Writers online publish a lot of advice, and it's an incredible thing. When I was twelve and wanting to write, I didn't have anyone I knew who loved writing. All I had was the Internet and sites, blogs, and forums where writers, agents, and editors gave their tips and insights on a process I knew little about other than my passion and imagination. I learned a lot while feeling less alone in my pursuits.
So, don't think I'll ever deride writers for sharing their experiences and giving advice. And many of us live in a time when one must be assertive in their declarations: do this and definitely don't do that.
However, as I've mentioned before, I have trouble being as definitive. Writers stake their identities on a lot of things: their genre, whether they plot or pants it, etc. "Are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser?"
For me, while I do have methods I generally follow, my process has changed since I started writing and the answer for me is "It depends on the project." Some projects are more conducive to plotting for me than others, and even then, I have never used the same outline layout for any novel, though I generally follow the mental process of a) determining a characters motives and conflicts and b) ensuring the plot threads are evenly distributed, meaning I don't just forget the setup, reminder, and payoff of any part of a subplot.
Writing for me is rarely a two- or three-step process. I may write several versions of the same story or rewrite any number of times. At times, I've only outlined after messing around (not a method I recommend for an aspiring professional writer, as it is time consuming), and other times I've followed an outline only to experiment more in later rewrites when I felt the story was functional but missing a sense of place or voice, which is fun but deals with the trouble of deciding whether adherence to an outline restricts new changes or even renders certain new aspects of the story illogical.
Generally, I'm more of a fan of Lisa Cron's planning advice than Anne Lamott's, meaning that, as someone who imposes professional deadlines on myself, not to mention having to manage other professional deadlines from outside sources, I cannot necessarily adhere to the "a shitty first draft is a sandbox" mentality. I want to say if you ascribe to that mentality, that's totally fine. But for me, the more time I spend making a story that is mostly floating globs of word soup (a more eloquent comparison I've made before is the story being a Frankenstein's monster I string together), the more time I'll need to rewrite and try to make sense of discombobulated nonsense before probably discarding at least 80% of my several thousand words. I still have to rewrite and revise a good bit, sometimes not even looking much at my original draft, but with a firm idea presented in the first draft of the direction I'm going in, the process of building on it and rewriting feels productive rather than scavenging and salvaging.
So, when someone asks what my story process is, I have to make stipulations or clarify that I did this for that story and not that one for X reasons. As such, I'm not a big fan of giving advice on what one must do, and I don't necessarily want to throw out anyone else's writing tips because what might work for them might helps others; I cannot solely determine the worth of subjective experiences, though I can decide, when writing, if or when they are relevant. I think it's not especially controversial to say before one administers general advice, though, it helps to receive some background from the recipient. If I'm great at dialogue but awful at worldbuilding (I am), and someone I'm speaking to reveals they want extensive worldbuilding tips, well, then we know where each of us stands and we can work together on finding resources whether than fumbling around in unhelpful directions.
What I wanted to talk about, after that rambly preamble, is "Don't give up." This can be applied a few different way: Don't give up on writing altogether. Don't give up on that one project you've been working hard on, but you find yourself at an impasse for whatever reason.
There can be a dozen reasons why people don't write, and we, on the outside of someone else's point-of-view, may find them valid and invalid. "Oh, I don't have the time to write like you do." I understand the frustration of hearing this because there's the assumption of "Well, you don't have a life, and I do." Let's just say that, as a working grad student, time is a very valuable thing. Even in undergrad, I must admit a lot of my story notes came during lectures; when an idea struck me, I had different highlighting methods for my class notes and my story notes that I'd transfer to my phone after. (I went without a computer for a year.) It feels like an issue of priorities, and yet I've definitely spent weeks or months without writing because, typically, I was so overwhelmed or deeply depressed that I couldn't muster the strength.
Only you are both going through what you are and feeling/coping with it the way you do. Recently, I went a month without writing because I was caring my my grandmother, who was diagnosed with colon cancer.
"How do you write so much?" The answer, as meager as it is, is habit. I just am in the habit of writing down ideas and expanding on them. Even when I'm busy, I'll write for five or ten minutes, and even if that's all I do in a day, it puts me in the habit of doing a little more.
People will tell you to keep moving and don't give up. Generally, I feel like this is good advice and would never tell anyone to hang up their hat and do accounting instead. It can be demotivating to fail, but it can be even worse to give up a mode of expression important to you. For me, someone who doesn't really write much autobiographically, writing is still cathartic. When I've gone weeks or months not writing, I often think about it. I'm not sure if it's my love for writing or that I feel productive when doing it, and unfortunately many of us are conditioned to feel worthless when we are being "unproductive."
Have I ever given up on writing or a specific work? A lot of times, more times than I can count. I can probably count the number of times I've said "I quit!" to writing and the years I've written, and they'd be very close. Like I mentioned, I still thought about writing, and sure, there's a guilt associated with not writing. But also?
Quitting or taking a break has rejuvenated me (or the work), more often than not. I can't speak for anyone else, so if this doesn't apply to you, that's fine, but I was given a chance to assess and reassess my priorities after a major setback. As an example, rather than buckling down, I got discouraged when, in my first semester of grad school, a writing professor told me my writing made them cringe.
I felt like a failure, and this, coupled with very few accomplishments compared to my peers, made me feel like my creative writing had been a misdirection, that I should focus more on my academic and technical pursuits. This wasn't an easy choice; I was very distraught and conflicted, but my disappointment and frustration bled into my attempts to write.
I put my writing aside for a bit and worked on my visual art instead. I experimented with other creative forms. In time, my confidence returned, and I was able to successfully prepare and initiate a launch of my first completed novel, as well as traditionally publish several poems and short stories.
Quitting a project you've worked on for a long time: Only you know best if this is a good idea, though many people seem to think that consecutive years working on a single project means that the project is therefore worthier and of better quality than something that only took a few months or a year or two to complete. This is false. Granted, I think you should take however long you need, but so long as you feel this is necessary and isn't getting in the way of any other projects or goals. If you aren't thinking about being a professional writer, you should take as long as you want, but if you want to be professional, whether indie or traditionally published, working on one project for a decade or so can cause problems.
If you self publish, you need restraint and discipline. Some thing doing things yourself requires less rules and effort, but it's simply not true. Yeah, if you want, you could spend twenty years writing your next book and no one can stop you, such is your freedom. But your readers will eventually lose interest and this inconsistency isn't the way to build a career, if that's your intent. Because self publishing can cost you if you hire a cover artist and editor, not to mention marketing expenses, you want a good backlist, so your interested readers, when they finish one book, will have more books to read, creating momentum and making the potential financial losses less impactful.
If you traditionally publish, you also need restraint and discipline. You'll have contracts and deadlines, or you might lose that contract and damage your reputation and opportunities. And certainly one will inevitably point to a famous author who gets away with delaying publication, but remember that these authors tend to have decades of publication and sales records and therefore get more leeway because the publisher knows the audience still remains.
This isn't to scare you. Maybe you already know or experience this. This is just to say that committing to one single project for several years can not be conducive to being a professional creative writer. I'm not even saying you should put down a project forever, but it always helps to have more than one option and not betting your entire future on one project. Once you finish that project, it doesn't matter how long you worked on it but how it resonates with readers, editors, agents, and so on.
A book that takes ten years to write versus one that took ten months is not likelier to be successful or even better. If you feel committed to a project because of how long you've daydreamed of it or have worked on it, thus spending more time committing to it but struggling to progress, maybe quitting for a time and working on something else (whether a writing project or other endeavor) is a good thing if you're running in circles. It's hard to work on something you're very close to.
Indeed, I'm close to all my works, but when I stay too long with one vision of how a novel should be, no matter how much I feel something is wrong, it's hard to see what is actually wrong when I haven't stepped back to think and examine the bigger picture. Only after taking some time off can I actually apply what I know and see what changes I need to make.
On quitting writing altogether: Again, I'm not advocating anyone quit forever.
Maybe you struggle with mental health or financial instability. Or both. Maybe you're grieving or traumatized or in an abusive or fraught situation. I don't know you, and even if I do, I can't say how something in the past or present is affecting you. Writing has been proven to have a physical and emotional healing effect, but not if it's just another frustration making you doubt your worth. Even some projects may be too much for the time. When I write fictional accounts based on things I've gone through, I hit a rut when I'm currently going through it but find that distance and retrospection will suddenly make everything clear, since I can now apply context and see the path I've gone through, rather than still being stuck amid the trees and fog.
Yeah, writing's not always a slice of apple pie, it's work, but if you're actively miserable, the last thing you need is to be in that spiraling misery frustrated at your alleged lack of productivity or talent. Life's too short. You don't always have to love the work you're doing because everything has highs and lows, but the advocation of sticking in an awful ordeal because of duty or because "work isn't supposed to be fun" is often just a way for those who benefit from one's labors to extend that labor without regard for the worker's physical and emotional needs. It's easy for me to sit back and look at writers I love and tell them to keep going, so I can read that work. And that can be encouraging, but I also can't assume the reasons someone might be struggling with a creative piece and while validation during doubt is good, to push someone when pushing is the problem would be self-centered.
Sometimes, you need to recharge. Refill the well. Whatever analogy works for you. And in times like these, "just keep pushing forward no matter what" feels like ramming your head into a wall, which isn't fun. I don't want you to give up on any dreams, but you're not a failure if you need to put down writing and can't write every day or every week. Writing can take a lot of you, and you're an individual; the solutions and routines of others are worth trying, but it's not an error on your part if they don't pan out.