Deciding to quit writing fiction

I was going to post some ukulele thoughts today, but other things are on my mind.

The pandemic has forced me to rethink why I write in the first place. I’ve chased the publication dream for 20 years now (16 in fiction) and have had some work published here and there. Over that time a lot has changed, and I’m especially glad that self-publishing is much easier now.

But writing and publishing are two separate things, and I’ve forgotten how to do one without thinking of the other. This isn’t unexpected–if you check out any article, forum, or blog about writing, it invariably focuses more on publishing than writing. Every writing conference I’ve been to has been the same way. Lately, I’ve been side-eyeing the advice that getting an agent or publisher or readers is simply a matter of hard work and good writing (and by the way, the people providing this advice almost always have something to sell to hopeful writers). I suppose it’s nice to think writers have that level of control over what happens with their work, but hope is a poor substitute for reality when making decisions.

A staggering percentage of the population doesn’t even read a book a year, yet at the same time hundreds of new books appear on Amazon each day, adding to the millions already there. Most of them go unnoticed. That’s not anyone’s fault–it’s simply the result of too many writers chasing too few readers. Plus, asking someone to read my stories is a big request. I’m asking them to invest a large chunk of their limited attention on me, and if they do, it’s a solitary experience that’s hard to share with others.

Whenever I’ve played music, on the other hand, the connection is easy and immediate. People don’t have to focus exclusively on my playing–I can be sonic wallpaper and still feel I’ve connected with them in some way. They’re free to give as much or as little attention as they want. With more than one listener, it easily becomes a shared experience among them. I don’t need Amazon or social media to find listeners–I can simply go outside and play in the park. If I want to connect with people via my creative work, music seems far more effective than writing.

There’s also a more personal aspect: my parents. They don’t read much (declining eyesight and language barriers can do that), but they both love music as much as I do. Dad doesn’t play an instrument. Mom plays piano and sings. I can’t connect with them through my writing, but I easily can through music. This is more important to me as I get older.

This isn’t to say that I won’t write fiction or submit stories ever again, but I’m relegating it to “whatever, whenever” status. No plans, no goals, no habit tracking, no imposed schedules or discipline. All that effort properly belongs in my music studies instead. The fact that I’d rather spend two hours practicing a tedious guitar exercise than writing is a sign I can’t ignore.

I deleted my Submittable account and my submission tracking spreadsheet and I already feel so much lighter.

Author Stephen H. Provost sums it up best when he detailed his own reasons for why he quit writing fiction (after having much, much more success than me):

If I come up with a killer story idea that grabs me by the throat and demands to be written, who am I to argue? But I’ll have to feel like it’s worth my while. Right now, it simply isn’t. I’ve got better things to do.