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.