Here is a list of reasons I didn’t want to write this post:
1) I thought I might look like a failure – until I realized I am the one who defines failure for myself, and regardless, I am more interested in being of some help to somebody than anyone’s concerns about my failure or lack thereof.
2) I thought an agent might read it and think I wasn’t up to the task of building a career – until I realized, if I may be blunt, that I only want to work with agents who are, themselves, human, and susceptible to struggles and faults, as well as understanding of those things in their probably mostly human authors.
3) I wanted to be able to end it with a bang – I struggled but TADA THEN I GOT AN AGENT AND A SEVENTEEN BOOK DEAL AND ALSO I WAS ELECTED QUEEN OF THE MOON HOORAY!. Until I realized that bang of excitement at the end is really what this post is all about.
Here’s the thing – I don’t feel very much like a writer today. I haven’t felt like a writer for quite some time, at least two months, but maybe more. I haven’t felt like a writer because I got lost in other people’s voices, through that beautiful demon social media, and couldn’t remember what I liked or didn’t like in a story anymore. I haven’t felt like a writer because I celebrated so many people’s successes with real joy but also with a continually stronger feeling of being left behind and inadequate. I haven’t felt like a writer because story became stilted, words were hard to access, and I began to feel I was spending far, far too long in this Almost But Not Quite world (where people love my stories but just need a little something more, a bit more polish, a slightly more likable character, less words, more words, just a spark, something to overcome the like but not love) and I was starting to feel like I was fundamentally flawed somewhere in the deepest down part of me so that my writing would never climb above where it was.
So I stopped writing. And since, for the better part of two years, I have largely defined myself as a writer, and since the term “writer” has been the single solid element of an identity that has shifted numerous times over the past several years, I felt entirely lost.
But to my surprise, the world didn’t end. I thought it might, since words weren’t my thing anymore and I really didn’t have a different thing. I thought it might, since writing wasn’t my morning and evening and I really hadn’t considered doing anything different with my time. I thought it might, since I wanted it so badly it colored my dreams and my walks and my conversations, and without it I was afraid there wouldn’t be anything left.
Here’s what was left: pancake breakfasts. Second hand books. The crunch of ruby and gold leaves under my feet, the first slash of October wind against my cheeks, the comfort of falling into bed exhausted from the emotional and mental toll of a day job I love but also give everything to some days. Movies with my sister. Long drives through countrysides ripe with wheat and corn, bathed in long sunbeams and watched over by long stretches of brilliant blue skies. Small children saying red is a “cemetary” color, or beaming as they inform me they might have been “thinking” for the first time, or inchworming across a classroom to get out of nap time. Long chats with my coworkers. Flashes of ideas, drops of inspiration, the constant sense that the world remained, as it has always been, just slightly larger than everything I’m able to capture with my senses; infused with magic and possibilities and deep veins of mysteries that remain unsolved.
Here are some more things that were left: children in crisis, with hurting hearts that need my help to stay unlocked and unbroken. Family tragedies. My own health fluctuations. The sense of being completely overwhelmed by the vast range of terrible, hurtful moments and the impossibly joyful ones – by the distance between them, by how close it could be sometimes, by the heavy aching weight in my chest when both these things were too much for me and the emotions were too many and since I wasn’t fleeing into words I had to stay and confront, accept, come to terms with, everything the world was offering me.
Here is what I know: I stopped writing, and it hasn’t broken me. I stopped writing, and I didn’t become blind. I stopped writing, but I didn’t stop creating, because creating is a thing that’s in your blood, in your bones, in your spirit. When your heart is creation you simply can’t see the world any other way. Your burden is to be exquisitely awake, in tune with your feelings, with the painful hope beating in your chest, with the breathlessness of a beautiful moment gone before you can be quite filled up by the sensation, with the misery of things that are so, so close and yet can’t quite be completely absorbed. This will not vanish on you. You will not suddenly become unaware of the world. You will not be closed off.
You might wish for it sometimes.
Maybe you will be equal parts afraid of it and desperate for it.
But your heart will not grow quiet, except in a peaceful, observant sort of way.
I haven’t been writing in the same way. I don’t necessarily feel like the same person I was a few months ago. I’m still waiting to see how it’s all going to shake out.
For a long time writing meant late nights at an old, borrowed laptop in my bedroom after homework was done. Then it meant snatches over summers, without any real aim. Then it was an act of quiet desperation because everything in my world kept changing from month to month, and for a while I didn’t know if I had another month or not, and words helped me through it. Now, it seems, writing means being alive. In tune. It looks like a few mornings a week, without too much worry over total wordcount or anything much except how those words feel and if they are true. It looks like an evening, here and there, at the kitchen table with a list of revisions to make and ear for the heart of the story I always meant to tell, underneath all the noise around it. It looks like taking the time required to really notice and appreciate the exact angle sun through October leaves makes, and the time involved in deciphering what that feeling that clenches my lungs and aches in my chest is in it’s purest form, and the necessary time to be not just a writer, but a daughter, and a sister, and a friend, and a person. Without agendas or schedules or career expectations. Without fear, and with plenty of questions.
Am I a writer? I don’t know. It probably depends on your definition, and your reason for asking, and the baggage you assign to the term. What I know is that I am, in my bones and my blood, a lover of stories. I am the kind of person who can say to the world, I see the story in you, and it matters to me. I will give it it’s due. I will listen, and I will see, and I will experience with every bit of me I can offer. Fully awake. Fully aware.
And maybe, as it has in small pieces for now, this being alive will translate to words on a page.
I wish I had more to offer you, but this is the thing – your hope is not found in an agent, a book deal, a career path, even a finished manuscript. Your hope is found in your unwavering determination to live not in a day to day sort of way but in the moment to moment, through open eyes and hands, through a willing heart. Your hope is the belief that stories shape us, and give meaning to our experiences in the world, and that perhaps at any moment you may be called upon to give voice to one such story. Writer. Not writer. We are fluid, nebulous, difficult to define beings as people, and this is our birthright – the only thing that matters is story.