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.
Or you allow yourself to do other things, intentionally following the rabbit holes, trusting the process that is growing your writing under the surface.
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.
For sure you are a writer if you feel conflicted about it. Double-for-sure (extra points!) if you pretend that you are not a writer and/or won’t admit to it…
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.
One part in particular that was a slow learning for me:
“Doubt is a clue that you care, not a sign that you don’t get to be what you already are.”
SO MUCH TRUTH.
Yes, I love this part, too! I want to get to say what being a writer is for me. A change what I say if what it is to be a writer changes for me.
I used to struggle with this “you’re not a writer” thing so, so much.
And after working with it for so long it feels… resolved. I don’t even know how it happened.
I used to tell myself “writers only know 2 states: writing and struggling with not writing. I still think there’s some truth in that.
SO MUCH TRUTH.
This post is like a giant tub of salve with the label “You are a writer” on it.
I am hugging this post and saying thank you. It was *exactly* the thing I needed to read today.
–<3 –<3 –<3 (Heart flowers)
As I’ve evolved from a person whose energy was absorbed by navigating jobs/people/family to a person with no job/few people/no family … which felt like the world was literally ending … I eventually realized that it was my old life that died (but not me). That *painful* process was absolutely necessary, so that I could become someone I’d never been, which is (partially) a writer.
But as I now devote the resources that used to go to other people to figuring out my own mysteries [i.e., sovereignty], I find that the actual writing happens at (often) widely-spaced intervals. I’m always thinking and processing and re-thinking; I don’t write all of that down.
Lately I’ve been waking up very early because my unconscious mind wants me to write something down. That stuff is always golden: things I didn’t know I knew; connections made; insights achieved.
I think these things happen as reliably (albeit on an irregular schedule) as they do because I let things/experiences/feelings jostle and mix and have a party in my bodymind … without insisting they come out according to someone else’s timetable.
I do not write every day. I am a writer.
You just turned me into a writer damn-it!
I demand you turn me back at once.
🙂 Seriously, thank you. A wonderful post.
So much love and joy for you. So much gratitude. This goes in the toolbox AND the Book Of US.
Oh I feel this so much. I haven’t finished a story since July 2010- I can feel how this weighs on me. I write every day, and yet… Not finishing means I’m not a writer? No, I am a writer. I am <3
And of course this goes for everything besides writing as well… Speachless, wordless. Looks like I am writer after all. Who knew!
It is a comfort to know that, if I substitute writer for yogi, I am a sadhaka even though I’m still stuck at step 1 and 2 of yoga (those pesky yama’s and niyama’s). Thank you for this beautiful post.
Thank you. So much. *internet hug*
I have a “day job” that I feel is a calling. I am good at it, and I help people, and I am uniquely good at it. And if I take a sabbatical of two months, or two years, it won’t take that away. I am still a person who does a thing, does it well, and yes.
Yes to spaces, and yes to percolating.
Thank you! Sweetnessing for all.
Thank you, Havi. Thank you so much for this.
I can feel ripples of sweetnessing spreading out, glowy and warm and tingly-sparkly as they pass through me and continue out to surround everyone and everything. What a lovely thing. Thank you, Havi, for that new verb, and for the truth of this post, which I can feel settling in deep. It is a relief and an inspiration.
So much here that is warm and reassuring and yet so very very subversive. It is a culture change. It flies in the face of convention- rather like a butterfly flitting lazily and ignoring the big brick wall of convention and should and rules and “this is how it is.” Bravo!
This: “You are a writer if you yearn for something and don’t have the words to describe it yet.” This pierced my heart like the perfect little white-hot acupuncture needle.
This is *exactly* what starts my own doubt-avoidance-monsters-more-doubt-finally-start-something process with my visual artwork. (I had to sit there for two minutes before I could even write those last two words—that’s how conflicted I am over calling myself whatever I call myself.)
Every. Single. Time.
It starts with this yearning—sometimes it actually hurts—for something I want to end up on paper, but don’t know how to get it there. How to articulate it visually, or later (if I’m lucky to get this far), how to get it to match what I see in my head. If I actually see it clearly at all. Sometimes it never moves beyond the vague (but strong!) yearning.
And then starts the doubt. Can I match what I’m yearning for? What if I can’t? Does that mean I’m not an artist?
Then the avoidance. I’ll do it later. Maybe I shouldn’t bother. It’s not going to happen today. I’m not ready. I don’t know what it is yet. Can’t start until I know what it is.
And then the monsters set in.
So, SO much to percolate in this post, but especially that one sentence. So much permission and forgiveness to offer up for myself.
I have been painting flowers all week. Flowers that spell out the words “thank you.” (This is not a proxy!) And now I know exactly why.
Thank you, Havi—spelled with flowers.
Thank you, Havi! I love your dear heart, and your writer-dancer-lover soul, and The Commenter Mice, and this space…
When the ground is covered with snow and it’s +5*F out, it’s time to remember that there are beautiful seeds and sprouts under the ground, and they’re not procrastinating, either! This reminder is perfect, today.
The beautiful seeds and sprouts aren’t procrastinating either! This just sparked a new understanding for me of the spaciousness of right timing – thank you!
<3 heart-heart and palms on the ground!
Love this, Havi. I am reading a book by James Hillman now, where he talks about (among many things) the type of love called Pothos.
“Pothos here is the blue romantic flower of love that idealizes and drives our wandering; or as the romantics put it: we are defined not by what we are or what we do, but by our Sehnsucht: Tell me for what you yearn and I shall tell you who you are. We are what we reach for, the idealized image that drives our wandering.”
We are what we reach for, no matter what stage we’re in. Part of soul-making is reaching for the fantasy, the impossible. Thank you for blessing every stage of it.
Here is a true story.
When I was 21 I walked to Santiago de Compostela. A couple of months after I returned home, I caught myself on the verge of saying, ‘well, I’m not a serious hiker…’
Seriously. I had just spent two months walking 500 miles, I had a pair of mangled boots and a certificate in Latin to prove I’d got there, and there was a thing in my head telling me I wasn’t a serious hiker. Because. And thank goodness I realised how silly it sounded.
The same monster pops up every now and again to tell me that I’m not a serious cyclist, or a serious activist, or a serious singer, or, yes, a serious writer. It wants me to think that I won’t be a serious X until I’ve done Y, and I know now that when I do Y, it’ll think up a Z that I have to do. Silly monster.
Hahaha, yes. I identify! I need to look at this every day and remember: It Will Think Up A Z (if I let it). I think that has to be Friday’s band, no?
It’s just one guy!
Oh, that gives my heart so many feelings.
I always think of the not-writing time as allowing myself to lay fallow. You cannot plant a field over and over again relentlessly as still get nurturing, beautiful things from it. The fallow times may be short or long, sweet or fraught, but they’re necessary. The rests are as important as the writing…if not more important.
I strongly believe — strongly — that we have too narrow a definition of what writing is. These are the four things I think I sort of know about writing:
(1) Writing is not a subject matter. You can’t study it or practice it in the way you can study or practice, say, algebra or French.
(2) Writing IS an act of connection. Those of us who want to connect to things, people, places — OURSELVES — are very likely writers.
(3) Good writing is good THINKING — but intention is overrated. What you think you’re writing (or thinking) about is very often something else entirely. However: good thinking is open-minded, questioning, curious, energetic.
(4) Make it interesting. The way to make it interesting is to be interested.
What people call “writing” confuses product with process. Writing is a process, a way of life. It can produce things — are they “good”? are they “successful”? I mean, I grow less and less interested in this sort of distinction. What I care about is effort and experimentation, with the PROCESS. The process is hard. Glorious, sometimes. But hard. When we writers commit to it — without regard to product, to accolades, to what anybody else thinks — we make the world a better place. I do believe that.
… to be a writer does not require a transaction at the end of every of piece of writing…
Thank you for this. I’ve reread it several times this week, and I’m sure I’ll read it again many times in the future. It’s a wonderful antidote and escape hatch to get me out of the clutches of monster-expectations and into a quieter place where I can listen to hear if project Myth Rain Slumber has come out of silent retreat, if project Meld A Babel Mutter Flurry has found its voice…
Thanks for this post.
I am “sweetnessing” on this post, too, Havi. I just wrote about blogging through the blues, and decided either way (to blog or not to blog) is a-okay. http://myteamconnects.com/2014/03/three-reasons-blog-feeling-blue/
Thanks for this gentle permission to still be a writer even when we don’t write. Love it.
thank you Havi. i can say with authority that dry spells – even very long ones – end.
i was a full-time writer for years and years, and then a non-writing writer since 1996.
then out of nowhere, a poem emerged on Monday.
a barren field only looks barren when you can’t see what teems just under the surface.
<3 (and hello, new poem)