I was reading a piece and the writer mentioned she’d stopped writing during [hard life thing], and how she needs to start again, because that’s what writers do in order to be writers, she said.
Many words bubbling up in response. They must wait. And at the same time, this cannot wait:
The states of in-between, those times in which we are engaged in not-writing, let us not use these as monster-evidence in support of a fear-driven theory that we are not actually writers. Of course we are.
Writers who do not happen to be writing, well, that is a very writer-ey sort of thing to go through, and it doesn’t change who we are. We are still writers, still and always.
Beware the dangerous myth, that is what I want to say…
Beware of “That’s how you know you’re a writer, because you write.”
It exists everywhere, it is beloved by monsters, and — like so many things that are not true — it is partially true.
That is one way to know that you are a writer: writing. If it works for you and it helps you have a more harmonious relationship with your craft, it’s a blessing, enjoy.
There are also other options.
Other ways to know you are a writer…
If you find yourself avoiding writing, even though you care about it tremendously.
You tell stories in your head, describing moments and elements, playing with process.
Or you delight in words, their lusciousness, their aliveness.
Maybe you like playing with forms, when they are presented to you. (Or you don’t like them, and feel strongly about that, and have to go journal about it!). What are forms? Like stone skipping, one of my favorites. Or this beautiful thing where you write what you notice: my toes lifting up in a little dance.
If you feel conflicted about writing.
So many ways to know. Doubt is a clue that you care, not a sign that you don’t get to be what you already are.
Writing, like so much of life, often needs time to emerge.
From a writer I know:
Truth of life. Things can take time to emerge, and we don’t always know how long (or how miraculously quickly, in some cases) that will be.
So we think we’re procrastinating when actually what is happening is percolating.
We think we are late or behind or not good enough or avoiding, when actually we are emerging. The thing that is coming is emerging.
I wrote that.
And even if — for some unknowable reason — I never write another word again, I will not stop being a writer. I cannot, because I wrote that, and it is truth.
We forget about truth.
We forget about truth, and this is dangerous. We hurt ourselves with un-truth.
We set up traps for ourselves: “I’m not a real X, because I’m not doing Y.” Or: “I’ll never be able to Y until I pass all these external standards.”
No. You are a writer if you grapple with these questions. You are a writer if you doubt. You are a writer if you care, even if sometimes you care so much that your tangled relationship with not-writing keeps you in bed crying. You are a writer if you yearn for something and don’t have the words to describe it yet.
There are many ways to know you are a writer, and doubting it is something writers go through, so let’s drop this pain-heavy rule that you must be writing now in order to claim that lost part of you.
That isn’t how it works, it isn’t helpful, and it isn’t the loving spark of truth. Sometimes writing lives in the spaces in between the words. Sometimes the process of not-writing is how you get quiet enough to return to it. Blame about the not-writing make this harder.
Let’s not perpetuate that. Let’s not tell these stories anymore. Let’s not pretend that ASS IN CHAIR is the only answer.
Let’s end it here and now. With love.
I have a heart full of love for everyone in these states of in-between which I have inhabited so many times and will continue to inhabit, because, as far as I’m concerned, they are part of the creative process.
In my experience, permission and legitimacy help whatever is growing beneath the ground reach the surface.
You are a writer. You are. Whether you are writing or between writing, or intentionally choosing some not-writing which will ready the ground for whatever words are coming next.
I am glowing sweetness (I wrote “sweetnessing”, which should be a word, maybe like a warm witnessing?) for everyone visiting these states of in-between. Seeding endless trust for your process, your writing and whatever is in the not-writing, may it reveal itself to be treasure.
Commenting, and footnotes.
I treasure this incredibly rare thing that we have here that is safe online space to play:
We take care of ourselves and we take responsibility for our Stuff when it comes up. We remember that people vary. We do not tell each other what to do or how to feel. We are kind. We are on permanent vacation from advice-giving and care-taking.
I am receptive to hearts, sparks sparked for you, words you want to share on the topic of compassion for our not-writing selves in our periods of not-writing, or about claiming the writer identity with love.
And if writing is not your [thing you have a possibly-passionate, possibly-troubled relationship with], substitute painting, lindy hop, embroidery, Appalachian clogging or whatever might fit for you….
Love, as always, to the commenter mice, the Beloved Lurkers, and everyone who reads.