Reader Request Week 2010 #4: Quitting Writing

Dave H asks:

What would it take to convince you to quit writing?

Not that I want you to quit, but I’m curious what you’d find compelling enough to make you want to change careers (in a “greener pastures” way, not an “offer you can’t refuse” way).

Well, in the sense of writing as a career, I suppose what would convince me to quit writing would be the fact that I couldn’t make a living at it any more, at which point in order to pay my bills I had to do something else. Short of that sort personal economic meltdown I don’t see much that would tempt me away from it, since I like to write, don’t really like most other sorts of work, and I make enough money from writing that I’m not particularly tempted to try something else just to make money. I could see myself doing other sorts of things from time to time, for fun, for curiosity or because there was a stonkin’ big honorarium involved, but as long as it possible for me to make a decent living as a writer, it’s going to be hard to pry me away from it as my primary occupation.

In the sense of writing to write, I suspect it will take death, senility or a stroke that leaves me illiterate to convince me to quit writing. I would do this even if I didn’t get paid (he said, writing on the site he’s been writing on for eleven years without being paid for it), because this is fun for me, or at least it is most of the time. I could see taking time off from writing — a month, or two, or six, whatever — if I didn’t feel like doing it, but outside few days of exhaustion or outside forces keeping me from a keyboard, I haven’t yet felt like doing it. Seriously now, I can’t actually think of a week since I was a teenager where I didn’t write something. I might try it now just to see what it’s like. But I don’t imagine I would like it much. If I don’t write for a day or two I get irritable; a whole week without writing might prompt my wife to kill me. And she would be right to do it.

Fact is, I like being a writer, even more than I like making money as a writer, and as all you know, I like making money as a writer a lot. But ultimately, it’s really not about the money. It’s about the writing. I’m not going to be quitting that.

22 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2010 #4: Quitting Writing”

  1. But to the second half of Dave’s question:

    So you never stop writing, but it isn’t paying anymore. What would you want to do? Photographer? Politician? Drummer in a power ballad tribute band? Competitive zombie killer (I hear you can win six-figure purses doing that kind of thing these days)? Zeppelin captain?

  2. Amen. And that’s why you’re so good at it.

    Writing income can be feast or famine, but the writing life is always a luxury. I enjoy the feasts, but I learn a lot from the famines. It’s all good.

  3. I write as a hobby. I used to think I was a freak of nature but then I met Brandon Sanderson, who also writes as a hobby and realized I am not alone.

  4. “I would do this even if I didn’t get paid (he said, writing on the site he’s been writing on for eleven years without being paid for it)”

    I think your blog is so much a part of what makes you successful that it could hardly be called unpaid. Perhaps in the beginning – but you build a group of people who enjoy reading you, it builds into fans who buy books, those fans will likely look at other sites because you write something there and so on…

    It’s all interconnected (or something profound like that) You get the drift. The blog isn’t the foundation, your writing is, but it’s definitely part of the mix that makes your income.

  5. “I suspect it will take death, senility or a stroke that leaves me illiterate to convince me to quit writing.”

    There is a mystery writer named Howard Engel who had a stroke which left him unable to read. He still somehow managed to write another novel.

  6. I think that once a certain line is crossed, writers write for the same reason they breathe. Because they must. I’ve never met a single prolific writer who voluntarily quit writing at anything short of retirement age. And usually not then.

    I’ve known plenty of people in other professions who were the same way. I have one neighbor who turned 90 last month and still goes into the office almost every day. And will until he can’t. (That may be a while. He also still runs 3-5 miles five days a week.)

  7. Not knowing you other than how you choose to expose yourself here I certainly believe you enjoy writing. And that you would continue to do so just for the enjoyment. Making money doing what you truly love is something most people have not figured out how to do. I develop software and would do so just for the enjoyment (how I even got started) if I had too. That someone pays me, and what some might consider a lot, is bonus.
    I am sure with your popularity and success you make well into six figures which makes it certainly bonus for you as well. But even if that was not the case and you were greeting people at Walmart I suspect you would still be writing.

  8. In other words there is no reason JS would quit writing. He would get another job if the writing gravy train went dry.
    See? This is why I am not a writer.

  9. I wonder whether Creative Consulting counts as writing for purposes of this question. Are the honoraria in television stonkin’ enough (or potentially stonkin’ enough) to relegate the writing of fiction to hobby status?

  10. Fred Pohl is well over 90 and still writing; Terry Pratchett has Alzheimers and is still writing; Steig Larsson is dead and (well, not writing exactly, but you know. Writers write. And can’t stop. Ever

  11. I would think that if you write a book that has Dan Brown level of success (his first book sold 70 million copies), money would no longer be a motivator and you might just want to lay on the beach for a years.

    It would be kind of hard to go “ok I need to do this to make a living”, when you don’t need the money anymore.

  12. I hope you never give up being a writer. I would love to have your (John’s) talent and actually make a living at it!! I am trying to become a writer and mabey become a professional at it. I would love to give up teaching high school social studies. The pay is lousy, and I have to put up with alot of crap from kids. I hope I can make it to retirement in five years.

  13. As Harlan Ellison put it a good many years ago: “Some people are Doomed to be Writers”. (Okay, it was in conversation and I’m not positive he used the upper-case initial(s), but it was clear that he was implying something a bit stronger than “fated”.)

  14. #11-“Steig Larsson is dead and (well, not writing exactly, but you know.”

    LOL, yeah there are many examples where someone is still milking a dead author (Robert Jordan being one of the more recent).

  15. @Guess 12:

    He might not do it for money, but he’d still do it.

    @Jeff 2:

    Why does there have to be anything else? There are plenty of writers that hate their day jobs.

  16. I control the universe for a living (for about 7 hours a week, anyway) and get paid for it. Yet, I’m still compelled to take time away from wreaking havoc and chaos in my simulated universe, so I can write fiction where my characters deal with havoc and chaos in their simulated universes.

    I’m thinking that even people who enjoy their day jobs are “doomed” to write. Like me.

  17. @16&17: The original question was what he’d find to be a compelling alternative.

  18. John, here are links to two reviews.

    If these don’t make you want to keep wrting, I don’t know what to say. I didn’t write these to make you happy, but to spread the word about one of the people on my “Re-Read It” list. This is the list of authors I will re-read yearly, or reach for whenever I need a great read and can’t find something new to read.

  19. In the sense of writing to write, I suspect it will take death, senility or a stroke that leaves me illiterate to convince me to quit writing.

    There’s the interesting example of Howard Engel to consider:

    In 2000, Engel suffered a stroke that left him with alexia sine (Latin for without) agraphia, a condition which prevents him from being able to read written words without a major effort, while retaining his ability to write. His most recent novel, Memory Book (2005), in which his character Benny Cooperman suffers a blow to the head and is similarly affected, is largely based on personal experience. “The Man Who Forgot How To Read” (2007) is a memoir of the time he spent recovering from the stroke. Afterword by Oliver Sacks.

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