ABCs of Creative Nonfiction: Q is for (Not) Quitting

Posted by on Jul 22, 2016 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

HiltsPhotoThere are probably a million reasons to quit writing. Off the top of my head I can come up with these:

1. Nobody cares about [whatever I’m writing about].

2. Even if someone cares about [whatever I’m writing about], they probably wouldn’t want to read what I might write about [whatever I’m writing about].

3. Besides, a Famous Writer has written about this in a way that is so much more artful and insightful than anything I might write about [whatever I’m writing about].

4. If I did manage to write something artful or insightful, no one would publish it because (a) I’m not a Famous Writer and (b) who am I kidding with the fantasy that I could ever write something artful, insightful, or worthy of being published?

5. Writing something artful, insightful, and worthy of being published takes time and I don’t have any time because I’m not a Famous Writer and I have bills (so many bills) to pay.

6. What I really need to do is get a real job so I can pay those bills. So I should quit even thinking about writing because who am I kidding, anyway?

Did I mention, also, that writing is hard? Writing creative nonfiction is particularly hard because the genre requires us to dig deep in order to interrogate whatever subject we’re interested in writing about. The subject is, often, one that resonates at a deep emotional level—in other words, something most sane people work hard to bury so they never have to think about it at all because it’s probably painful. And who wants to do grapple with that level of emotional pain on the off chance that someone might find some value in the essay or book or blog post or whatever comes out of that interrogation? Writers, that’s who. Other people deal with that stuff in therapy.

Today I’m pretty well convinced I should quit writing. I have two or three essays I’ve been working on for months and not one of them feels worth continuing with. That one where I make a connection between the trees that came down during Hurricane Sandy and my dad? Hackneyed. And the essay inspired by my grandson? One big cliché and who am I to write about the challenges he will face as he grows from adored and adorable child to manhood in a society still encumbered by racism—the entire thing is about the ways in which I’m inadequate, and that’s the problem. As a person I am inadequate, as a writer I am hopeless. Oh, sure, I have an MFA in Creative Writing and I’ve published four books and I’ve even had some essays published, but all that means is that I took on more debt than I can pay in a lifetime, spent two years indulging some insane fantasy of “being a writer,” and managed to string together enough words to fill some pages. Those books were all flukes and so were those essays. But let’s be real: I’m never going to really be a writer.

Today I made the mistake of reading an article about how “The Art of Fielding” got published. It’s an inspiring the tale of the man who spent 10 years writing that novel, was turned down by a number of agents only to find the one who believed so strongly in the book that he took some outrageous chances that led to the author winning big time—huge advance, critical acclaim, best-seller. I’m not inspired, though; all I can think is, “Well, that guy’s obviously a real writer. This will certainly never happen for me.”

It probably won’t. Yet I’ll write anyway. Because I need to keep working on those essays until they do come together. Because I need to understand the connection between my dad and that tree that came down. Because I need to understand the challenges my grandson will face.

I’ll write anyway because I am a writer.

I am a writer even though the memoir I completed for that MFA has been rejected more than once (and once quite cruelly).

I am a writer even though these essays aren’t quite coming together.

I am a writer because the thing that makes me feel most alive is writing. Writing is the only way I’ve ever been able to make sense of life. Writing makes me whole, even when the thing itself is not yet whole. I write because writing is the reason I get up in the morning, because I love the struggle of trying to make the thing whole, because what else can I possibly do?  I may not publish another word and that may not matter because the reason to write is writing.

So, maybe I won’t quit. Not today, any way. I can always decide to quit tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Today, however, I’ll write.

Because the reason to write is writing.

Elizabeth Hilts writes as much as she can. She also teaches writing to other people. Mostly, she focuses on not quitting writing.


  1. Yes, you are a writer. You are more than adequate, your words allow the reader a true visual in their minds eye and a true ache in their own heart. You do know about racism, you live it with your family every day. It is your story to tell. Let others feel your fear for your grandson, let them imagine he is their boy. People need education on empathy, why not have you teach them?

  2. I loved your presentation today. Especially breaking events into a time line. Since I have been writing all over the place with no consistency.
    I started out with my grandparents coming over from Austria/Hungary ,which i must expand on after doing some research. Then on to my parents and how they met and living in N.Y.C. during the late 30’s early 40’s. Then my 2 sisters died and i am writing about them. These eventually will be chapters for a book for my family. need to organize better. Thanks for your suggestions.

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