Wait, I Could Just Quit?

For as many times that I have stage four panic attacks that maybe I have forgotten how, I'm always going to be a writer. Quitting? I don't know how to do that.
01/15/2015 04:05 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2015

I didn't know quitting was an option.

I imagine that sounds a little like a derivation of one of those motivational-slash-inspirational mantras that someone with a title like "life coach" shouts at an unreasonable volume, or possibly the beginning of a convoluted humble-brag, and that isn't necessarily where I'm going with this. I only mean that when it comes to writing, it legitimately never occurred to me that I could (or should) simply not write anymore. Like, at all.

You are probably not deeply involved in the indie writing community, so let me explain. Like any sufficiently large online group, ideas ripple through the system, first in its purest form and then in derivative commentaries from bloggers and the occasional media, and later in commentaries on the commentaries, which is pretty much what this is. A few months ago the driving force was the Amazon/Hachette dispute, and after that it was the impact of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited on sales. Now it's the gold rush is over and I'm thinking of quitting.

It's the last meme I'm having an issue with. I suppose I can sort of understand why someone would consider quitting, I'm just not sure how one goes about doing that.

Seven Stages

Here's what happens when I stop writing for even a few days:

Stage One: Acceptance -- I appreciate that while I am not currently writing, I've written something recently. It's okay to have a week or two off to recharge.

Stage Two: Mild discomfort -- I'm okay! I'm fine! I don't have anything to write, so I'm not going to write, it's that simple. The ideas are just... percolating, that's all. Maybe I can read something someone other than me has written!

Stage Three: Jealousy, two versions -- 1: Oh no, this thing I've read is better than what I write. I am terrible. I hate myself. 2: Oh no, this thing I've read is worse than anything I've written, yet the author is more successful than I am. The world is terrible. I hate the world.

Stage Four: Irrationality -- OH MY GOD WHAT IF I FORGOT HOW TO WRITE?

Stage Five: Nightmares -- I mean, literal nightmares. I don't remember my dreams and I don't have nightmares unless I've gone more than a week without writing, at which point all hell breaks loose. It's possible I have unresolved psychological problems.

Stage Six: Descent into madness -- I am a short-tempered insomniac. I have become the person other people think has bodies in his basement. My default expression is a scowl.

Stage Seven: Relief -- I either sit down and write a few thousand words of something, or I go on a tri-state killing spree. I've always gone back to writing in stage seven, as far as anybody knows.

Becoming a Writer

I've done my share of interviews in this career, and one question that gets asked an awful lot is, "when did you decided to become a writer?"

I think this might be where my disconnect is with the whole idea of quitting, and also where I start sounding like those pretentious writers everybody hates, and for that I apologize. But honestly, I didn't decide to become a writer. It's my default state.

If you decide to be something, you can also decide to stop being something. I am a writer. I can't decide not to be one. This is why when I hear people complaining about self-publishing, I end up writing columns like this.

A decade ago nobody was reading what I wrote because I didn't have a publishing deal, but I was still writing and I was still calling myself a writer. Then I got a publishing deal, and some of the things I spent years writing had readers, and that was great, but it didn't change how I defined myself.

Now I'm on the other side of that publishing contract and I'm self-publishing, and I have lots of readers. I'm also writing at a faster clip, both to satisfy demand and because I can, and because for the first time since I started calling myself a writer (I was four when I started calling myself a writer) I'm making a meaningful income. But none of that means I'm now a writer.

I can certainly stop being a successful writer. By a fair number of metrics I already am an unsuccessful writer, to be honest. I can also stop publishing what I write and put it back in a drawer, where a lot of my work lived in those dark years between when I finished my first novel and when my first novel was published. (I swear to God, if you have only known a world in which self-publishing was a viable alternative you don't understand what it was like.) But for as many times that I have stage four panic attacks that maybe I have forgotten how, I'm always going to be a writer.

Quitting? I don't know how to do that.

Gene Doucette is the author of The Immortal Trilogy and The Immortal Chronicles, the latest of which is Yuletide Immortal, available now. First Folio: Pirates, Succubi and Madmen, an anthology of the first three books in The Immortal Chronicles, is available now in print, and ebook.