“So, are you still writing?”
I get asked this a lot, and I always feel like the bottom is falling out of my stomach. Of course I’m still writing. I have never stopped writing. I have a bookshelf full of spiral bound, pretty journals to prove it. I sit down every day, almost, and face a blank page. Sometimes I surprise myself and spit out something brilliant. Most of the time, I feel like I’m writing through thick muck. But I’m writing. It’s the only way I know how to make sense of the world.
The writing life is pretty lonely. People only take notice when you publish regularly. I understand that when people ask me if I’m “still writing,” what they often mean is “what have you published lately?” But there is a big difference between writing and publishing. And really good writing often has nothing to do with seeing your name in print.
A few years ago, I wrote a story that was a turning point for me. I had been struggling with my third novel (the second one having gone no where), juggling writing between freelancing and parenting my then 9-, 7- and 2-year-olds – with the youngest still getting up in the middle of the night. I was having trouble READING novels, never mind WRITING them. I wrote this story out of a desire to reconnect with what I always loved about writing short stories – the chance to create a whole world in 3000-5000 words.
In essence, this story was me starting over.
Nothing ever happened with it. But it stands out for me because of the feeling I had writing it. I felt electric. Connected. Grounded like the energy was coming from the soles of my feet upwards. I had written 300 pages before that for a manuscript that was basically spinning its wheels. In one afternoon, I wrote something that felt like it was taking off.
Now, that story has never been published. In fact, I recently ejected it from the collection I’m working on. It was dragging the collection down. There is something about it that isn’t working. Or I still need more time with it. Distance so that I can see what it needs to be more clearly. It’s possible that no one else will ever read this story, but yet it may carry more purpose in my writing life than any other story that comes afterwards. This was the story that made me stand up and say, I’m starting over. I’m starting from the beginning. I’m going to go back to being a student of writing. I’m going to stop worrying about how long it’s been since my last book was published. I’m going to focus on being the best writer I can be. I’m going to never stop learning.
So yup, I’m still writing. And learning. And teaching (yikes!). And every day when I sit down with that blank page, I try to plug into the energy that wrote the story no one will see. One day I’ll have stuff ready to launch into the world. In the meantime, I’m starting over.