I don’t post too terribly often on this blog, but sometimes I think on something that feels more important and requires something bigger than a short post on social media.
Today, I want to talk about quitting.
No, that’s not me saying I’m throwing in the towel on publishing. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, as far as I know.
Over the course of my writing career, my social circles have grown to include a lot more authors than I ever knew existed before I started writing. And, as happens in life, people come and go. Things change. It’s inevitable in any field that you’ll see people decide enough is enough, and so they pursue other paths.
This sometimes happens with authors.
Now, sometimes people just sort of implode for various personal reasons. Anger drives them to do something extreme and they walk away. I’ve seen small scandals cause people to up and leave the book world entirely. But, that’s kind of rare, and I only hear about it because a billion other people have gathered around to watch the train wreck, and, naturally, decide to share it. That’s one way it happens, but that’s not what I’m talking about today. That drama is not really my scene.
Over the last 18 months or so, I’ve seen too many posts that read something to the effect of this:
Publishing is causing me anxiety to where I’m losing sleep, having health issues, and/or it’s affecting my family negatively. Bad reviews stress me to the point of physical sickness. No one is buying my books. I stare at a blank screen for hours or avoid writing entirely. I can’t remember why I started doing this in the first place. I think I’m giving up.
So. Many. Posts. Like. This.
It’s disturbing to me on several levels. But probably not for the reasons you think.
Most of these posts are phrased in a way that feels like the writer is looking for something. Mostly what they get are cheerleaders with reassurances about it being only temporary, or how that person loves their stories and would be incredibly sad to never see more work from that author, or encouragement about how they can do something and succeed.
Those things are important. I’m not saying otherwise. Cheerleaders are often a very bright spot on bleak days where nothing is going right. These people are NEEDED.
But, something else may be needed, too, and it worries me that it’s often absent.
Especially on social media, many people are afraid to be honest. We’re afraid of how it will look if we tell an un-pretty truth. No one wants to be a naysayer.
But what if the person who posted about giving up is looking for permission? What if the thing they need is reassurance that it’s okay to step away?
It’s important to know the different kinds of “quitting” posts. There are some people that may post such things purely in an effort to get reassurance that someone cares enough to encourage them. They just want a cheerleader. They need it. And that’s okay. But in cases where I’ve known an author for several years, maybe even met them in person, I’ll know that isn’t something they fish for. I’ll see posts of irritation or complaints leading up to the big “I might quit” post, so it won’t surprise me to see it. I’ve seen writers crumbling under self-imposed deadlines or some burying themselves so deeply in sales data that they forget what’s at the heart of what they’re doing.
These are the people that I’m speaking to now. If you’ve never experienced this moment of wanting to give up, this post isn’t for you.
To those struggling with these sorts of issues (for what it’s worth, these are things I’ve needed to hear from time to time, too), here is what I’ve said in the past when someone considered throwing in the towel.
I will never, ever tell you to quit. Not ever.
What I will say is that it’s okay to step away. You have permission to take a break. If publishing is negatively affecting your life, you need to reevaluate what you’re doing and why.
Let me repeat that: you NEED to.
If a painter has started a downward slide in health since he decided to use lead-based paint, what would you tell them? Stop painting? No, of course you wouldn’t. You would advise them to stop exposing themselves to toxic chemicals.
It’s the same with publishing. Self-publishers are killing themselves and sometimes hurting their families in trying to crank out work as fast as possible. They’ve convinced themselves if they don’t publish at a breakneck pace, they’ll lose everything they’ve built. But if you’ve gotten to the point that your schedule destroys your health or your relationships, the loss will have been for nothing if you can’t continue. Let me say this for the authors in the back: in self-publishing, YOU determine your release schedule. That’s part of what makes this a great option for writers. Do not be pressured into publishing something every month or every three months if that isn’t healthy for you. Do not be bullied by marketing experts or reader demands if it negatively affects your creativity or well-being. Nothing is worth that loss.
Write at your own pace. If you can manage 100 words a day, great! If you can do 5,000 words every three days, fantastic! But be willing to forgive yourself for days you don’t write. Other things are important, too, or maybe you just don’t feel like it. That’s okay. If you find you’re hating the act of writing, don’t write anymore. Take. A. Break.
One of two things will happen when you do this. Either you’ll find your love of writing again, or you’ll realize you no longer want to. Both are valid options. The writers I’ve known who’ve gone on this self-imposed word break have come back to it in about a month because they discovered they couldn’t actually live without telling stories, they just needed to relearn how to do that on a schedule (or lack thereof) that worked for them. They pulled back on their goals to make them more manageable and achievable, and they are 100% happier for having done so.
For those that are buried under the numbers, who can’t stop clicking on their sales data every five minutes instead of writing, who are scouring all the books and internet groups/boards for new marketing tactics, I’d issue you the same challenge. Put yourself on a data diet. Because while, yes, there are various marketing things that work for various people, those various things are always changing, and it can be near to impossible to keep up with. For example, right now every author I know is swearing by the mailing list. Cross promote on mailing lists! Send stuff out consistently! Never let people forget you! And so on.
Well, for now, that’s working. However, I’m already seeing readers in my social media feeds complaining about the number of mailing list emails they’re getting and unsubscribing from. There’s murmurings of a shift already occurring.
There is one single thing that will continue to work in the long tail. Write more books. Keep writing them. That’s the big secret. Even if you never hit a list, those books will be out in perpetuity, so if one of your titles does happen to make it big, you’ll have a whole backlist of other stories for your new readers to find.
But if you’re so buried in numbers and marketing, and the sales data kills you a little more each day, you will never write more books. You’ll lose the love, you’ll lose your reason for doing it, and you’ll quit. I’ve seen bleak posts about this more than once. It happens to some of the best people I know. Don’t abandon the marketing entirely (that’s not what I’m saying), but step away and find a balance. If a flurry of ads and constant social media posting isn’t getting it done, don’t let it pull the focus. Eyes on the prize, people. The whole point is telling stories, and telling them the best way, and you can’t do that if you’re spending all your time optimizing the targeting on Facebook ads.
Thoughts of giving up happen when things are out of balance. Give yourself permission to take breaks and reevaluate what you’re doing. Note that I said give YOURSELF permission. You end up with guilt and shame if you let other people dictate your happiness. Find the balance that works best in your life. Maybe don’t quit, but go on hiatus. Play video games. Read books. Binge watch Netflix shows. Go on hikes. Learn to cook. Purposely waste time. Recharge yourself and find your creativity again. Remember what brought you to writing in the first place.
Just take a breath, back away, and do something else for a little bit.
The world will be waiting for your stories when you want to tell them.
If you’re thinking about quitting, I hope this post was helpful. Every single one of us has thought about it. Every single one of us knows we might think about it in the future. The thought will always be there, but it’s also always your choice to act on it.
Find your balance. Find the love. The stories will follow suit.
S. J. Pajonas (spajonas) says
Great post, Starla! And I know where this came from. :) I burned out from writing TOO MUCH and then my creative well was totally dry. I had handled the data overload and the disappointing reviews by not looking at them, but I tried too hard to hit a faster production schedule. LESSON LEARNED. I had to give myself permission to step back. It’s worth it to take a break, for sure.
Starla Huchton says
There was multiple reasons for this post, but the most recent is what you’re thinking of. It’s the second time this year I gave someone that advice, and I gave it a few times last year as well. Seemed efficient to put it in a permanent place where I can just link people to talk them down from ledges from now on. ;)