This Is the Secret Affliction That Paralyzes Most Writers


I have four stories due in five days.

One is an interview with a marijuana magnate who thinks the entire world should be stoned. Another is with a special education teacher who adopted one of her students after her entire family was killed in a horrific fire. There’s a story on  Famous CEO’s apparent meltdown and five things you should do next time you find yourself stuck in a deadly riptide.

At the moment I write this, I can’t imagine how I’ll finish all these stories on time. But I also can’t imagine how I won’t. There are hard deadlines that need to be met, publications that need to ship, and money that needs to be in my bank account, like last week.

The late Sunday evening, heart-in-stomach sensation I’m currently enjoying is the same one I’ve felt since the ninth grade. In those days, it was the English paper I’d put off all week. Nothing has changed except the assignments and the size of aforementioned stomach. Just one Sunday I’d like to go to bed completely calm and confident about the workload that awaits me.

But that will never happen. At least not as long as I’m a writer.

What Keeps Me Sane

Writing is like trying to outsmart traffic on the 405 freeway at 5:30 pm. You know you’ll get to your destination eventually, you’re not sure which route you’ll follow and how long it’s gonna take.

I’ve been behind the wheel most of my adult life. First as a magazine editor, then as a writer -- with a winding detour into digital video. Although I’ve never counted, I would guess I’ve written over a thousand pieces of content for magazines, newspaper, websites, web videos, screenplays, and ghostwritten books.

 Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours of practice to become world-class. I wouldn’t call myself a master and I certainly don’t mean to brag, but I’ve spent more intimate time with my keyboard than I’ve spent with my wife of 13 years.

Through it all, I have seldom if ever missed a deadline. I have never given up halfway through, called my editor and told her, “I’m out. No mas,” or turned away an assignment because I thought I couldn’t hack it.

Some of my work has been really good, some of it not so much. But it’s always been completed. I’m what you might call a finisher. Except that sounds vaguely dirty, so let me rephrase that. I’m like the immigrants in Hamilton, I get the job done.

One of the things I like about writing is the satisfaction of finishing. There are few more gratifying feelings than pressing the send button after your story is done.

David Hochman, the self-proclaimed “Freelance Whisperer,” who also runs a writer’s workshop called Upod, refers to this as a “thumb slam.” It’s the equivalent of a writer’s high five. You did it, you earned it, and now you can send that puppy off. Thumb slam.

Conquering Quittage

 Quittage is the number one affliction that affects writers every day.  Four out of five writers have contracted quittage and three of five won’t admit it or seek any remedy. It outranks Writer’s Block as the most dangerous obstacle to your finished project.  It’s so denied that you probably think you haven’t heard of it before. That’s just how insidious it is. 

If you’re reading this article, I would imagine you’re confronting a similar challenge. You have a book, a blog post, an article, a screenplay, a poem, a song, some piece of written content you want to complete, but you’re stuck, you’re frustrated, and you know it would be so much easier to quit.

Maybe you’re half way through writing it, or you haven’t even started yet. Either way, you’re still mired in what I like call a state of quittage – a paralyzing feeling of hopelessness, frustration, and despair that leads even the most prodigious and ambitious writers to simply give up and move on to something else.

Quittage is what happens when procrastination meets self-doubt. Q=PD ² It’s a blackhole where dreams and ideas go to die, never to be heard or seen again. Gravity seems to be working against you. Although you want to move forward, everything in the universe seems to be pushing in the opposite direction. Lack of time, low priority, imposter syndrome, fear, insecurity, life -- all hurl towards you. Quittage is your out.

Write or Flight

Quittage is also a part of human nature. It’s our brain’s natural physiological response to stress. When we’re confronted with a blank screen or a screen filled with sentences we don’t like, we have two choices: write or flight.

Flighting is the path of least resistance. Give up, move on, try to forget this ever happened. Writing is something quite different. When we write through the procrastination, through the pain and worries and doubt, we open ourselves up to a new reality – one beyond the shackles of our rational brain.

The mere act of writing – even when we don’t want to, especially when we don’t want to – forces us to confront quittage head on. And quittage doesn’t like that. It will put up a fight to maintain its dominance.

Trust me, I know. It’s happening right now as I write this sentence. My mind is telling me to stop with this ridiculous pseudo-scientific babbling, but my fingers are still clicking away in resistance. I am almost inclined to put on my wife’s pussy hat and march in protest.

The mere act of writing, no matter how good or bad it is, is really the only recourse you have against quittage. If you’re quitting, you’re not writing. If you’re writing, you’re not quitting. It’s that simple.

And who knows what magic will happen while you’re writing. I always think of thie quote attributed to the German philosopher Goethe, but nobody seems to know for sure:

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

Sounds good to me. Who’s in?


Jonathan SmallComment