Friday, 22 March 2013

Why I Quit Writing--Part One

At some point every writer asks:  "I wonder if now is the time to quit?"

This might mean stopping work on a work in progress that has lost its way, or halting submissions to agents or publishers, or letting go of the notion that you actually have some talent and aren't merely an idle "scribbler." 

It might mean downing tools forever, and not writing another bloody word.

And, at some point, most writers' blogs will come up with a "when should you give up?" post. The answer that bloggers come up with is always "never". You must never, ever give up, despite the bitter disappointments and brutal rejections. Writing takes its own time, so be patient but persevere! 

That would also be my advice, except that, several years ago, I did quit. 

I quit totally.

I gave up completely.

I threw in the frickin' towel.  

Actually, describing my "hiatus" from writing as I've just done makes it seem far more conscious and noble act than it was. I made no public declarations or took no moral, fist-shaking, stand of defiance.

 In fact, I didn't actually quit, but simply ran out of energy, of ideas, of places to submit my work (I was then writing screenplays). In fact, what I really did was slink away, tail between my legs...

And it was the right thing to do! Despite some success, and plenty of "affirmation", writing was making me profoundly unhappy.

This unhappiness culminated in a disastrous residential course. It was a huge honour to have been selected by the tutors, who were (and are) internationally celebrated screenwriters. I got Arts Council funding for my fees and expenses, and couldn't have been happier or more excited about this wonderful opportunity.

Not real house...similar, though! 

I don't know why it all went wrong for me. I can only describe the experience, in an isolated house somewhere in Yorkshire, as being returned for a few days to a nightmare state of child-like anxiety and insecurity, of feeling foolish, awkward, incompetent, and of trying to remedy these feelings by doing and saying all the wrong things. I'm sure everyone else on the course had a great time, but for me? Even thinking about it, years later, it makes my stomach twist and my breathing get shallow...

So, quitting was easy. Writing brought misery, ridicule and shame. Real life, on the other hand, was full of lovely, happy family and friends, who didn't induce feelings of inadequacy, who weren't judging me on some spurious criteria that I couldn't completely understand, who thought I was funny and clever and talented without even trying!

There is no moral to this story, other than to savour and be grateful for the good, happy, constant things in our lives, for there are many, and they have nothing to do with writing. I'd also advise you to listen to your inner voice. My gut instinct, when arriving at the residential course, was to flee--I had a visceral sense of impending doom--and I should have paid attention to that feeling and not stayed on trying to "fix" the painful situation I was in.

Sometimes it's best to walk away, head held high...

And next week--what got me started again!


  1. You had me worried for a moment there, Jane! Relieved the post wasn't an announcement! Wise, honest words (which is surely what we are all aiming for!) Looking forward to part two …

  2. Not sure we can wait until next week!!!

  3. Thanks for sharing that very painful experience. Sounds like it was the right choice at the time and had a positive outcome because you felt so much better. Looking forward to seeing part 2 and what motivated to get back to the pen and paper.

  4. I totally hear you on this - there have been times where writing has made me so miserable I wonder why I'm bothering! And surely you can't really call yourself a writer if you haven't given up in desperation at one point or another.

  5. Thanks, Nick. Probably should have linked to your blog as you were one of the bloggers I was thinking of! You're right, this is a badge that has to be worn (and won!).

  6. You got me going too! I'm going to need details of that bad residential talk!

  7. Welcome back, Jane.
    I also went on a residential course once and never wrote another word for about 10 years.
    I'm back with a vengeance now though. And so are you. Well done.

  8. Wow, Jo, I've never heard of anyone else who's had an experience like this. Glad you're back, too! We'll have to swap war stories...

  9. Hi Jane, I remember snapping a pic of you at SCBWI conference with your frosting book. Fascinated to hear your journey!

  10. Thanks, Sheila. Just posted on your post! Thanks for the cake book memories...