I’m not sure if this qualifies as a confession or an acknowledgment, but I felt like it’s important to share my experience with quitting writing for a while and then coming back eventually (and by eventually, I mean right now.)
Quitting writing is something that many writers encounter at some point in their lives, especially when they’re just starting out. It’s normal and okay, but the idea of not productively writing 24-7 is something that feels like a cardinal sin to us creatives. And boy, does that guilt hit hard.
You might find yourself getting angry at the people around you for “wasting your time”. You might feel like you just don’t have the time or energy to write. You might find yourself feeling too tired or unmotivated to write every day, and getting furious when this happens. These are all manifestations of that dreaded emotion.
I’ve experienced all of these things—sometimes in a large way and sometimes in small doses over short periods of time—and what helped me was realizing that I had been trained to think of writing as something that MUST be done every day and the only way I could truly prove myself as a writer was by publishing whenever possible.
But this isn’t true!
It can be hard to explain to other people (or even yourself) why you stopped writing or how you got back into your creative juices again.
Here’s my story of how I made it through that self-doubt, guilt and to the other side of the tunnel.
I quit writing for a while.
By writing, I mean working on my fiction novels consistently and by a while, I mean almost 1.5 years.
When we think about writers, we often think about Hemingway in a Paris cafe, sipping absinthe and smoking cigarettes, or Orwell with a typewriter in the middle of nowhere. We don’t think about the guy who has a desk job and lives with two rooommates to make ends meet.
But that’s the story I want to tell: what happens when writing becomes less of a creative outlet and more of a chore?
When you’re a creative person, there is pressure to constantly produce. You’re pressured by yourself to make things constantly, and then the work you do make needs attention and support from the outside world.
The problem is that all too often these pressures are trying to pull us in opposite directions—the pressure to create pulls us towards working on something, anything really, while the pressure from the outside world pulls us towards working on something specific, and preferably for someone else.
There are a few reasons for this but they all boil down to one thing: stress.
Stopping writing for me wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened. One day I was writing every day and the next I wasn’t.
Writing consistently is hard work and for me, it’s not something that comes so naturally anymore (or at least not in the way that some people seem to do it).
It sucked but there are always silver linings!
Life happens and priorities can change.
Maybe you’re working a full-time job in addition to writing on the side. Maybe your family is expanding (or shrinking) and there’s no more room at the inn. Maybe you want to go back to school or travel more.
The truth is that, even as aspiring writers, we all have our own worlds, and there’s nothing wrong with that—it’s just not fair to compare one author’s seemingly flawless outputs with another’s seemingly haphazard chaotic schedule-based on their social media posts or online marketing.
For example, Brandon Sanderson is a legend in the Fantasy genre and posted on his YouTube about writing a whopping five novels during the pandemic, streamlining his free time into creativity. The man is an inspiration for sure but writers who struggled to create or find the time to do so shouldn’t compare to another’s flow; it’s like comparing apples to oranges.
For me, it was a combination of my content writing business growing, a promotion at my full-time job plus other personal factors that got in the way of consistent writing.
Whatever it is, remember that it isn’t the end of your career as a writer—it’s just putting things on hold while you deal with other things first. And when those other things are done? Then there will be plenty of time for writing again!
I chose to focus on my career.
I’m not sure if my decision to take a break from writing is related to my job, but I can’t deny that I’ve been spending a lot of time on my career lately. My job has been keeping me very busy, and for the most part, that’s been a good thing.
I think what may have turned out as a negative is that it caused me to neglect other areas of my life: namely, creativity and self-reflection.
As a child, I had the time and space to focus on developing my writing skills. In fact, I remember having people tell me at the time how impressive it was that I had found time to devote myself so fully to my creative pursuits when there was so much else going on in my life (constantly moving around schools and adjusting to different educational systems and countries many points in my life was no easy feat.)
For a while, I chose to prioritize some other things over writing: career advancement, family time and money savings.
Now that things have settled somewhat in almost all these areas, I’m ready to return.
The truth is that life is much more than a series of accomplishments or failures and what we do for a living doesn’t define us as people. We are all works in progress and life is an adventure that we live out each day, in every moment we are given on this planet.
And yes, even the time we spend not dedicating to our greater vision for our art is worth living.
Creative writing is hard, guys.
The truth is, writing is hard.
I am both a professional business writer and creative writer, and the latter is definitely the hardest. I know that it’s tempting to think of writing as something you just do (if you’re talented), or something that is easy to do creatively. These are both lies. It’s not easy to get across the thoughts you have in your head onto paper, or into words.
Being a writer is 90% sitting on your bum, staring at the wall and trying to come up with something interesting to say. It’s an endless cycle of thinking and not-thinking, of knowing what you want to say and then not knowing how to say it.
And the few moments that aren’t spent with your butt planted firmly in the chair are spent writing and re-writing—trying to find the perfect phrase in a way that’s not too boring or too disjointed or too pretentious or too indulgent or too dumb or too confusing or too clichéd or too anything.
Or maybe just trying not to fall asleep from boredom as you stare at a blank computer screen for the fifteenth time that day.
I’ve been writing for my whole life—from the time I was born, really—and I’ve found that the only thing that really helps me write well is writing more. I need to have written regularly for a long time before I can even begin to feel comfortable with what I’m doing and know that it’s good enough to show other people and let them read it.
Writing is work, sure, but it’s also a lot of fun when you’re in the right mindset for it. It’s rewarding and gratifying, and when you have a piece that you’re proud of and that you know is good, it can be one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.
But that feeling of pushing myself to write when I have a billion other things going on in life— I didn’t want that stress. So I simply chose not to live it.
Is that so bad?
I’m not looking back on the time that ‘could have been well spent.’
I choose to focus on what comes next.
- I have renewed vigor to write now that I have time for it again.
- I’ve learned about dealing with stress in my life and how much it affects me both physically and mentally.
- It’s a good lesson for the future when things get tough again, because this time around I was able to handle it differently—and better!
If you need to step away from your writing, it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing!
It’s never too late to get back in the game.
Stepping back from writing, even for an extended period of time, isn’t something I feel ashamed about or worried about any more—it was actually the best thing for me at the time.
I know people who have tried this same strategy with other projects and activities they love, whether it’s working out or cooking dinner or doing dishes (yes, you heard me right).
Sometimes we can only do so much before we need to step away for a while—even if it’s just for a few days or weeks—and not feel guilty about it at all.
Just set some ground rules for your writing hiatus: how much time can you take away from your project? When will you start up again? It’s important not to give up entirely on what you were doing before; after all, when it comes right down to it, there’s nothing wrong with taking a little breather once in a while!
The Writer Who Lived
I’m not exactly sure how I survived my long writing hiatus, but I know it had something to do with easing up on myself.
During that time, the only pressure I put on myself was to keep breathing and be more mindful of my mental and physical health.
Remember, writing doesn’t always have to be a high-pressure, tight-deadline, high-output activity.
I’ve learned that if you give yourself some time and space to do things you enjoy without feeling like you’re wasting time or losing opportunities by not doing something more productive with your time, you can find your voice again.
Sometimes you just need to get out of your own way!