written by Bryan Hutchinson
Have you ever thought you may quit writing?
Most writers have at one point or another, usually when facing some sort of difficulty. Maybe you’re struggling with writer’s block, you’re unhappy with your progress, or you received some negative feedback that has you doubting yourself.
Whatever may have caused you to question writing’s place in your future, it’s not an easy decision to keep writing. The practice takes up a lot of time, for one thing, that you may feel would be better suited doing something else. The writing journey can also be frustrating, discouraging, and disheartening, and there’s no guarantee you’ll reach the success you hope for in the end.
If you’re caught in the middle and unsure what is the best choice for you, it can help to imagine the regrets you may have in the future if you quit writing now. Imagine for a moment that you’re 90 years old and looking back on your life. Consider two scenarios: in one, you kept writing. In the other, you left it behind and went on to do something else.
Which decision would you be more likely to regret? These four questions should help you determine the answer.
1. Will I Regret Not Going After My Dream?
One of the most common regrets at the end of life is not going after your dreams. The reasons are many, from trying to be practical to not believing you can do it to wanting to live up to someone else’s expectations of who you should be. In all cases, dreams are put on the back burner until it’s too late.
For a study published in 2018, Dr. Shai Davidai from the New School for Social Research and Professor Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University conducted six experiments examining what’s behind our deepest regrets. Their results showed that “people are haunted more by regrets about failing to fulfill their hopes, goals, and aspirations than by regrets about failing to fulfill their duties, obligations, and responsibilities.”
In other words, we regret more not pursuing our dreams and letting ourselves down than we do failing to live up to others’ expectations.
Will you regret it? Do you dream of being a writer? Will you feel bad if you let this dream go? Or is there another dream you should be pursuing instead?
2. Am I Too Worried About What Others Think?
Most of us worry about what others think of us at least on some level, particularly when we’re starting out as writers.
“One of the surest ways to find unhappiness and limit your creativity is worrying about what others think of you or your work,” writes author Bryan Hutchinson over at Positive Writer. “It’s true, and I am guilty of it. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
When you sit down to write, do you hear someone else’s voice in your head questioning or discouraging you? Be careful. Placing too much importance on what others think and not enough on what you think is one of the common regrets people have as they get older. Sure, in the moment, the opinions of others may seem important to your success and happiness, but at the end of life, what will matter most is whether you stayed true to yourself.
Will you regret it? As you look back on your life, discounting everyone else’s opinion, do you think you will regret not pursuing your writing dreams? Or will you regret, instead, spending so much time on writing when your heart is somewhere else?
3. Am I Too Focused on Being Practical?
We all make practical choices most of the time, but sometimes, practicalities can hold us back from what’s most important in life.
If you are the one who foregoes a beach vacation to save money for your child’s braces, stays in a job you don’t like to put your kids through college, or puts off retirement to fix the roof, you’re being practical, which is usually a good thing. But on occasion, making the practical choice may be something you regret, particularly if that practical decision means quitting writing.
Sometimes it pays to ignore practicalities. Cutting back on your hours (and your paycheck) for more time to devote to writing may tighten your budget, but imagine how you’ll feel within a year or so when you have a novel to show for it.
Will you regret it? Divide a sheet of paper into three vertical columns. In the first one, write down at least five decisions you’ve made concerning your writing. Examples may include whether you decided to write today, whether you made a change in your life to allow more time to write, or whether you decided to take a risk and attend a writing conference even though your budget didn’t really allow for it.
In the second column, write whether each decision was practical or impractical. In the third column, write what your 90-year-old self would think of that decision. Finally, ask yourself, “If I quit writing now for practical reasons, will I regret it 20, 30, or 40 years from now?”
4. Am I Playing It Too Safe?
Most humans prefer to play it safe most of the time. But on their deathbeds, they regret not taking more risks. This is an important regret for writers to consider because in living the writing life, pretty much everything involves risk, including:
- Thinking you may have writing potential. What if you’re wrong?
- Spending so much time writing. What if, in the end, the results disappoint you?
- Showing others your writing. What if they don’t like it?
- Publishing your writing. What if you get bad reviews?
What we can learn from the older generation is that the feeling of never having tried can gnaw at a person like a wound that won’t heal, whereas failure can be confronted and overcome. In the end, taking risks teaches us much more than playing it safe.
Will you regret it? Think back on your experience as a writer. Try to recall at least three risks you’ve taken. They can be simple risks, like showing your work to a family member or friend or attending a writing workshop. How did taking each risk turn out? Looking back, are you glad you took the chance, or do you wish you had chosen to take the safer route? What does this tell you about your future as a writer?
What Do Your Answers Tell You?
Now look back at your answers to these four questions and see if you can gather from them an overall feeling about your writing. They should help you determine whether you’re ready to quit and try something else, or if other concerns are interfering with your true desire to continue writing.
In the end, what matters are your dreams and expectations for yourself. Other, smaller concerns will fade away with time, but these will remain with you until your dying day. Remember that when deciding whether to continue writing.
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Amazing post, because I’m sure this thought comes to mind often for writers. Thanks for sharing!
Great stuff! Regret is an emotion to avoid!