April 18, 2016

Why I Quit Writing (Almost, Kinda, Sorta)

While this blog is focused on my recent experience with writing, the principles apply to whatever your passion is.

Image courtesy of Pansa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writing Is…

Writing is easy: you’re just making things up and recording them.

Writing is hard: it’s a subjective art and getting better is challenging and talks a long time. Add on to that the endless rejection and the fact that you have to learn a business as well as an art and it can be daunting.

This is true for any passion.

The Essential Discipline

The essential discipline of a writer is the act of writing new words. Not reading, not editing, not fixing the grammar and spelling, not learning about writing or business–although all those are important. The foundational act is writing brand, spanking new words. Without those new words nothing is ever started, and therefore nothing is ever finished. Period.

This was well taught to me by one of my mentors, Dean Wesley Smith. He drives it home on his blog, in his classes, and in his writing books (all highly recommended). In fact without Dean, I don’t know that I would ever had finished my first novel.

I’ve recently blogged about running, so let me translate it into those terms (where it will be so very clear): the essential discipline of a runner is running. Not reading about running, or talking about running, or learning about running, or thinking about running, or shopping for running gear. It’s putting your running shoes on and doing the miles. Period.

If you don’t run, you’re not a runner. If you don’t write new words, your not a writer. The same goes for painting, biking, acting, gardening, skiing, etc.

For writing it’s easy to get stuck in a endless loop of editing, polishing, trying to make your story perfect, but at a certain that turns into avoidance, because, sorry, your story will never be “perfect”. All the arts have the same pitfall and it’s very human to get caught up in the trappings of what you love instead of doing what you love. We don’t want to look silly or fail. It’s risky to put your passionate self out there.

I Did Quit

So, for me, I learned this lesson about writing and created a rock-solid discipline of writing new word. Every morning, at least five days a week, before I did anything else on the computer, I wrote and wrote and wrote… and wrote… and wrote… and wrote…

Frankly it’s my favorite part of the process (those new words, that first draft). It’s when the you step into a flow state and let the story come. Before the doubts creep in and you start thinking–as I do with every story–that’s it”s all crap and I should just give this up.

But those unfinished words started to pile up. At least 300,000 of them in the form of three novels, two novellas, and smattering of short stories.

And that stack unfinished work started to weigh on me. Think of it as a tall, tottering stack of paper in my psyche, threatening to come crashing down at any moment. Or consider them children that weren’t grown up yet, successively yammering at me for their turn. Stories that want to be told don’t go away. They keep floating up from the subconscious.

Add to that some general unhappiness and last July I decided that I had to stop writing new words.

That is the “I Quit” part of this.

Almost, Kinda, Sorta

But I didn’t stop “writing” in the larger sense. I kept at the less fun parts of the game (editing and producing). I came out with a short story anthology last year, and have one novel nearly done (out with beta readers) and a second one getting close. I started to pay attention to those neglected stories.

I also took the void of my morning writing and put it to good use. I started journaling (for the first time, really) and reflecting on my challenges and problems. I learned a lot from that and it has helped me find a better path.

That stack of unfinished work is still large, but the break allowed me to make significant progress and get over some of my own crappola (getting the third draft of that novel done was all about me getting out of the way–and that is not easy, but well worth doing).

And this is the “Almost, Kinda, Sorta” part.

Writing Again

In January, I started writing new words again, started back up that essential discipline. I pulled a neat trick on myself to make starting back in easy (which I’ll share at some point) and have been focused exclusively on short stories.

Why shorts? Well, they are a lot easier to finish, are a fabulous way to improve your craft, and my novel and novella backlog is still sizable–I don’t want to get overwhelmed by unfinished stories again. Besides, short stories play a big part in overall scheme to have a life that has more time for writing.

Take Aways

If you’re a writer or not, these concepts might just apply to whatever passion you have when the going gets tough (which it always does):

  • While new words are the essential task, and the fun part for me, finishing is actually a lot more rewarding (or running that race you’ve been training for, or finally showing some of your artwork or posting that blog, or doing an open mic, or… you get the idea).
  • It’s okay to mix things up and take breaks, try new things. Shouldn’t our passions be fun?
  • Taking stock and working towards a better state of balance always makes sense.


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Robert J. McCarter

Robert J. McCarter is the author of more than ten novels and over a hundred short stories...... learn more

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  1. Love this Robert! There are so many ways to accomplish something and sometimes the means seem like there going to the wrong end… no idea if I’m making sense but I always try to reflect on my values, and whether what I’m doing is in alignment with those core values. That helps me stay on track, allows me to feel like I still have some freedom and choice in my happiness.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Eunice! Yeah that makes sense… stick with your core values. I am very disciplined and can often find myself getting stuck by that (like the insistence on new words even when my backlog was out of control). The lesson is about keeping going even if it feels a bit sideways.

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