Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 15, 2023

5 Common Reasons Why Writers Give Up Too Early

by Jenny Hansen

Snails racing to the finish line, symbolizing how long goals take

I've known many writers who give up before they cross the finish line -- the finish line being that place where they feel like they have the skill to tell a story and the know-how to release it to the world.

Some of them give up way before the finish line, for a variety of reasons. Maybe they find that they don't like the writing life or the process drives them bonkers. Maybe they just like keeping those stories tucked safely inside their heads. But today's post is about the writers who give up just before they cross the finish line. Those are the writers that make me want to grab their hand and give them the encouragement and resources they need to hang on a bit longer.

I hope you'll share a bit of your journey down in the comments.

Five reasons why writers give up.

Anyone who has been at the writing game for a while could list a dozen reasons to give up. Maybe two dozen. But the reason they keep going is hard to argue with: they love writing. Or, maybe they don't like the writing so much but they love telling stories. Here is a small sampling of some of the main reasons I've seen so many writers throw in the proverbial towel.

1. They didn't realize it would take so long.

This is a tough one. When you first begin, you don't know what you don't know. You want to share your story with the world, but you don't have a concept yet of what it takes to do that.

Then you find some writer friends or some blogs like WITS or some podcasts. You participate in some challenges like NaNoWriMo, and maybe go to some writing conferences. You listen to those published authors talk about their road to publication, and are maybe a bit surprised at how long it takes.

You write some more, and learn some more writing craft. Maybe you join a critique group or start entering contests. You might start querying at this point, or looking at indie publishing. And then you start to lament that it has been weeks, months, maybe years...and you aren't nearly as far along as you thought you'd be.

And sometimes this is when people get discouraged, and they quit. This is right when you are finally ready to take off with intention. You've made the connections, learned some solid skills, and started to figure out enough about the paths to publishing to set a more reasonable timeline for your goals.

This is what I meant when I said many writers quit just before they get to where they want to be. This is the time when you need to get whatever help you need to hang on a bit longer.

2. It's too hard.

I'm sure you've heard me say it before, but the writing life is not for the faint of heart. This is a profession where you will fall down. It's a profession where you will have to pick yourself up, probably many times. One of the reasons I encourage the collection of some awesome writing pals is that they will pick you up when your writerly legs can't possibly hold you up even one moment longer. Your writing pals will check on you and encourage you and commiserate with you.

And if you can't bear to reach out for help, I'm here to remind you (and myself):

We're writers. Writers persevere. Even if it's only one page at a time--hell, one sentence at a time--we keep going. We are mighty beings formed of stubbornness, creativity, and caffeine.

Perhaps you could jot down a version of that mantra above and tape it up in your writing space. When in doubt, just keep going. You've got this. You can do the hard things like a boss.

3. They don't feel they have anything else to say.

You're a creative badass. You always have more to say.

I have a very good friend who is a well-known musician. I talked to him about creativity a while back in this post. He's put out 20+ albums and always feels like he's said all he has to say. And then his manager books him some studio time and tells him to go write 15 songs. Somehow, he always does.

When I asked him his secret, he said:

"Jen, every year when it’s time to record a new album, I feel like I’ve done it already and those are all the songs I have to write."

He paused a moment and added, "Then I’ll hear my mother’s voice in my head like she’s right there talking to me: 'You said you wanted to be a musician; it was what you trained for and practiced at. It was the only thing you EVER wanted. So, get off your a$$ and write some music, and quit crying about it.'"

Sometimes, when you sit down to do the work, that beautiful song (or story, or character) will just spill onto the page. But only if you've dragged your uninspired self into your place of work to be ready to receive the gift.

4. All that constant change chipped away at them.

The one absolute in the writing life is that things will change. Quickly and often. Publishers will merge, agencies will fail, algorithms will shift, social platforms will wane. Marketing on those platforms and managing Amazon is enough to send many writers screaming.

In last week's post, "Marketing, How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count the Ways," Piper Bayard shared her immense marketing woes. She's talented in a million ways, but technology isn't her favorite thing. She'll work long and hard to master it. Now add in that technology changes all the time? It made her crazed.

Finally, she bit the bullet and hired help because, as she explained to me, it was either that or quit the writing life.

Even without technology adding to the changing landscape, today's publishing world is vastly different from what it was five, ten, twenty years ago. It is a lot for a writer to keep up with, on top of getting their stories ready.

5. They let someone else's opinion matter more than their own.

It is normal to hate criticism, just like it's normal to be afraid that you're a hack. It's even normal to compare yourself to others. But when you start prioritizing other people's opinions or performance over your own, it's a surefire way to ensure a bumpy writing ride. Comparisonitis, as Johnny Truant calls it, is a sure way to take a fast trip to Anxiety-ville.

Especially because many of our fears aren't real. Fae Rowen, one of our founders at WITS used "fear" as an acronym to express this concept to her logical mathematician brain:

False Evidence Appearing Real

She put that gem up where she'd see it every day to assure herself that most of her fears and worries were not real. We ALL do that -- worry about things that aren't real -- because we're so afraid that they might be true. 

As hard as it is, you have to believe in your own story. You have to know with everything you have that it is valuable. If you don't believe it is worth telling, and that you are the only one who can tell it, it's a pretty solid bet that your story will never be told. And that would be a shame.

An a-Ha Moment in My Own Writing Journey

Back in 2004, I was a wide-eyed newbie. I'd been scribbling for a while, as we all do, but I didn't even understand the craft workshops I was attending enough to apply them. Eventually, it soaked in, but twenty years ago I was clueless.

I was lucky to attend an all-day event with uber-agent Donald Maass. He was so dynamic that I hung on his every word, knowing this was important material for me to absorb. But when he said, "Tension on every page was the key thing his team looked for" when they were acquiring books, I had absolutely no clue what he meant.

I snuck a few looks around the room, and all the more advanced authors around were nodding and chattering with one another about the brilliance of it all. I felt like an idiot because I had NO IDEA where to even start to understand.

Fast forward a decade to an Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson where she shared Power Words and "how they bring tension to the page." I remember thinking, "Ooooooooh, this is what The Donald was talking about." I re-read all his books and I finally got it.

That's how this writing life works. Every learning experience and critique you get mortars another brick into the foundation of your writing craft. One fine day, the connections and information coalesce into knowledge that you can use.

All you have to do is persevere for long enough.

Have you ever thought seriously about quitting your writing life? Was it for one of the five reasons above, or something else altogether? Do you remember an a-ha moment when a complicated writing concept became clear and changed the way you write? Please tell us your story down in the comments section!

* * * * * *

About Jenny

By day, Jenny Hansen provides brand storytelling, LinkedIn coaching, and copywriting for accountants and financial services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

Find Jenny here at Writers In the Storm, or online on Facebook or Instagram.

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27 comments on “5 Common Reasons Why Writers Give Up Too Early”

  1. There have been many times, especially in the last year or so, in which the writing had to take a backseat to health concerns that had a high priority - or a bad aftermath, with the brain even less functional than usual. I literally couldn't think from pain or medication side effects which roiled my brain.

    Quitting was not an option, at least not until I finish Pride's Children: LIMBO, and the trilogy, but I was worried I might not live to write it. But every time I had a better day, right back to the plotting board (the step I'm on for the third volume), even though my thinking is so fragmented I keep starting over - a little further down the road.

    Then I look back, and see I've been writing this story since mid-2000, and I'm still deeply into it (but deathly slow).

    Apparently, it's what I do. And I love it, so that's fine with me.

    1. I hear you, Alicia. It is terribly hard to write through illness and fatigue. The fact that you have persevered is so inspiring to me.

      Keep going! I know that you will finish this series

    2. Illness can impact so many facets of our lives. It's especially hard when it leaves no creative energy (or any energy) for the things we love. I love that through it all, you are still moving toward that writing finish line. #NeverGiveUp! (my driving motto over the last few years)

  2. At the moment I have little energy for writing. I have a couple of books going through the critique process, and I know I should be getting on with the next one in my historical novel series, but just can't get myself together.
    Ideas are there, though. I know I should get on with it. A couple of negative reviews have also knocked me back, and there are things going on in my personal life, too. I have seriously considered quitting.
    An a-ha moment came when I read Understanding Show Don't Tell by Janice Hardy. A brilliant explanation of something that people spout with no explanation. I feel I now know what it means.

    1. Isn't wonderful when a difficult concept comes alive? Janice is so awesome at that.

      VM, I hear you should-ing on yourself. That way lays axiety and discontent. You will get back to writing when you are feeling mentally ready. Period.

      The shoulds can just go slink back to their cave!

  3. I was at a book event right before Thanksgiving, and as I sat there, smile plastered on my face, nodding to people who passed me by, chatting with those who stopped and asked questions and then walked away, I wondered whether quitting made sense.

    It wasn't about how hard it is to learn the craft or the realities of publishing. It was about immersing myself in the knowledge that discoverability is an uphill battle.

    And yet every time I think, "I might want to quit," I ask myself what could I use to replace my writing. And I don't have an answer, not because I don't have other interests but because writing supersedes all of them. I love telling stories and have so many ideas. And, objectively, I know I'm getting better every year.

    At that same event before Thanksgiving, one woman stopped at my table and said, "I just wanted you to know I read both of your books, and I loved them. You're very talented." And when I ask myself if I want to quit, I go back to memories like that one.

    Discoverability might be the biggest challenge facing writers today, but our words still matter. They matter a lot, to a lot of people. We just have to tough it out.

  4. Jenny, thank you. I'm sure your thoughts and words will be encouraging for all who read it.

    For me, I thank you in particular for sharing Fae Rowan's acronym about FEAR. It's so true that most of our fears are about what might happen--with little to no reason to believe whatever it is will happen. "False Evidence Appearing Real" is accurate. Most of the time, there is NO evidence for me to base my fears upon. It's just worry convincing my brain that I ought to be afraid. FEAR has now become a reminder for me that all those worry thoughts (about writing or myriad other life things) are nothing more than my imagination looking for something to do. So, it's a good time to put it to work, whether that's sitting down to write or just coming up with ideas for my next scene, chapter, or story.

    Wishing you a fearless weekend,

    1. Thanks so much Christine! I really struggled with fear and anxiety during perimenopause. That was the best part for me about going into full menopause is that the anxiety finally stopped.

      I think the majority of writers struggle with fear, but it seems to me like my female writing friends struggle just a bit more.

      I'm happy that you're putting that acronym up where it can be helpful to you. Thanks so much for taking time to comment!

      1. Thank you, Jenny. I'm so glad the anxiety finally went away. It can really interfere with life and joy.

        All the best,

  5. Writing is a lonely and expensive process. Not making any money but shelling it out can be (is) disappointing.

    And if you don't have a good sized following you may do all the work and no one even knows and your friends don't bother. All in all, though you may love writing, it's hard work.

    1. It is definitely hard. And it is even harder on those days when you have worked so hard and it seems like no one cares. But you care. And you are the most important part of your own writer equation.

      I'm sending out a virtual hug. Those feelings are rough.

  6. Thanks for this message/reminder, my friend! Maybe I'm just blissfully stupid, but I don't tell my stories or write my books for other people. Or to meet a market trend. Or to win awards. Or to option them to Hallmark or Lifetime or Hollywood.

    I write my stories because I have to. If I didn't, I'd feel like I was at this glittering cocktail party and never talked to anyone. Being silent at a party would be awful (though I do like to eavesdrop wherever I am).

    I have a brain. I have a voice. My brain needs to use my voice (or my fingertips on a keyboard) to share what's going on in my head.

    I'm not so egotistical to think that everyone needs to know what's banging around my brain. But there are some charismatic characters having amazing adventures behind my eyes and between my ears. So I capture them and share them.

    I hope other people find my stories interesting, intriguing and engaging. If they don't, that's cool. If they do, that's cool too.

    My point is this: I believe writing, for people like me, is all about expressing and sharing and escaping and connecting. Giving up is not an option. And if I can make some money in the process, that's just the icing on the cake. But it's not the cake.

    1. I love this, and I know that you are a rarity here: "Giving up is not an option. And if I can make some money in the process, that's just the icing on the cake. But it's not the cake."

      I absolutely embrace writing for yourself. We are our own first readers. It is lovely to not need the money from writing, but a lot of writers struggle because that is where they WANT to make their money. It's a conundrum.

      Your way is healthier for the psyche and I embrace it...but it is rare.

  7. Constant change is the #1 reason why I have thought about giving up. I haven't given up, but I sure have thought about it on occasion!

  8. I love this post. So many of us think we are all alone when we have that writing hiccup. Mine came when my first, very naive, fledging manuscript was both loved and rejected for flaws I now know more about. But then I felt my story was out, and I struggled for a direction and a story to tell. Now I have a book coming out in January and am thrilled to be working on my next one already. I think it's hard to trust that another story will come along, but with the right mindselt and friends to encourage ideas, it will come with patience.

  9. #5 almost got me. But someone else asked me to think about the motive/explanation/criticism by the person who made the comments.

    I'm so glad I didn't listen to the negativity. I was published 5x after that.

  10. I remind myself often that I have not failed until I have given up, but querying is hard on me. I can send stuff out if the opportunity falls in my lap, but I suck at the follow up---should I even follow up? And getting no response from the void means no closure. (I beg publishers to tell us when to count the No.)

    But my biggest issue is fear o change. I am equally afraid of success and failure. I keep going to not fail, but submitting work risks success and I have no idea what that will mean or look like for me.

    Work-for-hire sustains me. It validates that I can write, but it takes time from th passion projects too. Everything is about balance.

    1. Debbie,

      I'm glad your work-for-hire gives you validation. You are a writer--a professional writer! Querying is hard. I'm in the midst of querying a novel and I keep telling myself, "Just send it out and forget about it. And if you get a rejection slip, just move to the next person on the list" I'm querying 5 agents at a time)."

      It's easier said than done. Not hearing back is especially difficult because all the questions start: "Is the silence a 'no'? "Should I write to see if they got my submission?" I suggest going with the agent's guidelines. Some say, "If you haven't heard back from me in eight weeks, it's a no." Go with that and move on. If the agent's website says, "Feel free to follow up if you haven't heard from me in four weeks," send a brief, polite, "just-checking" email. If the agent doesn't specify, I'd send the just-checking email. If you don't hear back, move on.

      In any case, just keep moving forward--on to the next work-for-hire project, the next agent or editor to query--and never forget you are a writing professional. So, no matter what happens with whatever project you're querying currently, you already ARE a success!

      Wishing you joy and peace. 🙂

      1. Christine, that's exactly what I've done (though I forget to check on the timing for the nudge and may have six months instead of four). I have run out of agents for a project, and I don't remember to check for new ones. Now, I think it does need revising, again. But first I have paid work and then the novel I'm already revising. This is why balance is so important. Time is always limited. But thank you for the encouragement and good luck with your querying.

        1. I agree with Christine...of course you are a success! I too write for hire all the time, and it is very affirming to be paid for our work. The passion projects are affirming too though, and I hope you keep at it. It only takes one yes -- the right yes -- to be on your way to your dream.

          1. Absolutely, Jenny. And as I said, you haven't failed until you've given up. There is hope as long as you keep going.

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