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On quitting writing (a discussion, not an announcement) - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2006-11-13 21:30
Subject: On quitting writing (a discussion, not an announcement)
Security: Public
Tags:process, writing
Sean Lindsay has this fascinating and somewhat hilarious blog called 101 Reasons to Stop Writing. I got pointed there by throughsoftair as part of a discussion on quitting here between him, me and ladnews.

The concept of quitting writing is an interesting one. As I said in that thread, Have you noticed that when a friend or fellow writer decides to hang up their pen, there's often a mad scramble to form a support group posse and head them off at the exit?

To which ladnews replied, Yeah, and I'm not always convinced it's the right thing to do. Sometimes giving up is good for everyone concerned. Some folks, famously Harlan Ellison, but also Charles Brown and others, have been quite direct about quitting when talking to aspiring and new writers.

Bluntly, the odds suck. The upcoming Internet Review of Science Fiction column by specficrider and me includes some numbers I ran on ratio of submissions to publications at professional short story and novel markets. We didn't even run the last factor, which was filtering the new writer penetration from the total submission load, but I will make the educated guess that for the New York novel imprints in spec fic, it's far less than one first novel published for every thousand first novels submitted. While I can quickly break that number back down to less frightening levels via Sturgeon's Law and some other reasonable filters, it's definitely bog mindling no matter how you slice it.

In other words, this ain't no get rich quick scheme. Nobody does this for the money, not from the front end. You can make quite a good living writing, if you hit a lot of projects and spread out your name and efforts through multiple genres of standlone fiction, across work-for-hire or outside fiction altogether, but in our little fishpond, the odds are staggering, while the payouts are tiny. (Remember that New York novel contracts have three or four milestone payments which could stretch over two to three years, minus agent commission and tax bite. It skinnies down fast.) Even to get to the point where that is possible requires a lot of hard work.

So, as Sean Lindsay reminds us, there's lots of reasons for quitting. 1,000 of them for every winner, if you want to fingercount by one crude measure.

All that being said, I'm hopeful as a writer, and hopeful for my friends and associates in this field. So when someone does say, "hey, I've had enough," I'm ready to form up that aforementioned posse and head for the horizon, to cut them off and beat them back into the kraal.

Why?

I think it's a projection issue for all of us. This is the obverse of the classic writerly jealousy. "If she can fail, if he can walk away, what does that portend for me?" We all work alone, and the green worm of envy gnaws in all our hearts to some degree, but far more so than most professions writers tend to be very conscious of the commonality of their effort. One success is everyone's success, one failure is everyone's failure. And in a business rife with rejection, rewrite and resubmission even in the hottest careers, it's easy to convince ourselves that the only real failure is walking away.

And I have to say to myself, "How do I know that?" Walking away might be a victory for someone else. Not for me, I don't think, but that's just me. Some people really do have much tougher rows to hoe than others, due to scope of ambition, limitations of talent, needed growth of craft, emotional roadblocks, what have you.

I think it does come back to projection. The fear that if one person jumps the fence, it will be easier for the next to do so, then a few more, then one day it's our turn. Come on, it's always easier to walk away from the keyboard and watch TV or play some MMORPG or go clubbing. We do this because it's hard, not because it's easy. If it was easy, everyone could do it.

I'd like to think that if a dear friend or beloved writer announced that they were done, that I could celebrate and support their decision. I'm not sure I'm that big, but it would be the right thing to do. I'd also like to think I'll never say that, but I learned years ago to never say "never".

What's your take on quitting? Do you know anyone who just walked away?
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Richard Parks
User: ogre_san
Date: 2006-11-14 05:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I know someone who walked away, and so far, is sticking to that decision with no sign of relenting. For writing fiction, that is. She'll still do non-fiction.

I tried to quit once. For about a year I thought I HAD quit. I was wrong.
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User: throughsoftair
Date: 2006-11-14 05:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've quit on a number of occasions. I mean really quit, not just throw-my-hands-up-in-the-air-and-have-a-hissy-fit quit. Lain down the pen, walked away, worked on my cartoons instead, changed profession. And yet, and yet.... sooner, rather than later, I find myself back where I started, just whittling away on another story, another argument. The charge of hypocrite constantly hangs over my head like a big head-hangy thing, placed there by those who suffer less agonies of the confidence than I. (For the record, this also counts with LJ: I'm on my 3rd LJ-ID, after having unequivocally quit twice and deleted the journal each time)

If someone I were to admire announced their genuine intention to quit I would mourn, because no more work from that individual would lessen my own experience of fiction-love. Whilst they may be happy that their burden is lifted, and their life will take them in new directions, I'm a small, selfish little creature: if I love your work, I want more of it, dammit.

For myself, it's doubtful I'll ever truly quit creating: I'm slowly learning that.
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juliabk
User: juliabk
Date: 2006-11-14 06:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The hardest part would be seeing a favorite author choosing to quit. Like you, I'd selfishly want to encourage them to keep going because I'd miss my fix.

I would question a friend who said they were quitting if I thought they were doing it for the wrong reasons. If I thought they'd regret it but feel boxed in by their announcement, I'd try to get them to talk about it before doing anything *they* would feel was permanent. But that doesn't have anything to do with writing as much as it is trying to help keep a friend from making a stupid decision.
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Patrick Swenson: I aim to misbehave
User: tbclone47
Date: 2006-11-14 06:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:I aim to misbehave
One of my Clarion West class walked away. But from fiction, not nonfiction. He'd already sold to Asimovs and was one of the best writers in our bunch. But he said forget it, he could make a heck of a lot more money writing his nonfiction.
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juliabk
User: juliabk
Date: 2006-11-14 06:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've been telling myself stories since I was a kid, just never wrote them down. Now I've just finally figured out I may actually be able to make grocery money by telling them to other people. I didn't start even attempting that until I was 40 (ok, I'd been writing for fun for a few years, but my decision to go pro came two months before my 40th birthday). I think getting my first sale that year helped a lot, btw. ;-) Talk about reinforcement.;-)

Writing is very definitely a second job for me. And it's one I look forward to having become my primary job when I can start taking my pension in just a few years. For me, the financial risk is low and the pay off in lifestyle is high without having to be a huge success. While I wouldn't turn down that NYT bestseller by any means, I don't expect it. I'll never be rich. I'm staying at the same job I've had for 18 years and will retire from there. I'll have my health care and my pension and whatever the stock market leaves me in the little 403b I've got. I'm going to be deliriously happy to be able to stop punching someone else's clock and not have to stress over being late to work when the joints freeze up on me on chilly mornings.

I seriously think I'll be happy to be like that character actor you see with a role in every show you've ever watched. You may not even know his name, but you always smile when you see his face in the previews because he's comfortable. "Oh, look! It's him!" :-)

Quitting has never occurred to me. I can no more quit making up stories than I can voluntarily commit suicide by holding my breath. I have taken breaks. Last year was a major one, but it was always just a break when other stuff got to be too much. I'm far too pragmatic to not take advantage of the opportunity to make money off my favorite hobby. It's like knowing I'm going to be walking past the dumpster so why not take out the trash. I'm gonna write anyway, the worst they can do when I submit is send them back. Shoot, after a career with the state, rejection is easy. ;-)
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timalyne: paperdragon
User: timalyne
Date: 2006-11-14 06:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:paperdragon
Most days I quit writing. It's been about six months so far, this time around.
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User: throughsoftair
Date: 2006-11-14 06:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Most days I quit writing. It's been about six months so far, this time around

If it's not too rude, can I ask why? What prompted you to quit?
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Bibbit
User: bridget_coila
Date: 2006-11-14 07:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
To me, it seems like it is a weird thing to "quit writing".

"Quit marketing my writing" maybe...or "quit showing my writing to anyone"

But "quit writing" is somewhere akin to "quit breathing" or "quit eating"

And I guess I see other writers that way, too. (and also friends who are artists/poets/musicians/etc)

So if I have prior indication that the person truly IS a writer (as in - this is what you fall back upon when all other descriptions of yourself have failed to capture your true essence") then I DO try to stage an intervention so-to-speak.
Its up to the person to convince me that they are really not truly giving up a vital part of themselves for me to just let it go.

B
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phoebe_k
User: phoebe_k
Date: 2006-11-14 22:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I agree with this. I don't write (just) because I want to make money and be a "famous author" or something -- I write because I have to express myself this way or I am simply not happy. I have tested this many times, tried to convince myself that writing was a phase and it's not really a part of I am and i don't need it... wrong. If I quit writing even for a few months, I get myself lost. I wouldn't want a friend to lose part of herself just because the odds of making money in writing are slim... or because the non writers in her life aren't that supportive. I'd be forming that intervention posse asap!
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mevennen
User: mevennen
Date: 2006-11-14 08:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I probably wouldn't, although I can see myself quitting novels. I actually prefer writing short stories. My mother stopped being published about 20 years ago (she had 12 novels published) but she still writes, for her own enjoyment.

One female fantasy writer in the UK ran off to join a circus.

I'd stop if it was getting to be a real grind and if something turned up that I enjoyed more. I do, in fact, put running the shop on a par with writing, as far as fun goes, and it's certainly a lot more lucrative.
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User: throughsoftair
Date: 2006-11-15 00:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I can see myself quitting novels. I actually prefer writing short stories.

Snap! I'm absolutely a short story writer by inclination, and enjoyment. I'm working on novels because, career-wise, I have to, but right now my time is fully taken up with my 2nd novel and a screenplay, and I'm barking to get back and write some shorts. It's like a physical need.

The screenplay goes back to the producer this Thursday, and I have a raft of short stories I'll be throwing myself at straight away. Possibly with a sob of joy :)
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2006-11-14 09:34 (UTC)
Subject: Quitting doing art...
is like quitting smoking (I suspect, since I've had maybe 5 total cigarettes scattered over my 42 year existence).

You quit a million times, but then take up a substitute addiction.

In the last few months, I've quit doing paintings half a dozen times. Told myself, I'm tired. Thanks for the Hugos, but I'm exhausted. I just want to sit around like "normal" people and watch all 250 of what the imdb says are the best movies of all time.

Then I watch two of those movies and think, wow, I have a great idea for... a story... another animation... a sculpture... anything but a painting.

If I go to bed without having created something new, I feel like the day was wasted. So I guess that means that I might quit painting (again), but I couldn't live with myself if I stopped makin' stuff of some kind or another.

Frank Wu
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2006-11-14 13:51 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Quitting doing art...
If I go to bed without having created something new, I feel like the day was wasted.

Wow.
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Autopope
User: autopope
Date: 2006-11-14 09:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What's your take on quitting? Do you know anyone who just walked away?

Andrew Stephenson. British writer, published two very good SF novels in the late 1970s ... then quit, cold. Too much hassle, not enough money, he says whenever I bug him about it. (He's due to retire in the next few years so I'm hoping he goes back to it as a hobby -- he was bloody good thirty years ago.)
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Autopope
User: autopope
Date: 2006-11-14 09:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've got no intention of quitting, but if my career took a down-turn to the point where I had to get a Real Job™, my output of SF/F would probably drop to a book every 2-3 years, max. (More realistically, I'd be trying to start up under a pseudonym in another genre. I like writing.)
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Rose Fox
User: rosefox
Date: 2006-11-14 10:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I quit writing genre fiction... ten years ago, almost eleven. Occasionally in those ten years I vaguely missed it. Mostly I wrote songs and poetry during that time.

I went back to it about a year ago, but strictly as a hobby. I'm perfectly happy to be a full-time journalist and make money writing articles and other nonfiction. I'm perfectly happy to be a hobbyist author (and have sold two stories as one). I found that I'm just not one of those fictionauts who can sit down and write 1500 words a day, and unless you can maintain fairly consistent output there's no way to even come close to making a living at it. I no longer write songs or poetry, not out of an executive decision but because they don't come to me like they used to; I suspect I have a rather small, weak muse who can only manage the occasional bit of inspiration before collapsing in a puffing heap for a few months, and stories are more work for her than verse. As it is, my husband plots out most of my stories, since he's better at it than I am.

Sometimes I get a little wistful, and think that I could probably train myself to do 1500 or 2500 or 4000 words a day if I worked at it for a few months. Then I remember the struggles my parents went through trying to make a living on their fiction, and I'm glad that I didn't and won't put myself through that. A journalist's life for me, yo-ho!
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kit: writing
User: mizkit
Date: 2006-11-14 12:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:writing
I don't know anybody who's quit, but I know people who've been trying for decades without succeeding. I don't know which is harder.

I was about to type, "If I were to quit writing, I'd..." but my fingers and brain seized up at the idea. I can't imagine stopping writing. I can imagine switching formats (said the woman whose *hobby* project is a comic book), but I can't actually imagine quitting. At most I can imagine vastly reducing my workload and focusing on ... photography, probably, or maybe drawing. But I realized a while ago (although I'm not quite sure I came to terms with it) that creatively, my heart is in writing. I have the desire to continue improving in that; I'm a dilettante when it comes to other artistic disciplines. Good enough to know how good I'm not, and not willing to put the effort into stepping over the line and becoming good.

Possibly 30 years from now, when I've gotten through a major chunk of the *current* to-write list, I'll be interested enough in something else to put writing on a back burner. But I just can't imagine quitting.
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User: miladyinsanity
Date: 2006-11-14 12:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I would quit if I could. I've tried. There's nothing better or worse for my mental health than writing.
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it's a great life, if you don't weaken
User: matociquala
Date: 2006-11-14 13:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I pretty much quit between 1996-2001. All my writing at that point was for me and friends. (I ran some play by email games and so forth) and I didn't market anything. Between 1998-late 2001, I suspect I didn't write ten thousand words of fiction.

Of course, in 2002, I wrote two thirds of a million words, so, um, that approach can lead to logorrhea.

I fully support anyone who wants to quit and can make it stick. If writing books is not your passion, why do it? Find something that *is* your passion and do that instead.

Or go write fanfic, or write for fun. Seriously. Writing for publication is *hard.*

Why do this to yourself if you're not fixated on it? Do something that will make you happy instead.
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jimvanpelt
User: jimvanpelt
Date: 2006-11-14 13:14 (UTC)
Subject: Quitting Writing
LOL! I posted my thoughts about quitting at my lj site. Take the test and find out how deep in trouble you are!
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User: jess_ka
Date: 2006-11-14 13:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:colette'shandw/cat
I know two, one who's come back quite handily. Steven Utley quit for ten years because he'd had enough of the publishing world. But he came back to it and has been publishing steadily ever since.

A good friend of mine who's a lit writer, and a damn freaking talented one, who says she quit, again because of the publishing world (she also has two young kids and lots of mom/life duties); but I know she's still writing, just privately and without the consideration of publication.

It's my feeling that anyone who has to write, who's really a writer, will write, even if they take a break now and then.
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juliabk
User: juliabk
Date: 2006-11-14 15:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
(she also has two young kids and lots of mom/life duties); but I know she's still writing, just privately and without the consideration of publication.

Momming can be exhausting, especially if you've also got a day job.

I bet she comes back to it when the kids are older.
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