Ten Days in the Life of a “Non-writer”

A few weeks back, in a post titled “Today I Resign from Writing (well, maybe),” I unabashedly vented my grievances with the written word, or more notably, my desires to be a writer. I knew at the time that my threats were likely empty, but I felt compelled to at least toy with notion of quitting, giving up, or in the formal sense, resigning.

I explained how my personal identity was suffering, and I couldn’t see myself as being worthy if I didn’t write. This is a dangerous game to play when one is virtually unknown, unpublished, and unfinished with a novel two and half years in the making.

Consequently I dared to wonder if my life would be better without the prospect of writing.

Many of my wonderful readers suggested taking a break, which believe it or not was something I hadn’t considered. Others advised me to figure out the kind of writer I wanted to be—another insightful piece of wisdom that hadn’t dawned on me. Some swore that if I wrote for myself and not for publication that I’d find what I was looking for.

So I devised an experiment. Ten days. No writing. More than that actually, for ten days I am no longer a writer. I don’t think about writing, I don’t talk about writing, I don’t know about writing. I will strip myself to the bare essentials and see what’s left.

Here’s what I discovered:

1. The urge to write is difficult to ignore. It didn’t matter if I was doing laundry, going grocery shopping, holding my friend’s new baby, or teaching one of my classes, the act of writing still called to me. It’s a subtle, sneaky kind of feeling that makes me glance over my shoulder, as if someone is watching me.

2. The void is vast. I learned that self-identity comes in many different forms from many different sources. I’m a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a colleague, and a teacher. But I’m also a writer. And when I deliberately hack off that part of myself, it can feel like I’m walking around with a missing limb—or a hole in my chest.

“There’s a part of me missing!” Melissa Nicklen → in Food & Drink

3. Subconsciously, the writing doesn’t stop. Even though I boycotted my novel for more than a week, I still deliberately drove the past the house in my neighborhood that inspired the setting for my story. Even now, I’m silently categorizing its features, its blemishes, its overall vibe, and the role it plays in the story. In other words, if it’s in you, it’s in you.

4. This respite is likely an excuse to slack off. I’m tired. I work. I clean. I cook. I make and keep appointments. I run errands. Writing can sometimes feels like an added responsibility. I often find myself rushing through more menial tasks so I can attend to my writing. But on days when the writing just isn’t working and I start to lose faith in my talents and abilities, the craft itself turns to work. Worse than that. Extra work. But hey, sacrifices need to be made. I now understand that in truth, my desire to “resign” from writing was based in fear of failure, and hence, a loss of personal identity—which is really silly if you think about it.

5. The real reasons for writing start to emerge. To be the next Danielle Steel? To prove myself to former classmates, colleagues, etc.? To make money? Not really. It turns out my true purpose for writing comes from someplace deeper.

Janis Urtans → in Flowers

 

So, for each day I didn’t write, I came up with one GOOD reason to continue writing:

 1. Because stories are powerful

2. Because I’ve always been fascinated by time and place

3. Because I want to contribute to peoples’ reading

4. Because the human condition is expansive

5. Because we ARE our characters

6. Because our READERS are our characters

7. Because I’ve got something to say, and I don’t know how else to say it

8. Because we all need to escape when we aren’t otherwise able to

9. Because it’s all about perspective

10. Because one day, it’ll be all that’s left of me—of all of us

As it turns out, that whole resignation thing was a fluke. But I’m glad I considered quitting, because if I didn’t, I’d still be stuck in that whirlwind of false hope, delusional motivation, and indulgent yearnings of writing for all the wrong reasons. Real writing is about scratching an itch, answering a calling, and following an instinct.

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

-Red Smith

What are your GOOD reasons for writing?

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20 Comments

Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration, Self Discovery, The Writing Life, Why We Write

20 responses to “Ten Days in the Life of a “Non-writer”

  1. Natylie Baldwin

    Congratulations on your 10-day trial and the insights you learned from it, Katie. I really liked your list of 10 at the end.

    • Thanks Natylie. I’m so glad to have discovered this! It’s so easy to get caught up in the urgency of writing–taking a giant step back and viewing it from a new perspective turned out to be very fulfilling!

  2. Sounds like it was a hugely successful break in that you discovered your real reason for writing. Something that’s that much a part of you would be difficult to suppress.

    My best reason for writing is that I feel like I’m my most honest and truest self when I’m doing it. Meaning it makes me more content than other pursuits.

  3. So glad to hear you gave yourself a needed break and were able to gain some perspective. I think it is important to cut ourselves a little slack and just put the pen down on occasion. I find that when I feel the most like quitting it is usually stemming from the fear of failure. You know how it goes… You start to compare your first drafts to prolific, well-published authors and question what the heck you think you’re doing. I am learning not to do this. On days where my self doubt is at the forefront, I have learned to just step away from the story, read some blogs, write in a journal, quilt so I can do something creative but non- word related. I know the itch to pick up the pen will come back in a day or two and I will be in a better place mentally to put the words down. 🙂

    • Hi Cheryl…yes! I do just that–compare first drafts or works in progress to well-established authors…it drives me insane. I also like your tip on doing something creative that’s not writing. You’re lucky you can quilt! What a great craft! I think I need to get a new creative trade. Maybe gardening?

  4. Very interesting way to approach this! Since picking writing back up again after that loooonng dry spell (and that needs a name–my writing Sahara, or something like that) I haven’t felt the inclination to stop. There are times when it is simply not possible to write due to time constraints though, and I’ve noticed similar feelings. Characters start ‘doing things’ in an effort to catch my attention. Lines of dialogue pop into my head. I start writing on post-its and shoving them in my pants pocket. Sometimes they end up going through the wash and my words are gone forever!
    Good reasons to write?
    Writing is the best way I’ve found yet to escape when the world offers no solace. Stories help me understand parts of life that seem to defy comprehension. Sometimes I make myself laugh. When I’ve written, I feel fulfilled.
    If I get good enough at it, I can share the escape, the perspective, and the fun with someone who reads my words. 🙂

    • Hey Kirsten…I’m still struggling with inclination NOT to stop, but since my short hiatus I’ve made a lot of sense of it all. It’s hard because even when I try not to “be a writer” the urge still kicks in. It’s this endless cycle, really, but I suppose people like us have been “blessed with a burden”!

      Sorry about those post-it notes! I’ll scribble thoughts like that in any random notebook I can find, and sometimes when I come across months later, I can’t make heads or tails of it.

      I’m with you about making sense of my own world when I make sense of my characters’ worlds. What a great reason to write! 🙂

  5. Writing is a way for me to process and see the world around me. I’m better with it than I was without it – more mindful of the details and nuances of life. It’s tangible evidence of intuition. Glad you found your way back.

  6. Katie, this whole post made me smile. Breaks are sometimes necessary so that we can step back and see the big picture. I’m so glad to hear you saw the many reasons why YOU are a writer. I am proud of you and glad you’re back. 🙂

    • Thanks Eva 🙂 I definitely needed to see the big picture. I still don’t know where I’m going (not 100% anyway), but I at least understand that this writing busy truly is a part of who I am…I’m sure you can relate!

  7. Pingback: IWSG: A Whole Lot of Why | A Scenic Route

  8. What a truly inspiring post! You pretty much covered all my own reasons for ‘quitting’. which though I attempt to do so a lot more regularly than you, it never lasts for long. Writing is the only way I know to bring myself alive. There is simply nothing else I can do which leaves the same feeling of, well, happiness, in its wake as writing does. So let’s keep writing if for nothing else than the sake of writing. We’re writers, what else can we do? xxx

    • Thanks Edith! I’m glad you identified with this post. I agree, what else can writers do but write? I don’t know where it will all lead me, but I know I will always have the urge to make sense of my thoughts and perceptions of the world. One of the only ways this can be done is through art, hence, writing. I can try to quit, but some force out there won’t let me 🙂

  9. Wow. Awesome post!
    I’m so glad I you took a break and wrote about the experience. 🙂

  10. Hmmmmm, perhaps i should try this 🙂

    Im really glad you’re in a much better place now honey xx

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