Feel Like You Want to Quit Writing? Try This

I don’t know about you, but it’s easy to for me to get caught up in the old tidal wave of self-doubt. You know how it goes—I’m too old for this, I’ll never succeed at it, I’ll never publish (again), what am I thinking spending all my weekends writing when no one will read any of this crap, why can’t I just face reality and grow up like everybody else?

All that negative self-talk left me feeling like a fraud. But then I hit the play button for my first MasterClass with Amy Tan who comes along and says, “I didn’t start writing until I was 33.” And I felt relief. A professional writer openly admitted that she wasn’t born. She was made. This is what I’ve been waiting to hear.

Here’s what Ms. Tan taught me that might help you, too.

  1. Drop-kick that imposter syndrome, and replace it with a pat on the back for your healthy life-work balance. Maybe you’re raising kids. Maybe you have a full-time job (or two). Maybe you’re managing a disability that significantly impacts your life. And you know what? You’re in good company. The poet Wallace Stevens worked as an insurance company executive. William Faulkner worked at a post office for a couple years, then got fired and shoveled coal for a power plant. Zora Neale Hurston held jobs ranging from maid to drama teacher. Flannery O’Connor’s disability left her housebound for years. So if you have a life that doesn’t measure up to your idea of what artists should do, you actually fit right in. Artists need a good work-life balance, too. “I’m a very practical person,” Ms. Tan says, “so I knew I was never going to give up my job and consign myself to poverty as I learned to write.”
  2. If you don’t believe you’re a writer, all the external validation in the world won’t fix that. Is there an acceptance from a certain publication or MFA program that will make it feel real? Maybe you need to earn money off your writing before you take yourself seriously. Or maybe you’re waiting to make a certain amount. The danger is if we keep waiting on something else, that something might never come. Ms. Tan says, “If you’re serious, then you are a writer…If you keep at it and if you have a seriousness of purpose—which is to understand yourself, the world, human nature, relationships, and the conflicts that make us infinitely interesting—you will find the stories you want to tell.”
  3. Trust yourself. Look, maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s time for you to quit writing. What the hell do I know? All I know is that as writers we’ve got to listen to ourselves. Life is going to throw us curveballs. Housing, relationships, employment—all of it can change in a moment. So can our feelings about writing. The key, Ms. Tan says, is to know what’s true for you. If we can identify what we believe and what our central questions are, if we notice the way we think, then we already have found our writing voice. And, Ms. Tan says, “Your voice is going to determine the kinds of stories you want to tell.” And once you find those stories, you’re halfway home.

I think in a society that prioritizes a certain kind of success—one that is photogenic and materialistic—artists are stuck with self-doubt. It’s part of the job if we’re going against the grain. We’re not consuming; we’re creating. And what are we creating? We’re not even sure sometimes, but it’s nothing that has inherent market value. And in a world where the market is king, where does that leave us? Liable to feel unimportant and unproductive.

But maybe it’s time to redefine success. Sometimes that’s all you need. And Amy Tan shook me out of my slump. She came along and reminded me that hey, I’m doing this because I love it. My hunch is that you are, too. We’re doing this because it helps us understand ourselves and the world a little better, and we hope maybe our writing can give someone else that feeling, too. Maybe you’re using words to build a world where you belong or where you can be free or where you can love. And I’m going to tell you, friend. That’s not useless. Not at all.

Photo by Tina Nord


Featured Photo by Andrea Piacquadio


Published by M.C. Easton

Novelist and teacher.

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