How to Know When It's Time to Quit, Part 2

How to Know When It's Time to Quit, Part 2

Traditional publishing is a tough industry. It’s hard to break into, and it’s hard to stay published without succumbing to burnout.

So many writers reach a point where they ask themselves: Am I deluding myself? Should I just give up?

In Part 1 (which you can read here), I argue that your main job as a writer is to continually learn and grow your skills as a storyteller.

This process doesn’t end when you secure an agent or when you sign your debut book deal. You will spend your entire career pushing your skills to the next level.

This is the place where most writers give up.

It’s easier to call it quits and decide you “don’t have the natural writing talent to succeed” than it is to commit to the long-haul of learning and growing as a writer.

Before I continue, I want to be clear: there is no shame in quitting.

Sometimes, your dreams and goals evolve.

Sometimes, you realize you thought you wanted to be a writer, but the more you write, the more you realize that your skills and enjoyment actually fit better with editing or teaching or another form of art altogether.

It’s okay to realize you don’t enjoy writing enough to spend years trying to master it, collecting hundreds of rejections, in the pursuit of publication.

It is a much more powerful position—especially emotionally—to own that your dreams and goals have shifted than it is to toss your hands in the air and decide you suck at writing, will always suck at writing, and you might as well just quit now.

No one can predict how skilled you can get at writing. If you feel called to be a writer, it’s because you are a writer.

Which brings me to the most important part of the equation: Creating a sustainable (fun!) writing environment that gives you time to master your craft.

Many writers feel like they have to rush to get their first book out into the world. They’re deeply impatient (which, for the record, I understand—I’m not a naturally patient person).

But because they’re impatient, they create high-pressure deadlines for themselves. They design punishing writing routines that require major sacrifices to other area of their lives.

They feel guilty for taking time with their family because they “need” to be writing. And then when they’re writing, they feel guilty for ignoring their family.

They sacrifice sleep.

They hold their self-worth hostage to their word count.

This doesn’t just happen with newer writers first learning their skills. The writers who are so close to getting published—the people whose writing is phenomenal and they just haven’t quite aligned with the elusive “luck and timing” part of the equation yet—also fall into this trap.

Writers will tell themselves all the sacrifice will be worth it once they get the book deal (which is a myth to debunk another day), but when rejections inevitably come—because we all get them—the rejection is absolutely crushing.

(You’ll know this is you if you find yourself asking “how long can I keep doing this?” and you feel dread, despair, and exhaustion.)

This is not the path to a calm, confident career as an author.

If your writing life is fun and sustainable, it won’t matter how long it takes to master your craft.

You won’t want to quit when writing is a positive addition to the rest of your life.

In my coaching practice, I help authors create a custom writing life that is both productive and joyful. It’s impossible to distill six months of weekly coaching into one article, but here are 4 fundamentals to get you started.

1 – Take Down the Pressure

The more pressure you put on yourself, the less likely you are to write. Instead of setting huge daily/weekly goals, set goals that you can easily accomplish.

Get some wins under your belt.

Pay attention to how you talk about writing. Watch out for phrases like “I have to,” “I’m so behind,” and “I can’t afford to screw this up.” Those crank up the pressure and push your brain into the procrastination zone.

2 – Celebrate Early and Often

We have a tendency as writers to withhold celebration until we achieve a major milestone. This is a HUGE mistake, especially with projects as time consuming as novels and an industry as fickle as publishing.

Instead, I have my clients celebrate after every writing session. Celebrate every little success along the way—finishing a scene, coming up with an amazing plot twist, finally nailing down the voice for your newest project.

Not sure how to celebrate? Telling yourself you did a good job and letting yourself feel genuine pride in the accomplishment counts.

3 – Focus on Growth/Progress

It’s tempting to focus on how much farther you have to go. Whether there’s still another 60K words to revise, or you’re staring down the beginning of the querying process, looking at how much is left to get to your goal can feel daunting.

When you shift your attention to how much you’ve already done—and, going back to point 2, celebrate that progress—you build the momentum you need to feel motivated to keep going.

4 – Create Balance with the Rest of Your Life

Writing a novel is often compared to running a marathon. I think competing in back-to-back triathlons is a better metaphor. There’s the drafting stage, then the revising stage, and finally querying. After which you do it all over again—either to prep that book with your new agent to submit to editors or to write something brand new to query. You’re going to need proper rest and recover to avoid burnout.

Because this is such a long process, you can’t put the rest of your life on hold.

Decide how much time you want to give to writing, how much to family/friends, how much to other hobbies, etc. Don’t let writing be the only part of your life that gets attention.

Be wary of the telling yourself, “I’ll sacrifice it all now and then figure out balance after I get an agent.” Trust me, whatever balance (or lack thereof) you have now will not magically change when you get to the next step in the publication process.

When you follow the four steps above, you set yourself up to enjoy writing the entire time you’re working hard to master your craft.

And when you enjoy the process, there’s no reason to quit.

*Feature illustration by fran_kie (Adobe)

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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