The Virtue of Being a Quitter

Sunny Frazier 2Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, explains how knowing when to fold ’em may be a good thing.

Sometimes it takes more courage to quit than to keep the status quo.

There seems to be an American mindset that quitting equates to losing and we don’t like to lose. I just watched the Ken Burns PBS piece on Lewis and Clark—talk about tenacious! They were going to find their way across country come hell or high water (they got a bit of both). They dragged a 16-yr old girl and a baby with them, lost a lot of lives and (spoiler alert) Lewis committed suicide after returning.

We are admonished to remember the Alamo. I remember few came out alive. No quitters there. Remember the Maine? Me neither.

Remember the movie “Groundhog Day?” It seems to me that many people live their lives in perpetual redundancy. I suppose there is a comforting familiarity to the terrain. A bad relationship, a soul-killing job, living in an area you despise—we become convinced these are unbreakable ties that bind. What people forget is that they have the option to say “I quit.”

I didn’t always have that option. When I was working for Uncle Sam, swore to defend my country and put on a uniform, I became government property. It didn’t matter if my superiors were inferior, if I was stuck in a job I hated or sent to a base in the boonies. Short of going AWOL there was no easy way to throw in the towel. When I got honorably discharged I promised myself that I would never again tolerate an intolerable situation. I’d simply state “I quit” and walk away with dignity. I’ve used that card twice with jobs and many times in relationships. No regrets.

You’ve heard people advise “Quit while you’re ahead.” I say quit banging your head. Some walls are just not going to give. You can try to scale over them, go around them, even tunnel under them—or, you can save your energy, sanity and health and just find a route with fewer obstacles.

The optimist blindly believes that when one door closes another door opens. Maybe. Failing that, I’m not adverse to jimmying the lock to check out what’s on the other side. It’s only a misdemeanor.

Where Angels FearI know it’s hard to walk away from some situations. But, how many of us put ourselves in positions where people who are not family depend on us? Are we really not replaceable as the Christmas party planner? Do we have to waste our time with a squabbling board in some petty organization? Is that how we define ourself or have we bought into the definition people saddle on us? Maybe it’s ego that keeps us from moving on.

I have a friend who is fixated on getting one short story published. It’s the same short story and he’s consumed with the notion that it will find a home. He refuses to write anything else until he overcomes this hurdle. It’s a crappy story—trust me, I’ve read many versions. He wants his day of redemption and won’t call it quits. That’s not a career, that’s crazytown.

We all know authors who continually rewrite. We’re suppose to admire their focus and belief in their work. Yes, we’ve heard stories where persistence pays off but only when it actually does pay off. We never hear about the manuscripts that sit in the drawer. Sometimes harassing a novel becomes a goal in itself. There’s no going forward or backward, there’s simply running in place.

So, if you find yourself complaining and feel backed up against a wall, if your life has lost its forward momentum, if nothing excites you when you wake up in the morning, maybe it’s a sign to cut your losses and call it quits.

28 thoughts on “The Virtue of Being a Quitter

  1. Well said. I often feel there is too great an emphasis at writers conferences on perseverance. The message is, if you’ll just keep trying, you’ll get published. Well, this isn’t true,and it does no one any favors to pretend it is.


  2. Sunny,
    An absolutely fantastic post! The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Sometimes, if we’ve exhausted all possible solutions to a job or relationship problem (or a short story), it’s just plain time to call it a day. 🙂


  3. I have always thought that staying the course was a virtue. In fact, I’ve written a memoir about finding strength in adversity. But I needed to hear this. I’m coming out of an introspective year and this is another piece for me to think on. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Great piece! I think what people mean (at least I do) when advising an author to persevere is not to keep beating the same piece of writing to death, but to keep working at writing. Most of us will admit that we cringe at some of our earliest stuff, but it’s practice. If you look at the bits you can’t sell as etudes–practice pieces that develop talent–then they aren’t wasted effort, they’re part of your repertoire.


    • Thank you Peg Herring. I’d like to take this advice you further fashioned from Sunny’s well-written article. Every article I read and everything I write helps me grow as a writer.


  5. Your piece is good advice in some instances, but I think you could take it even further. It’s not enough to say ‘if nothing excites you when you wake up in the morning, maybe it’s a sign to cut your losses and call it quits.’ I believe I would like to add, … call it quits with that dead horse idea and make a better plan, change direction, write another story, pursue another genre, or a different group to run with. Get a pet, take a class, move on, but don’t give up!


  6. AS Kenny Rogers said, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
    Know when to walk away and know when to run.”
    Good advice from Kenny – and good advice from Sunny.


  7. A great post and done with a light hand and some humor. I was in the process of adopting a young girl but the relationship between us never developed well, so I decided she would be better to return to her foster family who did have a warm and loving relationship with her. It was the right thing to do, but I took a lot of hits for backing out of that. I was a quitter. It’s still painful to think of that decision even though I knew I was doing the best thing for both of us.


  8. Right on! If you never fail at anything, you’re not trying hard enough. You’re not taking enough chances. Once you start taking chances, then you start realizing that some of them won’t bear fruit. I’ve quit a bunch of stuff: Aikido, glass-blowing, and Denise Mellman, to name a few. But I’m richer for having those experiences.


  9. Lewis & Clark only lost one member of the Corp of Discovery. It’s amazing how one little discrepancy
    really throws me off. But I agree most people don’t quit soon enough.


  10. I do remember the Maine, Sunny, even though I am not that old. Great column. Tenacity IS important, but “beating a dead horse” isn’t. The would-be author needs an honest and skillful set of fresh eyes. I’ve been a mentor for years and will call it as I see it. And I know personally of award-winning Canadian mystery writers who have a closet full of books they were smart enough to know wouldn’t make it. But from each one they learned.


  11. Sorry, Sunny. I decided to quit, then changed my mind. So I continue. A guy stopped by the local art show yesterday and told me that years ago in an adult-ed class,I had inspired him to write a book. And he had done it and showed me the book. He was so pleased. And so was I. I’ll quit another day.

    Dorothy Francis


  12. There is certainly a time to stop and re-evaluate whether the thing(s) you are clinging to are hindering you. “A time to plant, and a time to harvest. A time to heal, and a time to kill.” We are not doing a favor when we tell someone that a painting or a piece of writing is good if it’s only mediocre. “Cruel to be kind” is another way to put that.

    However, the impulse to quit does come along in people who have potential. They sometimes simply don’t know how to channel that indomitable creative drive into the thing that will make them successful. Guidance is better than just encouraging people to jump off the ship.

    Everyone’s heard this apocryphal little anecdote, but I’ll repeat it here so that I won’t lose the title of “devil’s advocate.” A piano student went before a master to see whether he was talented enough to pursue a career in music because his family wanted him to become an accountant (he had aptitude there as well). The master heard the student play, and then shook his head. “No, no. You won’t make a musical career.” He waved his hands as if to erase the very idea. “You have absolutely no talent. Better you should be an accountant.” The master turned his back and stalked away. Bitterly disappointed, the pianist folded up his sheet music and returned to college as an accounting major.

    Years later, when the master was giving his very last lecture, the student returned to thank him. “I’m sure you remember me. You told me to get a day job and stop playing piano. But I have always wondered–what was it about me? Where was the lack in my talent?”

    The master blinked. “I don’t remember you. I said that same thing to hundreds of young aspirants. They always looked at me to judge them, so I told them they were talentless and should do something else.”

    “How could you do that?” shrieked the accountant.

    “It was the proper path,” replied the master. “You see, if you took my word for it and gave up, it means that you DIDN’T have what it takes. The talent would have driven you, and you would have succeeded in music in some fashion. I simply weeded out all of those who didn’t really want it enough–because they were truly lacking in the talent that would have insisted on being expressed. You made the right decision–and so did I.”


  13. This is an excellent piece and the comments also great. I’ve done both – let go and held on. And been blessed and burned. You just have to trust some inner inner inner voice… no one can really advise you – except, well, sometimes. Thelma in hot humid Manhattan….


  14. I’m known for tenacity and not quitting when I probably should. Eventually, I figure it out. On the other hand, I’ve made some great strides from not quitting. I think you just have to play it by ear sometimes and hope for the best.


  15. Great points being made here. I’ve dropped out of 3 graduate programs myself for various reasons and I’ve never thought I made a mistake going into them or getting out of them. I learned what I needed to learn from them and that was great. Not everything you do needs to achieve a specific goal.


  16. I think the dialog on this is great. It’s not easy to turn a perception or adage on its head and ask others to examine it from another perspective. None of you are quitters in MY book!


  17. I’m with Dorothy Francis who says, “I’ll quit another day.” The best advice I ever got was from Dorothy Baker who wrote “Young Man With A Horn” in 1938. After it became a successful movie in 1950 she moved back to her citrus ranch in the San Joaquin Valley. When I interviewed her for The Fresno Bee in the early 1960s I told her I was trying to write a novel but couldn’t get past the first chapter. She said, “Don’t worry about it. If you have something to say you’ll say it.” I fiddled with it off and on for the next 45 years (that’s not a typo, I do mean 45 years). I finally turned it into a memoir, won a cash prize and saw it printed in a prestigious anthology. Like Dorothy Francis, I’ll quit another day.


  18. You and I often think alike, Sunny. I have a long list of people, places and things I have quit– and I feel so much better for it! Trust me, the people, places and things I have left in the dust are better for me having left.

    I’m not one to sit around and gnash my teeth when things don’t work out, after I’ve given them the good ol’ college try again and again. I know when it’s time to cut bait and move on.

    Lovely post. Fun. You’re spot on, Sunny dear!


  19. Interesting, and I agree, but only to a point. Sometime quitting is just the easy way out. I quit when I know it’s time. I don’t quit because things get hard. Overcoming obstacles can be very rewarding.


  20. Quitting can be simultaneously intimidating and liberating. It’s hard to let go of something that you have put yourself into, but it allows you to move forward with a freedom to do something new and different. Thanks for the great post, Sunny!


  21. I believe in diversity, trying different types of writing. Also, when one work is finished and out to a publication or publisher, it’s time to work on another one. Rewriting and editing is fine up to a point. But we do need to move forward and try new things as well.


  22. Great title and message, Sunny, and the remarks you generated are worth reading over and over. My favorite of your comments is the one about optimists (something I’ve never been accused of being) and being able to jimmy the lock to see what’s on the other side. I’m copying that to share with colleagues and students.


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