I was chatting with Rick Ollerman at the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference a few months ago when this question arose: Could you just stop writing? Everyone has his or her own answer. Here’s mine:
I thought about ending the post there, but that wouldn’t be very writerly.
Sure, I could, and so could you unless you suffer from hypergraphia. Let’s can the melodrama. You can quit anything that’s not a basic necessity of life: eating, drinking, breathing, baseball. Heroin addicts and smokers quit and they have actual physical dependency issues. So yes, writers can quit.
I love writers. Many of my best friends are writers, and the vast majority of friends I’ve made in the past ten years are writers. I wouldn’t trade you in for anything, even if I did decide to quit. (Not that I’m thinking about it, but Ollerman asked. This entire blog post is his fault.) That said, writers as a group—not all, but a lot of us—can be an impractical, whiny lot when stressed. Some of us tend to think writing is harder than anything anyone else does. It’s not. That’s not to say it’s easy—it’s quite rigorous mentally—but any writer who walks up to a miner or ditch digger and says how much harder the writer’s life is had better be nimble.
We all bitch about the business of writing, but let’s face it: anything in the arts is a shitty way to make a living unless you’re extremely talented and fortunate. This is because there are more people who want those jobs and are capable of doing them well than there are jobs available. This also argues against the extreme difficulty of said jobs. People line up to do them.
Why am I such a prick about this? (Aside from the fact that I’m a prick in general.) Mostly because it is a hard way to make a living, and bitching about it doesn’t make things any easier. This is the life we have chosen. Deal with it.
What’s that? You didn’t choose writing? It chose you? You had no choice in the matter? Bullshit. Writing may be a calling but choosing it as a profession is exactly that: a choice freely made. Nothing prevents anyone from writing in their free time for personal pleasure, especially in this day of the Internet and self-publishing. Those who say they might have to quit writing because they can’t make a living at it have tacitly admitted they can’t not write.
Another reason I come off as a prick (in addition to being good at it) is because I’ve walked away from the thing I wanted to do most in the world and lived to tell the story. I guaran-damn-tee you that no one reading this wants to be a writer more than I wanted to be a trumpet player. It was pretty much all I cared about for over 15 years of my young adult life. I finally gave it up when I came to grips with the reality that I lacked the talent to be more than a good AA player (to use a baseball term) and that wasn’t enough for me. The two worst moments of my life were telling the then two-year-old Sole Heir that I was leaving her mother and the night I packed my Monette C trumpet in the box to ship it to its new owner. That those two events occurred within a few weeks of each other didn’t make things any easier.
I didn’t die.
I found a new job, which led to a new career. I turned to writing as my creative outlet, which led to the irony of finding I have far more talent for that than I ever had for music. I took the good from my musical days and brought it with me: many dear friends, wonderful experiences that could not have been gained any other way, and lessons learned that still apply in my business, personal, and writing lives.
That’s not to say I don’t miss it. I rarely attend orchestral concerts. They’re too hard to sit through. I’ve been “retired” almost 25 years now and still feel a little hollow after a concert, as if I had faced the wrong direction during the gig. (I sometimes wonder if it would be different if I sat in chorister seats behind the orchestra.) There are a million little things I miss about performing live, mostly the satisfaction of playing something exactly as I wanted it.
So, sure, if the day ever came that the bullshit I had to endure was greater than the satisfaction received, damn right I’d stop writing. Be honest. So would you. Go ahead. Admit it. It’s much healthier to want to do something than to feel needy about it.