which can be a good catch-up or reboot. I think because it’s a different time and duration from my regular 30 minute daily sessions, it doesn’t seem tied to the success or failure of those — if you see what I mean.

      Reading lots is a great idea for both non-fiction and fiction writers. It’s often inspiring, and it can also provoke new thoughts.

  • Absolutely brilliant post, Ali.

    I believe self-doubt happens to the best of us. Fortunately, writing has been the brightest thing in my life so the though of quitting rarely show up. There are extremely hard times, of course.

    Just yesterday, I struggled to publish a post I was working on for 3 straight weeks. It’s called “Blogging Success: 100 Experts Share Their Greatest Accomplishment”. Contemplating the definition of success speaks to me as a person, but would it to others? On top of that, I had the guts to invite Yaro Starak, Ted Rubin, Neil Patel and 100 other awesome folks. It was physically painful to think about disappointing them.

    But I have a schedule, and I stick to it. I spent an extra hour or two on polishing the post until it’s the best possible and hit publish.

    The replies has been overwhelmingly positive. And the lesson I learned is that when you push through, it gets better.

    Thanks you so much for sharing.

    Cheers,
    Anh

    • Wow, what an amazing and inspiring post, Anh! (I took a quick look and the formatting is great. I must dig into it properly when I have a bit more time. :-)) I can imagine it took a ton of time to put together. Well done pushing through the fear and getting it out there. Great to hear what a good response you got.

      • Aww, thanks Ali! I am flattered you checked it out.

  • Nissa Annakindt

    This is a great post. I often have discouraging moments in my writing, because I have Asperger’s Syndrome. And I’m a poet. A published poet, but that doesn’t count for much. I get bogged down when I feel like I have to work on writing that other people want rather than what I want to write.

    I agree that it’s important to have writing friends who ‘get’ you. That’s so hard for people with Asperger’s Syndrome, because we don’t have good social skills and I went through most of my early life with zero friends. But through the magic of Facebook and now Tsu, I have acquired a circle of writer-friends who get me. Or are amused by me.

    Thanks for the inspiration.
    Nissa Annakindt
    https://myantimatterlife.wordpress.com

    • One of the wonderful things about the internet is that you can always find people who have a lot in common with you. 🙂 I don’t have Aspergers but I did struggle to make friends when I was a kid — I now have lots of friends both offline and online (and I met my husband online, 12 years ago now — through a very geeky text-based game..!)

      The tension between writing YOU want to do and writing other people want can be a tough one. I enjoy all my writing, but there’s definitely a difference between writing freelance articles for pay and writing, say, my novel. Well done on getting your poems published, and best of luck with all your writing!

  • Hi Ali. Nice to see you over here at Jeff’s Word Shack (I see your work in many venues). Lots of good advice here on reflecting on what you want out of your writing, what is and isn’t working, and what might work later that doesn’t work now. Helpful stuff.

    One of the best ways I have to work on writing when I’m frustrated is to work on an entirely different kind of writing. Because I’m a business writer as well as essayist, fiction and travel writer, if one doesn’t seem to be working, I turn to another. Today, for instance, I have an article to write I started to work on, but didn’t have any momentum. The deadline is flexible, so I could turn to a business book I’m editing, which is working with words as well. Works for me.

    • Thanks Tom — I get around a bit..! Glad you liked this one.

      What a great suggestion on switching to another type of writing. I’d never really thought about it quite like that, but I do this all the time, and have deliberately structured my business and writing so I’ve got several different ongoing projects (novel, blog, freelance work, non-fiction ebooks… possibly slightly too many at times!)

      Switching from different phases of writing, like planning to drafting or drafting to editing definitely helps too — as you say, it’s all working with words.

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