This summer, I didn’t just get writer’s block, I simply stopped writing. No more journal entries. No more submissions on speculation. No more queries. No more revisions. No more blogs. No more words for words’ sake.
It was the first time in more than three decades I’ve strayed so far from “the write path.” In my mind, I told myself, “I’m a student now, and homework is my priority.” It was as if I had fallen off a horse and had no desire to get back on.
But how can a true, lifelong word-o-phile like me, simply step away from the pen? Writing has always been a source of comfort for me, a way to process any difficulty, a familiar landscape where I always feel safe and secure.
So, at a time in my life when everything was changing (I had just decided to go back to school to study nursing), why did I stop writing?
It wasn’t just that I had too much homework, although I did find that returning to school at age 40 carried some unanticipated stresses (the subject of another blog). No. I stopped writing because I felt betrayed by my love of the craft. Just like the unrequited love I’ve experienced in romantic relationships, I felt like my love of writing had let me down.
In 2003, I went out on my own as a freelance writer. I did fairly well, but not nearly well enough to make ends meet. The hot niches, the lucrative markets, the breakthrough contacts, the key clients, the ongoing accounts, the secrets to true success—these fundamentals always eluded me. But I was persistent. Maybe persistent to a fault. And through it all, I wrote anyway. Just for me. Just because. What can I say? I love words so much I just can’t keep my hands off ‘em! The rejections didn’t matter because I knew deep down in my writer’s heart and soul that it was just a matter of time before I’d make the right contact. The right person would read my submission. I’d win a contest. I’d land a lucrative, ongoing account. I’d…, I’d…, I’d….
And then, the economy tanked. I lost my house, my relationship, and my savings. Every job possibility that seemed realistic or remotely interesting slipped through my fingers. Week after week, my numerous resumes and applications went into the void, never to be acknowledged. On top of all that, my writing submissions and queries were consistently being rejected, unused or unacknowledged. My bids for new freelance work were being turned down with hollow echoes of, “Oh, we love you, we think you’re great. But we don’t have any work for you right now.”
Still undaunted, I applied to and was accepted at a prestigious writers conference—where, I just knew I’d make the right contact to jumpstart my career. But after I was accepted (!), I couldn’t pay for it. So I didn’t get to go. This disappointment was more than I could handle, emotionally and spiritually. I shut out the hurt by quitting writing. Cold turkey.
And then, last night, I ran into an old friend. A friend with whom I’d connected years ago over our mutual love of writing. The first thing she asked me was, “What have you been writing lately?” I was embarrassed by my answer, “Nothing. Nothing at all.”
My friend gushed enthusiastically about how she had finally finished her children’s book manuscript. Then she asked me for advice about where and with whom she should submit it. As if I knew. I wanted to shout at her, with both fists clenched: “But don’t you see, my writing career is over!” While she talked, I screamed and cried inside. I concocted an elaborate, yet unspoken, excuse to share with her about how I haven’t been published in more than a year because I’m a deep thinker and the whole communications landscape has devolved into a mind-numbingly shallow quagmire of soundbites, blip-verts and Tweets, and how all of this pains me so…
And then my friend asked me something that lifted me out of my reverie. “These really are the ones, aren’t they?” She pointed down at my feet. “Can I take a picture of your cowboy boots?”
I just happened to be wearing my blue stingray boots—the boots that were the subject of a personal essay I had shared with my friend for critique years ago. The essay was about how my beloved boots empowered me to be my authentic myself—how they helped me get in touch with my inner strength and step into my personal power. The essay has yet to be published, but I still love to wear my blue stingray boots.
And then, as I looked down at those beautiful dark blue boots, sparkling like diamonds in the dimly lit room, I suddenly remembered why I love to write. It’s how I share. I love to communicate; explore ideas, express opinions. Writing is how I connect… with concepts, the world around me, my friends, my family, my fellow humans.
The love of words and writing is a central part of me. I smiled then, and breathed a whole lot easier. I don’t think my friend understood how profoundly she affected me during our random encounter, but, I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she saved my writing life.
Meanwhile, I’m so happy to be back on “The Write Path.” Whatever happens in my life, from here on out, my writing will see me through.