That's It - I Quit.
Every author has said this phrase.
Some of us have even said it out loud to our writing group or our partner or our agent.
And at the time we said it, we meant it. I did, anyway. I truly, completely meant I would never write creatively again. Not one word. And yet here I am.
Why do we say it?
In the summer of 2017, my husband and I received some surprising and terrible news regarding his job. He wasn't fired, but it was abundantly clear he needed to move on. This meant our income would become unstable for an unpredictable amount of time and he was in no emotional state to support me as I transitioned to full-time employment for the first time in nearly a decade.
So when, a few weeks later, my agent emailed to tell me she was leaving the business, it felt like everything was converging. Telling me it was time to give up. That agent had taken my first novel, whipped it into shape, and shopped it around everywhere. No takers. It was dead, and now she was moving on to another career (not because of my novel; she has her own life and her own decisions to make that have nothing to do with me and I still wish her well and harbor no negative feelings toward her either professionally or personally).
But the fact remained that I was going through a deeply emotional time, my schedule was busier than ever, and I was being sent back to square one. I had made it to the top of the chutes and ladders board, the win felt within my grasp, and I had now slid down the longest and twistiest of slides, landing nearly at the beginning again. Only now I had to try to climb all those ladders again with less support, less time, and more baggage.
It seemed like a good time to quit. So I did.
I tearfully told my writing group I was quitting. I closed out my contract with my agent and dumped all my manuscripts into a single digital folder labeled "writing" and assumed it would all be a cute thing to look back on someday. I ghosted writer friends who were waiting for feedback. I ghosted writer friends who sent me feedback on new stories, not knowing what was happening in my personal life.
And I stayed away for just over a year.
When we don't mean it
In the fall of 2018, things had settled. My husband's career was making sense and moving in a positive direction. I had settled in to the full-time responsibilities at work and was cruising on some over-caffeinated and stressed-out version of auto-pilot.
I pulled up an old manuscript just for kicks. Giggles.
This particular manuscript was one I had been deeply passionate about during drafting. Annoyingly excited during the first four rounds of revision. The fifth round happened near the end of summer 2017, right as everything else fell apart. So when feedback on that round came in to my email, I downloaded the document without reading it, filed it away, and pretended it hadn't happened.
So then in the fall of 2018, I opened it, thinking I'd find a wall of red edits, a running commentary of why it was terrible. I could look, confirm that quitting was the right thing to do, close it and move on with my life.
Except the commentary was extremely supportive. The edits were few and far between, and the reader (who was himself a published author with a Big 5 house and a handful of titles already on shelves) said "This is just about ready to go. This is the one that will get you a contract."
Suddenly I couldn't remember why I had quit in the first place. Sure, life had been stressful. I'd experienced a major setback. But somebody - somebody who knew what they were talking about! - thought I was good. And... I had enjoyed doing this. Right? Maybe I could just tinker with this manuscript, just for fun, just a little, whenever I could find extra time. Nothing serious, not pursuing publication. Just... a hobby. People have those, right?
One of my best critique partners is in my writing group. On that tearful night in August 2017, when I told my group I was quitting, she looked me in the eye and said, firmly but gently, "For now."
It wasn't a command, it was permission.
This wasn't a coach telling me to see it through, no matter the cost. This wasn't a boss telling me to finish what I started or else I should pack up my desk.
This was a friend, a fellow creative, who understood the pressures of creating. She understands the draw, the compulsion to create things. And she understands that sometimes the compulsion feels destructive or not worthwhile. But more importantly, she understands that people need permission to take breaks and permission to come back when they're ready.
There was no shame in her voice. And when I tentatively approached my critique group, in the fall of 2018, asking if I could rejoin, they welcomed me back with open arms. They understand.
If you need permission to step away, take this as your sign.
If you need someone to tell you that you can come back, no matter how long you've been gone, take this as your sign.
If you need someone to tell you that you are a creative, even if you aren't creating right now, take this as your sign.
I understand how burdened you are, how you are struggling with imposter syndrome and doubts and fears. I understand on a deep, visceral level what Lauren Graham meant when she said, "You never know if these are the years you've spent paying your dues or years you spent fooling yourself."
Take your break, come back when you can, and we will be here for you.