Words on a Page Writings about writing

When to call it quits

A man banging his head against his laptop


It’s a four-letter word. In our results-driven world, quit is considered one of the worst of all four-letter words.

It’s synonymous with failure, with a lack of discipline, with a lack of commitment.

With some writing projects, however, there are times when you have to call it quits. There’s no shame in doing that, and in the long run you’ll be better off tapping out.

When should you do that? Here are a few suggestions.

When you can’t seem to wrap up

Some writing projects just drag on. They stagger forward, with no end in sight. They consume your time and your effort, but never reach a conclusion.

That could be the book running hundreds of pages. That could be the essay or blog post that you just can’t wrap up.

Sure, you could try revising or rewriting but will that make things better? Or will you sink deeper into a mire of wasted time and effort? Often, it’s the latter.

Back in the early 2000s, I had a project like that. It was how-to guide for Linux, aimed at the person with few or no technical skills. I just kept falling into the contingency mindset and kept coming up more and more to put into the book. I’d probably still be working on it today if I hadn’t pulled the plug on that project.

When you put writing aside and can’t get back to it

We all have our pet writing projects. A book, a long article, a series of poems, a collection of stories or essays. Usually, those are side projects — ones we work on when we have an hour or two here or there.

Sadly, those spare hours only materialize every so often. If ever. You can go weeks or months at a time without touching that pet project. And that’s when you have to let it go.

Chances are you aren’t going to be able to put the effort you need to or want to into that project. It will languish, forever.

That’s what happened with a book project I codenamed Project A. Over the space of several years, I worked on that book in bits and pieces over the space of six years. And I had little to show for it. In 2012, I sent Project A to the glue factory. It didn’t die, though — the underlying idea morphed into a blog.

When you’re not engaged with the project

Passion and engagement are funny things. You can start off being excited about a writing project, you can start off being engaged with it. But, as you start doing the hard graft, your engagement with the project can drop off.

That could be because you learn that the idea behind that project wasn’t all that good to begin with. You could learn that maybe the topic doesn’t interest you as much as you thought it would. Maybe there’s too much work involved for you to tackle.

If you’re not engaged with a piece of writing, there’s no reason to pursue it. Unless, of course, you have an iron-clad contract with a publication or publisher. Even then, it might be better for both of you if you drop the project — if you’re not engaged, the quality of the work will be below your standard. You won’t be happy with submitting something that’s sub par.

Calling it quits with a writing project isn’t a sign of failure. It isn’t a sign that you lack discipline or commitment or ability. It means that piece of writing just wasn’t right for you.

In those situations, calling it quits is the right thing to do. You’ll be able to pour your time and energy into projects that are right for you.

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