My decision to quit writing

Last week, I had lunch with two other writers and came home totally depressed. I don’t blame them. They didn’t do or say anything directly to bottom me out. As I listened to them speak, I realized I felt disconnected from their world. That night I told my husband I’d decided to quit writing. He told me to sleep on it.

For four days I didn’t write a word, not even a blog post. Instead, I read. And I played a lot of games on Facebook. At first, that felt weird. I was anxious. By the end of the second day, I relaxed. It felt right not to be writing. I could just walk away. Let it go.

On the third day, I realized I’d returned to the way I’d told stories for most of my life— in my head. I continued with the story I’d been trying to force into a novel for months. It flowed without effort. I enjoyed it. But not until late on the fourth day did I actually “hear” the story, and when I did, I knew why I’d quit working on the version for publication.

Let’s back up a bit.

I’d been writing that novel in my head for months before I sat down to begin entering it into a Word file, so I wrote the first few chapters quickly. I opened with a short chapter in third person past tense  and then moved to first person present tense (FPPT) for the next chapters because that was the way I “heard” the main character’s voice. I would use three short third-past chapters spaced throughout the book, but the bulk would be in first-present.

Then I read that most current novels for the adult market are written in third-past, and a first person novel is hard to write well, and present tense is tiring or boring or some other negative for the reader. I questioned my wisdom. I revised. I changed all the chapters to the “best” person and tense. I pushed on.

I wrote a couple of chapters more, and then got distracted by other projects. I wrote another chapter of the novel, and then I worked on something more pressing. I wrote a paragraph or two for the novel, and then I got this great idea and worked it into a short story. I wrote a few words on the novel, and then … and then … and then I gave up on it.

I stopped writing the novel. I stopped writing. Period.

Why? Well, it seems if you stop listening to your character’s voice, eventually that character stops speaking to you. She says, “You don’t like the way I’m telling this story? Fine. Tell it without me.”

Silly me.

Do over. Stop being a sheep. Revise the revision. Start listening again. Write.

48 thoughts on “My decision to quit writing

  1. Love love love this post!!
    Not your struggle and heart wrenching agony you went through, but the fact that you came back to your story and to your characters. I really agree with you–if we don’t listen they will stop talking to us!!

    I’m so glad you’re hearing her, and that you’re writing, and that you’re back to where you belong. And I hope you enjoy it tremendously.

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  2. Aw, don’t give up. I’ve wanted to quit many times. I keep reminding myself that I’ve put too much effort in to give up and that I’m going to hate anything, eventually, that I think about 16 hours of every day. But I end up loving writing again–no matter how hard I try to hate it.

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  3. I think stepping away was a good idea. But, you have to find a mantra when these things wash over you. I have a few I use:
    “It’s going to be okay.”
    “You can do it.”
    “Take it one step at a time.”
    Sometimes the whole process is so daunting that it’s difficult NOT to get discouraged. I know. I just got my manuscript back from the editor and have been popping xanax. But…I know I can do it if I take it one step at a time, and the end result will be better.

    Take care. And please, keep writing

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    1. How did I miss reading that one, Christa? I might have realized my problem with my WIP sooner, if I had. I guess it only makes sense that we let the characters lead the way. They can get pushy, but where would we be without them? 😉

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  4. Rules, advice, guidelines – it’s rare that they guide you to your very best work. Mostly they just guide you to write like everyone else.

    I don’t mean throw them out completely. I’ve learned a lot by paying attention to them. But I also spent a year dumbing down one of my novels, making it more trite, and forcing myself to acquire limiting habits because I was told they were the best way to write, and humble new writer that I was, I took the bad guidance with the good.

    Phooey on that. If the advice / guidelines / rules don’t work for us, for this story, for these characters, it’s our job as writers to chart a better course. It’s more inspiring, more creative, more engaging for us–and that will come through to readers. (Especially when you’re writing literary fiction, not genre.)

    So glad you’ve come through you dark time to a stronger belief in your own voice, Linda! Write on!

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    1. Thank you for the excellent comment, Shelly. 🙂 Yes, the RULES have their use, but they can also funnel us into an overcrowded sheep path. In my strong moments, I know that, but in my weak, I become the Cowardly Writer.

      I’m sorry to hear you wasted a year trying to force your novel into the sheep pen, but happy to know you finally realized the foolishness of that. 🙂

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  5. Oh yay! Another breakthrough moment! I know it’s trite to say you gotta listen to YOU, but you gotta listen to you. Or “them in your head” as the case may be. They’re always right.

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  6. “Phooey on that. If the advice / guidelines / rules don’t work for us, for this story, for these characters, it’s our job as writers to chart a better course. ”

    I quite agree. I’ve always been wary of the writer who seeks to preach “their” method and “their” rules. It’s like telling someone how to pray. There’s no right or wrong way, it’s too personal a process, so what makes you think you know best for someone else?

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    1. Welcome to my blog, onlyfragments, and thank you for commenting. 🙂 I try not to give writing advice for that reason. I share what works for me—or doesn’t—but try not to sound as if I’m saying that’s the only way to do things.

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  7. This is a case where hearing voices is definitely a good thing. 😉
    Being a good listener is always important. Sometimes we really have to pay attention to what’s going on inside our heads instead of what’s going onto the paper. I’m excited to know what you’re hearing.

    Here’s hoping those voices never stop! 🙂

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    1. You’re right, Laura. 🙂 And I think I was lying to myself when I thought I could just walk away. Seeing your stories take physical form and then sharing them with others is sort of addicting, isn’t it?

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  8. I tell stories much in the same manner like you, it begins in the mind. Sometimes, when it becomes a written form, if the storywriting is not going well, it’s set aside and that’s where they stay – the abandoned stack.

    Now get back to listening to those “voices” in your head. I talk to mine on occasion. A bit odd, but it works. 🙂

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    1. I have to confess, David, that I’d reached the point where I muttered a few curses to my character every time I sat down to write and came up empty. And here I was blaming her for MY problem. I’m surprised she hung around. 😉

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      1. Reminds me of a short story about a writer I read a few months ago. Who was the imaginary person – the writer or the character in his new project?

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  9. Loving your post and please keep writing. You are my inspiration in writing a short story or book someday:) Have a Great Week and Listen and Tune Into Yourself and Do What Is Best for You!!!

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  10. It’s so hard to write the novel you want when you feel obligated to write with all these rules. I think you should always follow your gut, Linda.
    I’ve read many stories with switching POV and tenses and haven’t had a problem with them–provided it’s done well. I have no doubt you can do it well. If that’s how the story needs to be told, then tell it that way. You might just start a new trend. Not to mention, that’s the beauty of self publication, you can do it your own way.
    I read a James Patterson book once (yes, only once) and he used a different perspective and a different tense with every chapter. It was a huge surprise for me, at the time I had never seen that format before. It was good though, I enjoyed it.
    I think writing outside of the box just makes the story more interesting.

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    1. Ah, Dana, you’ve touched on a tender spot for me. I can, as a self-publisher, write my books any danged way I please. Who’s going to stop me? But sometimes we need controls for our own good. I’d prefer to be stopped before I go public with my bad ideas. I guess that’s why I so often second-guess myself.

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  11. Amen!! I have never felt a “Part of the Crowd”, nor do I truly want to be. Also, relaxing can oftentimes bring the best out in all of us….we tend to have much too much on the burner today and slowing down brings what’s most important back into focus. Your work is great….keep writing.

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  12. Sometimes stepping away from the writing is a good thing – as long as you don’t stay away too long! Definitely, you must listen to your characters and let them tell you what they’re doing and thinking.

    Glad you are back to writing!

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    1. Thanks, Natasha. I’m glad to be back working on this novel too. At least I got some short fiction writing experience while I was shut down. 🙂

      Don’t get me started on WP again. I’m afraid they’ll “accidentally” erase my blog.

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  13. What wisdom in your post Linda. THAT is IT. It has been my own problem as well, following all this bollocks about how we’re meant to write a novel, and how to tell it. Who cares, I’m going to tell it the way Julian tells it to me, however that is. You keep going. You write the story the way you want to write it. The minute we stop thinking, we write…

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  14. You had me worried this morning when this post dropped into my inbox, Linda. I’m glad to hear it worked out.
    I like what you’ve done with the place. I guess I haven’t been here for a while. The blog looks great!

    -Jimmy

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  15. I’ve also heard that present tense and first person are difficult to write well, but I don’t see it as a negative “don’t do it,” so much as a challenge, and a warning to take the utmost care.

    If first person present tense is how you “hear” the story in your head, then maybe that’s how that novel is supposed to be told.
    And if it is supposed to be told that way, the writing will show it.

    For me, writing first person or present tense would be “just to see if I can;” the only times I’ve used either one by accident was in a handful of notes in a story that was mostly third-past.

    By the way, I’ve never seen you around until WordPress suggested this post showed up in the list of “Related Links” on one of my blogs (which I still haven’t made up my mind about adding links to, since it’s my “job search/public resume” blog).
    And in spite of never reading your blog before, the title kind of freaked me out. ^^;
    I’ll believe I’ll be following your updates.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, SQP. Sorry if my post title freaked you out, but I’m glad it brought you here. 🙂

      A challenge, yes. I’ve written short fiction in first present, but never a novel. It is how I hear it, so I have to try. It’s the doing it well that’s the challenge.

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  16. I believe the rules of writing are like the rules of etiquette. If you use your soup spoon to eat steak, it’s only a problem if you made a mess because you didn’t know it wasn’t for that. Understand the rules so you can break them on dramatic and creative purpose. Use a fish knife to spread butter; go on, I dare you!

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  17. I saw this post in my email the other day, and freaked a little. You’re my indie idol. I couldn’t bear the thought of you giving up writing.

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  18. You can mix the tense if you know how, I suspect you do. Style determines which one to use, not other writers or critics. I think past tense, first person would suit your style.

    But what do I know?

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    1. Thanks for visiting, Mike. Yes, I know how to mix tenses, and the bulk of this novel will be first person, but I’m still not firm on whether I want to use present or past tense. But I’ll figure it out eventually. 😉

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      1. Hi Linda,

        You could try writing a synopsis of you novel or summary of the story in past tense and then again in present tense and compare them. I think you would find past tense easier; but present tense more challenging. Then you can choose!

        Like

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