How to Know When It's Time to Quit, Part 1

How to Know When It's Time to Quit, Part 1

As a traditionally published author—and a coach who primarily works with burnt out writers—I field a lot of questions from writers trying to break into publishing.

Many of those questions revolve around when they should quit.

“I know publishing is a tough industry, but how do I know whether to keep going or throw in the towel?”

“How do I know whether the issue is luck/timing or if I actually suck at writing?”

“At what point do I quit?”

These are hard questions to answer, especially without being able to read your writing to see what kind of work you’re sending out.

But I’ve now worked with enough writers to have an answer for you.

Buckle up, friends. You’re in for a ride.

When it comes to “should I quit or keep going,” most people look to the quality of their writing to make their decision.

I think this is a mistake.

Because here’s the hard truth for 90% of novelists:

You’re probably not very good at writing.


The “yet” part is SO IMPORTANT, so please hear me: You might not have all the storytelling and writing skills necessary to get traditionally published right now, but if you keep going, eventually you will.

I’m going to say that again, because accepting this premise as good news is what separates writers who go on to publish from those who throw in the towel:

Your writing is probably not ready for publication yet—BUT IT WILL BE IF YOU KEEP GOING.

Every single published author (even your favorites, the ones you think are utterly brilliant) were—at some point on their journey—not skilled enough to get published.


I repeat: the fact that you’re not (YET!) good enough at writing novels is not bad news. It’s excellent news (I’ll explain why in a bit, hang with me).

When I wrote my first novel in 2012, it was awful. The first draft especially, but even the thoroughly revised version that I ultimately queried in 2013 was terrible. It was full of clichés. Thin characters. Motivations that made precisely zero sense. Convoluted world building, even after several rounds of revision.

Over a decade later, and more than ten completed novels under my belt—three of which were published by Penguin Random House—I’ve cultivated the storytelling skills required to be a traditionally published author.

Yes, writing and storytelling comes more naturally for some than others, but writing a compelling novel requires you to master so many different skills.

And that mastery requires practice.

Not endless research. Practice.

You have to actually write a book to get better at writing books.

For most of us, we have to complete several novels, learn how to revise deeply, and navigate outside feedback in order to hone our craft.

There is no standard timeline, but it is not a quick process.  

The next time you’re reading yet another form rejection letter, instead of asking whether you’re good enough at writing to keep going, try this instead:

Assuming you’re not good enough at writing* … YET … ask yourself:

“Am I willing to keep writing until I am?”

This is the real question, friends.

Read part 2: How to keep writing fun, no matter how long it takes to get published.

*Here’s the fun twist: you might already be skilled enough to get published. You could be one email away from signing with an agent. You might be an idea away from the novel that becomes your debut. Either way, continuing to write and improve your skills is your best next step.

Join Isabel's new Symposium on Tuesday, May 21, 2024:
"The Biggest Lie in Publishing: How to Avoid Pitfalls and Find Success"

*Feature photo by Ömer Aydın (Pexels)

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Isabel Sterling is a traditionally published author, certified life coach, and host of The Author Burnout Coach. Her latest YA release, THE COLDEST TOUCH, is out now with Razorbill.
More posts by Isabel Sterling.
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