Why I stopped writing

but first, how I started…

Why I stopped writing
Photo by RetroSupply on Unsplash

Once, in university, I was walking between buildings with someone I had just met and he said to me, fairly condescendingly, “An english degree! What will you do with that?”

“I’m going to be a writer,” I told him. I hadn’t really decided that for myself yet, but now that it was out in the open, it had to happen.

It made sense, really — I’d always been someone who wrote a lot, stories and journals and the rest. I used to get excited over a well-written email or set of instructions. I read fiction like it was going out of style. Writing mattered to me.

So, after I graduated, I got a job as a writer at a small travel website. It didn’t pay well, and the work felt like fancy data entry some days, but I met some wonderful people whom I loved and still love.

While there, I started a side hustle as a paid blogger for a place called weblogs inc, which was bought by AOL, which was bought by the Huffington Post. So that’s how I ended up as a writer for the Huffington post, on a tiny bit of talent and a lot of luck.

The pay for a professional blogger at the time was horrible. I’m almost too embarrassed to admit it but when I first started, I made $10 US dollars per post. The only thing that made it worthwhile was the fact that the posts could be short, didn’t need much proofreading, and just reported on other news stories — no original investigative journalism (this was the early days of SEO where quantity of content and links was more important than the quality.) I could knock out 10 in a row fairly easily (they had multiple sites and topics you could contribute to.) So I did this for a few years and eventually got promoted to “lead” of one of the sites so I also made an additional lump sum of money, which meant I could quit the dayjob to freelance.

I produced so much content during these years that once, when I went to research a pretty niche topic, I found that I had written on that exact topic a year earlier, and had no recollection of it. So that’s when I knew I had to quit, or start writing better stuff.

So, reason 1: I got burnt out on writing

Once Huffington Post took over, the content got better, we got real editors, the pay and the stakes were higher. So that helped, but the culture in the US team wasn’t terrible supportive or safe.

And though I loved the flexibility of being a freelancer, I always had to hustle. I remember vividly sitting in a lobby of a hotel in Cairo, begging our tour operator to wait 10 minutes for me because I had to file a story before 10am New York time. I wanted the ability to work from anywhere, and that’s exactly what I did — I worked from everywhere because I was working all the time.

So reason 2, I got burnt out on freelance life in general

Because of the culture in the US Huffington post, I started writing for the Canadian site only, where the people were supportive and the pay was better. But there wasn’t enough content to make a fulltime gig out of it (I had a few other small contracts but nothing substantial or steady) so I joined government on a short term content project. Being around people again and making work friends (who are still my friends) was wonderful.

I started off writing about parks which I loved. Then I moved into writing about recreation programs and bylaws, which were also really interesting. But I kept getting pushback on the stuff I wrote. The problem with writing is, everyone who understands the language thinks that they can do the job too, sometimes better than you.

Reason 3: I got tired of my writing not being trusted.

This is why I got into user research. I started looking for evidence on which content works best, so I started running usability testing. I found I liked it, and it was in demand, so that started to be my job instead of writing.

Which leads to reason 4, I changed careers

Once I switched from content to user research and design, writing wasn’t my focus any more. And to be honest, I was relieved. I could just do work, and be trusted to do it. I didn’t have to convince anyone of the value of my work.

I’ve been in this gig for about 12 years now and I’m starting to get the feeling that I may now know what I am doing, if only slightly. I have opinions on this work now and when I say them out loud, people seem to want to listen to them.

So writing has started to feel like something I want to do again.

It makes me nervous: writing is vulnerable, especially when I am sharing my own ideas, professional knowledge and opinions rather than knocking out a short blog post reporting on someone else’s work.

But as I mentioned in my previous post, writing is important to me for a few reasons. So I’m glad I’ve once again got the drive to do it.