I quit writing thriller novels in 2015. I had published four books by then: Epidemic, Dark Circle, Subversion, and its sequel, Restitution. I’d written another–Shadow in the Woods–and hated it. I knew I’d #failed as a writer and was done. D-O-N-E. Finished. It was over. I wouldn’t write fiction again. (Cue melodramatic music as I march off stage.)
Joking about it now makes it a little bit of a less painful memory. At the time I was heartbroken. I’d dreamed of being an author since childhood–even when I wasn’t actively writing fiction. I constantly captured information, tucked things away. And I was always writing something, even if it was just angst-filled journal pages.
But in 2015, I was working as a copywriter full-time an hour from home. I wrote incredibly boring stuff all day, everyday. I felt overwhelmed with work/commuting/family/home upkeep. And I was tired of putting all the time, energy and work into writing books that no one was reading.
Critical comments made about my novels at a few book clubs I visited and a few negative reviews online didn’t help. I was irritated when a representative from Mystery Writers of America referred to 90 percent of self-published books as “garbage,” when I inquired as to why I couldn’t become a member.
I was just done. Sorry, God, but you can take this gift back. I don’t want it anymore.
Tried that. Failed at it. Moving on.
After I Quit…
I made a conscious effort to just do “normal stuff,” after I quit writing my books. I determined to be just like everyone else in middle-income North America: I’d work hard, enjoy time with my family, stream Netflix, go on an annual vacation, clean the house when I had to, and ignore anything to do with writing thriller novels.
That worked. For a couple of months. And then I started feeling really low, very sad and dull. There was no spark in me. I faked being excited about my work (the money was nice). I pretended to enjoy the long hours spent in front of the TV (and guys, in mid-winter in Vermont, that’s not too hard to do). Basically, I blocked out any desire to write outside of my job.
But I kept thinking, “Is this it? Is this all there is?”
I felt flat. Empty. Lost.
So, I took up a new hobby: upcycling clothes, something I’d always wanted to try. I even participated in a fashion show with a collection of things I’d made. It was fun…but it didn’t fill me up.
Then, I had a realization. The anxiety/depression that’s plagued me most of my life was back. That was why I was feeling so crappy, why I was feeling so low. No problem. I’d just launch myself into some new project and my problem would be fixed.
This sort of worked. I dabbled in more sewing and upcycling projects. I learned to paint intuitively using music, something I’d never tried before. I read a lot of great novels. I tackled some home projects. I loved most of these things. But underneath it all was that same, deep longing.
Like Jonah in the Bible, I was running from what I was meant to do. And while I didn’t get swallowed up by a whale, I felt just as cut off, disconnected, and discontent.
Writing Fiction Again
More than a year later, I understood on a deep level that something had to change. God and I had a lot of long talks. I cried a whole bunch. I went on long walks and cried some more. Because deep down I hadn’t just failed at writing novels. I was a failure. That’s what I really thought. Lack of book sales = you suck at writing.
Clearly, there was some healing that needed to take place. And while I had stopped pretending that life was peachy, I hadn’t yet come to the realization that I was going to have to start writing again. I reached out to a close writing friend and told her about the horrible manuscript, asked her what I should do.
She did something that I will be eternally grateful for. She offered to read it. And then she gave me feedback on it. There were some problems, yes, she said, but it certainly wasn’t un-salvageable. She pointed out some areas that I might want to look at, made some suggestions to tighten things up.
And she told me that I was a good writer and that maybe what I needed most, was to start writing again.
Happily Ever After?
Guys, I’d love to end with an ending like, “And then J.P. wrote a bestseller and lived happily ever after”. But that didn’t happen. I did, however, go on to edit, edit and re-edit Shadow in the Woods, eventually publishing it in 2017. To date its been my top-selling thriller novel. It was also the motivation behind the “Monsters in the Green Mountains” series.
Lessons Learned from Quitting
The biggest lesson I learned from quitting was that I need writing, the same as other people need whatever it is that they’re built for–music, dance, acting, comedy, race cars, fencing, animals, travel–whatever. I need it for my mental health. I need it because it’s my biggest creative outlet. I need it because that’s how I’m built.
Here are some other lessons I learned from quitting:
I am not my writing
Any talent in writing is a gift I was blessed with, not anything I manifested
Critics are going to criticize; I choose to listen or not
Writing needs to be fun most of the time
I can only do what I can do
If I never make another dollar from my books, I will still write them because I’m an author and that’s what authors do
I am not a robot, I have to find a rhythm and flow that works best for me, not best-selling author John Jones
Trust myself and my instincts above “market trends,” or “expert opinions” or anything else other gurus share
Be grateful for this opportunity
So, there you have it. My too-honest-to-be-comfortable story of writing failure, quitting and starting again. I’m sure there will be more failure in my future, but hopefully some successes also, to balance things out.
If you’re a writer I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What’s your biggest writing #fail and how did you overcome it? Or do you need a boost now to get you back on track? Please let me know. I’d be happy to try to help.