How to quit writing (and start over again)

For too long writers have lived in this sort of magic mist that makes the very act of writing glamorous. I’m sure it’s writers who have conjured this myth; talking about muses and their weird writing rituals and just generally being a bit too vague and poetic about the process. The thing about writers though is that they make shit up for a living (well, mostly just for pocket money) and so they really shouldn’t be trusted.

Writing is not glamorous. It’s a shit fight. And writing has to fit around ‘real life’ which is terribly messy, so when you put it all together you could say that writing is a shit fight in a messy situation. (Are we having fun yet?)

So when life gets too messy and writing gets too painful, I turn very practical and I say to myself, ‘I should quit writing’.

So, I did. I actually quit in January and I discovered how much free time I suddenly had. I could sleep properly, see my friends more, go out after work without feeling guilty that I wasn’t working on my manuscript.

I can’t remember how I got suckered back in to writing but I did. And it didn’t take long. But this year has been unsteady; like an old bridge crunching under my feet I knew I would fall through again but I didn’t know when. There was so much crazy at work, so many busy weekends and a course of medicine that seemed hell-bent on destroying me which I haven’t even realised until now. I’ve been ill and exhausted, clawing my way from one day to the next and hoping I don’t lose my grip in front of anyone.

So I stopped writing again. I had to. I could barely drive my car or cut up a salad I was so ill. And again, I thought this could be a good thing – this free time. This sense of normality.

But within 24 hours I was walking home after work and this voice started repeating a few words in my head. And it was my voice but it wasn’t. It was someone new. Someone young. Someone who is aching but coping and just trying to make things work. No, I don’t know her name but, damn her, I know I have to write her story. There’s no other way to get her voice out of my head.

And that’s the cycle. How I can quit writing but not terribly well. And the more I try, the more unlikely it seems.

Romantics will say I can’t quit because I’m meant to tell stories. It’s my contribution to the world. How it helps me understand the world and makes me feel like I belong or how that helps other people I’ve never met.

Pessimists might say it’s a habit or addiction that could be cured. That the urge is narcissistic and that it’s just my ego driving this need to tell stories and be heard by others.

I switch between the two so wildly that I can’t tell you which I think I am. Except that I’m not much of a quitter. Some days that’s the only truth I know.


5 thoughts on “How to quit writing (and start over again)

  1. Pingback: Coupla links | Refracted Ambiguity with Polar Bear

  2. Awesome post, Kathleen and exactly how I felt about two months ago. I decided one night I’d had enough and said out loud: ‘ I quit writing’ that very next morning – hello from the universe an email advising me that I had won second place in a short story competition of which they paid me more than any other payment for anything published and I rejoiced and said: I love writing…yes, it’s a crazy cycle.

    When I stop writing I have nightmares – I mean full on nightmares of all this crazy shit – terrifying little movies in my sleep that scare the shit out of me and have me screaming myself awake sometimes. When I write, the nightmares go away – go figure!

    You also sound as though you’ve been having a tough time health wise – are you okay?

    Big hugs – I miss you, bout time we caught up for coffee 🙂

  3. Oh wow, Kathleen. It’s hard to hear this has been your experience of writing (nothing worse than hearing someone you care about going through tough times), but I’m not surprised either – your life has been so busy and stressful the last year or so, with so much change. It’s hard enough without the ups and downs of writing on top of it all

    I’ve never actually quit writing, but I’ve certainly taken a small holiday from it, and I was surprised to find it was such a relief! Like you, I could sleep again and had room for other thoughts and guilt free time just reading for pleasure and seeing friends. But time away from it always makes me a little insane in the end.

    Really hope you can find the balance. Really hope that life settles and it all finds a rhythm. Or maybe it always seesaws and we just have to get used to it? (isn’t that an awful thought…)


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