Should I give up writing?

Last week, a woman in one of my many online writer groups asked us this. She’d written and self-published a historical novel that had gotten twenty or so good reviews, but a few months after its release, it wasn’t selling many copies. She was having trouble staying motivated to work on her next project, and she wondered if she should just quit.

Now, there are all kinds of good reasons to quit writing. If you expected to get a lot of money right away and that didn’t happen, and you didn’t really enjoy writing anyway, that’s a great reason to give it up. In this case, there was no shame in trying, and there’s no shame in quitting, either.

But speaking of shame…aย couple of times, I’ve had long conversations with people who were wondering if they should quit, even though they loved writing.

That made no sense to me. Why quit something you love doing?

If they’d been trying to make a full-time living at it, and it wasn’t working out, it would’ve been reasonable to consider getting a job, of course. I’ve always worked full time, myself.

But they were talking about quitting altogether. And when I talked to them more, I eventually learned that they were ย embarrassed. Embarrassed that they hadn’t had more success.


The Shameless Writer #should I give up writing #how to deal with rejection as a writer #how to be a successful writer


The Judge Who Wasn’t There

I think many writers see themselves through the eyes of a mean critic. They have a voice in their head saying things like:

Look at them. Who do they think they are? They’re not a real writer. They’ve only published two poems, and that was two years ago…

They haven’t finished their novel, and they’ve been working on it forever…

They still haven’t gotten a publishing contract, and they’re 60 years old!

Many writers act as if they are going to be hauled in front of a judge and asked to justify the time they spent writing versus the results. And not the results of personal happiness or fulfillment… but measurable results, like dollars or awards. As if those are the only ones that count.

Because of this, they’ll sometimes set a stop-loss on their dreams. If I don’t get a novel published in five years, I’ll give up. (Never mind that many published authors wouldn’t be published authors if they’d followed a similar rule.)

They act as though putting a lot of time into writing, yet not achieving commercial success, is humiliating.

Okay, but is it? Is it really?



Almost nobody else is judging our progress. We might imagine that all of our Facebook friends and all of the relatives we see at Thanksgiving dinner are always thinking about how we’re falling short of expectations. The truth is, almost no one is thinking about our writing success at all.

Nobody is making harsh judgements about our return on investment except the imaginary judge we’ve invented for ourselves, and we can kick that person out any time.


The Shameless Writer

As a graduate student in an MFA program, I made my poems the best I could make them, but I didn’t have hope of commercial success, because almost no one reads poetry. I just loved doing it. When literary magazines published them, I thought that was great, and when they rejected my work, I thought that was too bad for them. I think I’ve always held on to a little bit of that attitude.

If you love writing, you have to learn to be shameless.

That way, you can always enjoy it, no matter what comes or doesn’t come from it.

“Shameless” is a funny word, because we use it as an insult. But we accept “shameless” is negative, then we have to accept being ashamed of ourselves as a positive, which is madness.

The really good things in life rarely result in money and accolades. Walking in the moonlight. Playing with your dog. Turning up the music and dancing around your apartment.

The way I see it is: my free time is my free time. I can spend it any way I want. If I wanted to spend it watching TV or playing video games, that would fine. If I decided to spend hours and hours a week scouring thrift stores in search of new unicorn figurines to add to my collection, I’d have every right to do that.

And if I spend it writing books and blog posts, well, that’s pretty cool. And it brings me enjoyment, satisfaction, and discoveries about myself and about the world.

And if someone else likes my writing? If someone else clicks on my posts, or even more, buys my books? Wow, that’s amazing! It’s an honor, and I’m grateful. But the truth is, I love writing it either way.

I believe shame hurts writers at every step of the process: when they’re trying to make time to write, when they’re asking for feedback and when they’re receiving it, when they’re submitting or publishing their work, and so on.

As long as we allow it, shame will stick around…even if we do become successful. It’s way past time for all of us as writers to let it go.