On Quitting Writing (Prose)

“Some novelists, the more commercial novelists, I think, like, John Grisham or somebody, they write outlines because they don’t want to get to that final chapter and go, ‘Oh my God, what the fuck do I do now?’ I trust in, ‘Oh my God, what the fuck am I going to do now?’ I think that is part of it. Now, I don’t write a novel a year the way he does, and there’s a reason for that. But, I am trusting that I will know exactly what to do when I get there from having done the work, one way or the other. It’s that trust, you have to trust that it’s going to be there when you reach out.” Quentin Tarantino

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about inflection points in the careers of artists. I had the privilege of seeing Louis CK perform at Madison Square Garden earlier this year, and felt I had seen something transcendent: A master artist performing at the height of his craft. Discussing the show days later with friends, I was pointed to Louis CK’s speech at a George Carlin tribute, in which he talked about being a struggling comedian who had spent more than a decade “going in a circle that didn’t take me anywhere… I had been doing the same hour of comedy for fifteen years and it was shit, I promise you.” What changed for Louis CK was listening to an interview with George Carlin who spoke about throwing out his act every year and starting anew. Louis CK adopted a similar practice and slowly began to flourish.

By contrast, consider the career of the brilliant cover designer, Peter Mendelsund. Prior to becoming a graphic designer, Mendelsund was a classical pianist who had reached a similar point of stagnation as Louis CK. In the foreword to his book Cover, Mendelsund writes of feeling handicapped as a pianist by his lack of a photographic memory, his tendency to depression, and by not possessing the same degree of “near psychotic monomania” as his peers. He writes, “From a professional perspective, I got by—I have the technique to play the more difficult works in the repertoire, and a very good sense of what a particular score means to communicate. But I occasionally lose the requisite sang froid needed to bring the composer’s thoughts to a faultless fruition.”

As I think about my own journey as a writer, I feel that I am not so much at a crossroads as an endpoint; it’s time to do something different. Comparing design with music, Mendelsund notes, “Design carries no psycho-emotional baggage for me, my family, or for the Mitteleuropean Jewish culture from which my family and I spring.” For Mendelsund, “design is easy.” There is no anxiety of influence to overcome. For artists, I think that’s the crux of many quit-or-recommit decisions: Can you see your way out of that novel, or performance, or painting? Do you, like Quentin Tarantino, trust in those “Oh my God, what the fuck am I going to do now?” moments that accompany your chosen craft? Although I have faith in my ability to do many things, writing is simply not among them. Words bog me down; sentences strangle me; paragraphs induce paralysis. Writing has become a fountainhead of procrastination, dread, and despair.

So what does that mean for this blog going forward? I’m not sure. Certainly, this site is going to continue to exist, although it may become a photo blog in the future. It may also be a vehicle through which I try out new mediums of expression. Whatever the case, I’m excited about this decision and the potential new doors it opens up in 2017 and beyond!


[EDIT 1/30/2017: Upon a few weeks’ reflection, I’ve decided to leave open the possibility of posting further poems and aphorisms, two forms of writing which don’t quite feel like writing at all. In particular, I have a lot of old poetry which might merit publishing over destruction.  As for prose, well, I’m happy with my decision to abandon that craft, but I may feature some guest posts by my more talented friends in the near or far future.]