We had an interesting discussion at Wyrdsmiths the other night about not quitting writing. It was stimulated in part by a note in the acknowledgments of Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty and the Midnight Hour “to Dan Hooker for calling the day after I almost decided to quit.” It was something that resonated for me when I read it—I always read acknowledgments—so I brought it up at the meeting.
It was a moment all of us who were there had experienced at least once, and I suspect that almost any writer you talk to, no matter how well published, will be able to tell you about that moment. Maybe five times I’ve felt frustrated and depressed enough about the whole writing gig to seriously contemplate finding something else to do, but I’ve had only one true deciding not to quit moment.
It came in January 2005 right after a Wyrdsmiths meeting. At that point I had a good agent who believed in my work, more than 20 short stories either in print or forthcoming, 2 novels in the trunk and 5 out with various editors none of which had sold. I was also having major family stress and had seen a three book hard/soft deal that was over three years in the making fall apart at the last possible moment. That had happened a couple of months earlier and several editors had passed on the books involved since.
I was depressed, not clinically, but damn close, and I felt like 15 years of hard work had officially gone to hell. But worse, far far worse, I wasn’t enjoying writing. I was doing it—I can’t not—but I wasn’t taking the joy from it that I always had. For perspective, I’ve worked at art or entertainment my entire conscious life. I pursued theater in serious way from ages 11-22. When I was 23 I switched to writing and found the second great love of my life (my wife Laura is the first) and I never looked back. Not until January 2005.
So came, the meeting that sent me over the edge. The trigger doesn’t matter. It wasn’t about that, it was about me and writing. I drove home (an hour) getting more and more down the whole way. When I got in I went off to stare at the ceiling. For probably three hours I did nothing but think about how something I had loved and pursued for years had come to this and how I just wasn’t feeling the joy of it anymore. And I tried to figure out what else I could possibly do with my time—I was writing full time. And the answer was nothing. Nothing. There wasn’t anything else that appealed to me half so much.
I don’t know what I’d have done if something else had occurred to me. And the fact that nothing did was totally bleak at the time, because I felt like the only thing I wanted to do was going nowhere and would continue to go nowhere. But in retrospect it was a powerful moment. I had come to place where I realized that writing wasn’t just something I did that I could walk away from. It was who I was down in the bedrock, and I would keep at it no matter what.
The next day I got up and wrote, though I didn’t much enjoy it. And the next day. And the day after that. And somewhere in there I started to love the work again, and then WebMage sold and Cybermancy. In the last year and a half I’ve written three novels that I am damn proud of, one of which is hands down the best work I’ve ever done. And now, two years on, I’m finally loving writing with the same joy and deep passion that I found when I first started. 2014 edit: adding that seven years and eleven novels have passed since I wrote this and I’m more in love with writing than ever.
Deciding not to quit was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and one of the hardest. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.