The World Doesn’t Need Another Writer

If you need permission to quit, consider it given.

Heather Demetrios
7 min readSep 3, 2019


Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Whenever I encounter a student or client who needs me to hold their hand and walk them to the page, someone who views the act of writing as artistic waterboarding, I will at some point say these magic words to them:

You don’t have to be a writer.

The response is crickets, because it’s pretty much the last thing you expect your writing coach to tell you.

When I work with writers, my goal is to help them be the very best writers they can be. But, sometimes, my job is to show them that there is something better than writing out there for them.

The best teachers hold up a mirror so that you can see yourself more clearly.

Writing Is A Holistic Practice

I look at the writing practice holistically: process, craft, lifestyle, all of it working in tandem to create the very best conditions for creative flow. Most of the writers I work with hire me because they have an area they struggle in with their craft or need help organizing their life to prioritize writing — they want some creative lifestyle hacks to support their love of this work. They may be going through a creative block, or be struggling with rejection and how to meet the ups and downs of the writer’s life more elegantly. Perhaps they need help creating a book proposal or getting a manuscript in great shape for submission. These are all very good reasons to hire a coach.

Getting help is one way that you demonstrate how serious you are about your writing practice, and it re-establishes your commitment to it.

I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all writing suit, and I don’t believe in muses. Like many writers, I do have ideas about the difference between an actual writer and a dilettante, but I recognize that this is a highly subjective lens through which to view someone who writes. Not all writing teachers will agree with me (though I always tell writers: be wary of teachers who tell you what you want to hear). Still, a teacher must have a rubric and so I’ll share with you a few things I’ve picked up on in my many years working as a professional writer, editor, teacher, and coach.

Some Very Good Reasons You Don’t Write

When working with a writer, I always hold space for, and recognize, the plethora of issues that can legitimately keep a writer from the page: illness, mental health issues, a lack of support from a partner, exhaustion as a parent, concerns over livelihood, institutional racism, gender bias — the list goes on. Many writers have been fed unhelpful and untrue stories about what a writer is or isn’t, and most have also been told who they are or aren’t by abusive creative teachers, or other people in their lives.

Many of us have tales of family or so-called friends who’ve told us we’re never going to make it, to get our head out of the clouds, to get a real job. They inform us with surprising authority that we’ll be bag ladies eating cat food for the rest of our lives or they tell us that writers kill themselves a lot and drink too much. Many writers have had teachers who’ve told them, point blank, that they’re just no good. And that’s before our inner critics add their two cents. Having said all this, I will now say the thing many of you might not want to hear: At the end of the day, those are just excuses. They are really good ones.

But if you’re not going to work through the issues that keep you from the page, then you’re still left with a blank page.

And, I would argue, that if getting to the page at all necessitates working through these issues first, I still think it’s possible the page isn’t for you. Perhaps you just need a helping hand — you’re going through a rough patch, fallen off the dream wagon. That’s okay. I’m talking about the people who don’t write. They talk a lot about it, but they never do it. They always have an excuse. They break every promise they make to themselves. They spend their time researching about publishing before they even have a finished manuscript. They like to talk a lot about how busy they are and when you show them the half hour they have in the day to write, they give you an excuse for why they don’t feel inspired in that time frame.

These people are dilettantes. Perhaps you’re one of them. Let’s find out.

Do You Need It Like Air?

Think about someone like Maya Angelou, one of our greatest writers. She endured untold horrors in her life and could have used any of them as a reason not to write. But she was a writer. For her, writing was breathing. It was non-negotiable. Is writing like that for you? If you believe that, but you don’t write — are you sure writing is like that for you?

Because it sounds noble, right? It sounds so good to say “I’m a writer” or “I have to write” or “Writing is my calling.” But none of those things are true if you don’t DO IT. I know you want a dream, a macro thing to shoot for. You want to make your mark on the world. You have something to say. That’s all great.

But have you considered that this vision of yourself as a writer is as fictional as the characters you dream of creating?

You think that if you just get the perfect conditions, if a few things change, then you’d write your pants off. You won’t. Not if you aren’t already. And that’s okay! It just means you’re not a writer. No shame in that.

Writers write. It’s the full-stop job description. If you don’t write, then you are not a writer.

You could be, if you really want to. But do you?

Is Writing Torture?

It’s always a red flag for me when the way writers talk about writing is as if they have a terminal illness or are in an abusive relationship.

Note that there’s a difference between how you might talk about writing and how you might talk about the business of writing. I absolutely am guilty of talking about publishing like the industry is an abusive, gaslighting husband. But I don’t talk about writing that way.

No one is having to lead me to my laptop with a bread crumb trail. When I sit down to write, I don’t feel like I’m pulling teeth.

I love writing. It’s fun. It’s how I best express myself in the world. Sure, there are tough days, but they’re usually tough because of outside stimuli: not enough time that day to write, a publisher breathing down my neck with a deadline. When a book isn’t working out, I’m okay with it. I’m only not okay when I start connecting that book to my livelihood. As in, if I don’t fix this plot I won’t sell this book and I won’t eat. And this, admittedly, is a huge reason I get hired by serious writers: they need tools to keep their flow and their joy despite the publishing pressure. Again, though, that’s not related to writing — that’s related to career. Different things, though they sometimes present in similar ways.

If I have to try to convince a client to write, I call them on that. Straight up, I’m like: Why do you want to write? Because it sounds like it makes you miserable.

Writing isn’t eating your vegetables. You don’t need to go to a marriage counselor with it — you can totally divorce writing and still have full custody of your creativity. You just need to find out where that creativity wants to go.

Writer, if this is you, if writing is torture to you, then hear me:

You have my permission to quit. It’s okay to do something else.

The World Needs You To Be Alive

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs,” Harold Thurman famously said. “Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Does writing make you come alive? If it doesn’t, then stop doing it.

The word “quit” has such negative connotations, but it simply means to stop doing something. Quit smoking, quit a bad romance, quit making excuses.

Quit. Writing.

The world doesn’t need another writer. It just doesn’t. It needs passionate people who are all in with their lives.

Those are the people who make this planet worth living on. Not the people who are miserably, doggedly trying to pursue a dream they’re not even committed to, stuck with it because they’re too ashamed to admit to themselves or others that it wasn’t for them.

How much time are you wasting chasing after something you don’t even really want? And an even bigger question, the key question a writer must ask herself when she’s creating a character from scratch:

What do you want?

Because that’s where the real story is.

Heather Demetrios is an author, writing coach, and mindfulness teacher for scribes. She lives in Durham, NC with her writer husband and very imaginative Devon Rex cat. Her novels include Little Universes, I’ll Meet You There, Bad Romance, as well as the Dark Caravan fantasy series. Her non-fiction includes Codename Badass: A Feminist Pop Biography. She is the editor of Dear Heartbreak: YA Authors and Teens on the Dark Side of Love. Find out more about Heather and her books at and visit her on Twitter: @HDemetrios and @page_count. Her newsletter, The Lotus & Pen, provides resources for the writing life and guided meditations for writers.



Heather Demetrios

Author, coach, editor, & mindfulness mentor. Newest: LITTLE UNIVERSES and CODE NAME BADASS.