Writing goals never include the day you can quit writing. The idea that any one person knows when another writer should quit is completely incorrect and reckless. I believed after I began teaching and I read the work of my students that some students might not be able to “make it.” I’ve had several students over the years ask me that very question. Should I stop working on this script? Should I quit writing? Do you think I will ever make it as a screenwriter?
I’ve heard of podcasts that actually discuss when you should consider giving up. I’m sure if you google the topic you will find plenty of advice on when you should quit writing.
No one should quit writing and here’s why.
The Future is Unclear
You don’t know what’s going to happen today and neither does anyone else, including “successful” writers who have “made it.” No one can predict the future. The same student suddenly submits different pages two months later, much to my surprise. The script that has a world of problems suddenly one day becomes somewhat special, and then the hope returns for the story and the project. Anyone who has written has been shocked at how scripts change and writers grow. Have you ever looked back on your own scripts and thought, wow, I am a much better writer now.
No one knows what will happen for you as a writer, and neither do you. To stop working on a script or to stop writing altogether is a form of suicide. It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. You can’t know what’s next for you as a writer. Guessing or letting someone else guess for you will form a regret you will own forever.
As your writing changes over the course of the years, your screenplay will also change. The longer you live with your story, the more it will change. Stories and characters are not static if we continue to work on them. We change as people. We look at the world differently. Have you changed at all? Yes. You’ve seen the changes. Why do you think your script will never change for the better? Why would you abandon something you have written because you think it will never get better?
If you believe that you can change as a person, that you can continue to learn from your own life experiences, it only underscores the idea that your work will change as well. But if you quit, again, you miss out on the value inherent in the changes that will come. Continue to show up for your work and refuse to quit and invite the changes to your story just as you allow for growth in your own life.
Writing Goals Include Failure
Think about how not having an answer to your script problems feels. No one likes this feeling. We don’t want a bad story. We want a great story. A classic. But when we are stuck, we don’t feel well. It’s frustrating and it makes us feel bad about ourselves. This feeling is the start of the road to giving up on a script and possibly giving up on writing. If writing made us feel good, why would anyone quit?
Every day the writer fails. If we expect to not have all the answers, if we know this is what makes writing special, then it will never form the basis of quitting. The only reason it feels wonderful to finally figure out your story is that we have to suffer to get there. Invite this confusion and despair. Know that the boredom is the job of the good writer. I always have something I know is not very good. I know what will happen if I persist. If I refuse to quit in the face of this awful feeling of writing unsatisfying work today, I will ultimately deliver the solution and my story will suddenly be special and different.
Yes, you can stop writing
Of course, there’s always a reason a person might stop writing. Everyone is free to do what they feel is best for themselves. Something else might become more important in their lives. Life is short. Priorities change for people.
But nobody actually quits writing for these reasons. Everyone quits writing because they told themselves they couldn’t write or someone explained to them how to quit.
They lied to you and you lied to yourself. Don’t take it personally when your story sucks. Keep going. Writers should never stop writing for any reason, for life is a mystery and writing is never a mistake.
By: Gordy Hoffman
Submit your feature, pilot or short script to receive written analysis.