It's Just Books: 5 Reasons It's Okay to Quit Writing

About a month ago I gave some thought to quitting writing. I didn’t post about it on social media, so you know that shit was serious. I walked around all day in a great mood. You know what they say about people who are actually going to commit suicide? How they’re all smiles, because they know it’ll all be over soon? That was me, except with writing.

My guts knotted up every time I thought of writing or reading. I’d learned to hate the whole process.

The thought of never writing again lifted that weight off of my shoulders.

I could do anything.

I could devote my time to doing something that might help the world. I could resign myself to a high-paying nine-to-five, and then at least the pain of occasional poverty wouldn’t sting as much. I could pick up a new hobby. I could learn to love books again!

Eventually this funk passed, the way they usually do. However, when I was deep in it, I Google searched “give up writing” and came across tons of articles telling me not to do it. God bless them. But I wanted someone to give me a good reason to quit.

I don't want this to be discouraging. I'm pulled between not wanting to offer caveats, and the genuine sentiment that I don't want you to quit. If you’re feeling bummed, give it some time, weigh your options, and do what you want. You’ll probably keep writing. But I am here to say that it’s okay if you don’t want to do it anymore. If you decide to quit, you're not a failure, or a bad person, or a loser.

You are not the books you write. You are fine and you are beautiful just the way you are, and you 100% have something to offer the world. And it’s okay if that thing isn’t writing. I’m saying this sincerely.

You are a wonderful human being with so much to offer the world. It really doesn’t matter if people didn’t buy your latest police procedural. It’s not a big fucking deal.


1) The Thrill is Gone

At sixteen, I used to stay up late every night on my family’s computer typing up short stories on Xanga. They sucked ass, but I loved the shit out of writing them. Most had twist endings, and I don’t know if I’ve had that much happiness in my heart since.

Those Xanga stories ruled because I didn’t give a shit. I had like 200 followers, and a quarter of them gave feedback. I loved it.

I liked writing my first novel. I liked writing my second novel. I really liked writing my third novel. Then it dropped off. I stopped loving the process. It got to the point that I’d rather do anything but write. The reasons for this are legion, so I’ll save you some time and skip to my point:

If you don’t even like doing it, then don’t do it.

Sure, sometimes it’s going to suck. You might even go through droughts. After a few years of hating every second, though, you might want to consider whether or not you’re in the correct line of business.

It’s like a relationship. Break up, or work it out, but for god’s sake, don’t exist in that space where you hate each other and stay together.

2) Constant Poverty

Being hungry sucks. I mean really hungry. Like “actually considering stabbing someone for the taco they’re holding” hungry.

There have been countless articles written about the struggles of the poor artist. And there are plenty of books out there to help you Starve Better, for example. But the fact remains that if you don’t have some kind of nest egg, or trust fund, or savings account (ha!) before you start writing, life is going to be pretty difficult.

And you know what? I don’t think it’s really fair to tell people “just suck it up.” Why? Once again, life is short. Maybe having three square meals a day and a small safety net leads to more happiness than living by a shoestring while writing.

I’m not here to judge, and fuck people who do. It’s up to you. You don’t have to starve if you don’t want to. Do what’s best for your health.
The myth of the starving artist is a dangerous one and should not be romanticized, even a little.

3) Your Talents May Lie Elsewhere

In my early 20's, I started a rap group with a friend of mine. We would sit in his room for hours, drinking and smoking, writing rhymes and recording them over beats we’d found on the internet.

I have nothing but fond memories of that time. The creativity that reverberated through that room has been unmatched since. We traded our rhymes back and forth, then went back to writing, just interested in making each other laugh.

We recorded a full EP, and we played a good number of house parties and one legit show in a real venue with a big crowd who fucking loved it. It was intoxicating. I thought to myself, briefly, I should do this with my life.

Here’s the kicker: I suck at rapping, and I know it. If you press most anybody, they’d probably grimace and say the same thing.

What would have happened if I decided “I’m going to be a rapper?” I probably wouldn’t have those fond memories anymore. They’d be buried under layers and layers of rejection and pain. As it is, my buddy and I had a great time, we did a good job, and we got the fuck out.

Now, whether or not someone is actually “good” at something is pretty subjective.

How do you know? How can you tell?

I won’t lie: I don’t fucking know. If you’re down in the dumps, you’re going to think you suck no matter what. In fact, even if they’re not in the dumps, most sane people think they suck.

Therefore, instead of driving yourself crazy trying to figure that out, try a couple new hobbies. See if anything clicks. Go rock climbing. Go fishing. Take up whittling. Work on a car. Paint.

When you find out that quitting isn’t the end of the world, you think about quitting a lot less. Life is strange that way.

You'll either feel like writing again, or you'll have found your true calling. Win-win.

4) You’re Basing Your Sense of Self-Worth on Your Writing

This is the big one. My initial impulse to write this article came from seeing people tear themselves apart over the outcome of their writing careers. Friends and enemies, all of them beautiful people. They’re all a part of this existence, and they all deserve to see what it has to offer, and to experience love.

I’d watch them struggle, both in the real world and online, and wonder Why the hell are you doing this to yourself? I could feel them torturing themselves.

You are a wonderful human being with so much to offer the world. It really doesn’t matter if people didn’t buy your latest police procedural. It’s not a big fucking deal. It’s just books, man.

If you’re feeling that broken up about it, seriously, stop. Step back.

This is not that serious.

5) You Need Some Time Off

This is by far the most likely of all of the reasons. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes you just need a little distance. Ideas have to come back to you. You have to forget the writer you thought you were supposed to be. You’ve got to tear down all the artificial bullshit you’ve constructed, that you thought mattered, and let your right-brain play again.

Then you come back all bad-ass and shit.

But Seriously, Folks

Now that we’ve gotten to the end, we get to see who reads the whole article. I like to practice negative visualization. Thinking about the worst that can happen, and realizing that either A) it won’t kill you or B) it will kill you, but then you’ll be dead and that’s chill, strips that thing of all its menace.

When I went through my almost-retirement, I wrote down all of my reasons for quitting. It looked a lot like this piece. There they were, on paper, demystified. Suddenly my desire to quit evaporated.

We spend so much time being told “never give up” and “keep going” that we begin to think there might be something wrong with us if we do give up. Even worse, we think that there might be something wrong with us for even thinking about giving up. Once the shame is stripped away from those thoughts, they aren’t scary anymore. I can pick them up and play with them, turn them on their head, and see what works best. If I can truly become unafraid of quitting, then it’s just another option, not some life-ending catastrophe.

When you find out that quitting isn’t the end of the world, you think about quitting a lot less. Life is strange that way.

Really take a full assessment of your life. Be honest with yourself. It can hurt. I felt heartbroken during most of my session. Then you come out the other side.

I personally didn’t quit, but only after constructing some very strict rules that I have to follow going forward. I had to build up structures to protect my mental health, to make sure that I wasn’t killing myself, etc. That’s for another article.

It doesn’t matter what other people think. It matters what you think. You only get one life, and it should be a good one.

I’m coming to you from a place of love. And I’m saying if you need to step away, step away.

Good luck.

Part Number:

Part Number:
J. David Osborne

Column by J. David Osborne

JDO is the author of Black Gum, Low Down Death Right Easy, and The Snake Handler, which he co-wrote with Cody Goodfellow. He hosts the weekly podcast The JDO Show, and runs Broken River Books, the publisher of books like Peckerwood, Gravesend, and Zero Saints. He lives in El Paso, TX with his wife and their dog.

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.


Tony McMillen's picture
Tony McMillen from Mostly glorious Tucson Arizona but now I live near Boston. is reading Not, I'm writing July 13, 2017 - 7:32am

I responded to the whole, "the sorrow grows bigger when the sorrows denied" aspect of this a lot. And the part about not basing your self-worth on your work is a lesson I keep having to relearn. Even with my regular job stuff. I hurt my back pretty bad about 5 years ago working my warehouse job. I got sciatica and after taking a week off work and hoping to miraculously get better I went into work and tried to hide my obvious injuries: the way I was dragging my leg a bit when walking, the way I had to slowly get out of a chair etc, my boss before work really commenced made me follow him into the office and he told me point blank, “Dude, you are not 100%, I can’t have you working here, go home, get better.”

I felt so much shame.

Like, way more than I could ever have anticipated. Shame for not being able to do my job. The thing is, I never liked my job in particular. Sure, I liked some of the people I worked with, I liked having a job, paying for myself etc., but I deep down had a feeling that I was better than manual labor. That I was writer and this was just a temporary thing. When I was sent home because I couldn’t do the work I realized how crazy I must have been trying to pass off that I was okay and that I could work; that sure, I was terrified because I needed the job, had always had a job, but it was also, what was I if I wasn’t doing this job?

Writing for me is another version of that.

Now, I work an office job, I write books, draw, fuck around with music etc., and I’m not Swayze from Point Break yet, I do glean a lot of my identity from these things but I try to take pride in just being me. A good partner to my wife and a good friend to the shitheads I still traffic with and beyond that, beyond anyone else I try to take my pride and self-worth from who I am when no one sees me. I don’t always get there but when I do it’s good. Thanks for writing this. Now I gotta check my goodreads reviews….

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin July 14, 2017 - 2:02am

Thank you for this article JDO. I think we do need more articles like this, or more awareness at least. And point five, I'm hoping that's me. But if it's not, that's okay too. Life happens and time passes and I've come to accept in my bones that at some point I will write again. And I'm not a failure. Although sure it still makes me sad most days.