How Not to Write

13. How Not to Stop

by Steve Rosse

There are a thousand books out there that promise to teach you how to begin a writing career. There are a thousand-and-one college writing programs that promise the same thing, and about a bajillion vanity press publishers who promise to launch your writing career in return for your credit card number.

Everybody has an opinion on how to start a writing career, but nobody bothers to tell you how to end one.

For some writers, it aint easy. Dame Barbara Cartland wrote more than 700 books, which comes out to about one book every forty days over her 80-year career, and she sold perhaps a billion copies. Imagine that. One billion copies sold. When she died, at age 98, she left behind a stack of unfinished manuscripts.

She never stopped writing.

On the other hand, JD Salinger published just one novel and a handful of shorter pieces before announcing to the world that he would continue writing but discontinue publishing. He divided the next forty years between a disciplined writing schedule and a somewhat undisciplined love life. When he died, at age 91, he left behind an enormous pile of unfinished manuscripts.

He never stopped writing.

Personally, while I respect Dame Barbara and JD, when it comes to ending a writing career I must admit I like best the way Shakespeare did it. I hope I don’t have to describe his career to you, but I will mention that it lasted only about twenty-two years, ending in 1613 when he retired from London to his hometown of Stratford.

And he died three years later, at the age of (we think) about 52. We have no idea what he did during those three years, but it probably wasn’t write. Anything Shakespeare wrote would have been published. He was crazy famous in his day. He could blow his nose and sell tickets.

So after completing “The Tempest,” a play about a sorcerer who gives up his magic, Shakespeare simply stopped writing. He had written a bunch of plays and sonnets that were much enjoyed by the wealthy and poor alike, but most especially by the wealthy. He made a great deal of money and invested it wisely in real estate. He wrote with more raw power than anybody else ever has, before or since, but at some point he looked at himself in the mirror and said, “That’s enough.”

A moment that Cartland and Salinger and a lot of other writers never come to, apparently, but one which came to the greatest writer ever to work in the English language, and which came to Harper Lee, E.M. Forster, Philip Roth, Arthur Rimbaud, and which, I think, has come to me.

There’s just so much you can say about writing. Ultimately, it’s a very personal, very solitary activity. My act of writing is not the same thing as your act of writing. Trying to explain how I write is hard enough, trying to explain how you should write is impossible, and probably a little presumptuous.

This will be the last column in this series. I wish you luck. Thanks for reading.

Eastlit Note on How Not to Talk:

How Not to Stop is the thirteenth and final article in the series. All of us at Eastlit would like to thank Steve and also wish him the best in his future ventures.

Previous articles in the series are:

How Not to Market Yourself

How Not to Use Style

How Not to Use Big Words

How Not to Begin

How Not to Tell a Story

How Not to Take Criticism

How Not to Self Publish

How Not to Care

How Not to Convince Me

How Not to Read

How Not to Create

How Not to Talk

Steve Rosse is a former columnist for The Nation newspaper in Bangkok.  His books are available on

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