If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.
My senior year in college I stopped writing completely. That was in 1999 and I didn’t write again until 2006. Those seven years were among some of the most unhappy years of my life. I wasn’t just depressed, I was frustrated and itchy and couldn’t get any relief. It was like my mind was a horrible wool sweater I was forced to wear in the middle of July.
Not writing was extremely painful.
When I’ve told others about how awful I feel when I don’t write, many don’t get it. Some people have said I’m being melodramatic. In fact, I’ve even seen that attitude within the larger writing community. It’s a dismissive kind of energy that crops up in response to the artist’s claim that they must create or suffer severe consequences.
And maybe, because writers are artists, we are a bit more intense than the average person. We say that if we don’t write we feel like we’re going to die. Or that we have no choice in the matter, we didn’t choose to write, we were born to write. We try to explain that when we stop writing, it feels like we’ve stopped breathing.
Yes, these are heavy statements to make. But we make them because that’s what it feels like to us.
Our experience is valid.
Every person is born with unique gifts. Some people are born nurturers and dream of becoming a mother or father. Some are born builders and grow up to be engineers. Writers are born to create worlds that we bring to life for others. We are storytellers, and in order to be healthy, we must tell stories. It’s not something we do, it’s something we are.
Think of it this way: Have you ever seen a German Shepherd in action? These are dogs that are born to service. As police dogs, search-and-rescue, or seeing-eye dogs, if a German Shepherd is in service to someone, they are fulfilled. They have been bred to intelligently interact with people. So if you have a German Shepherd who gets to work and play with humans enough, you’ll find a very happy dog.
What if you stuck a German Shepherd in a crate 24 hours a day with no work and no play?
That’s a writer who is not writing.
If you are born storyteller and you’re not telling stories, your mental health will suffer. You will struggle with a constant depression that ranges from low-key to full-blown. Instead of admiration, you will be seized with fits of envy when you read writers you love. When you think about the future and what you will have done with your life, you’ll feel desperate, scared, and cynical.
These feelings are not a true vision of the way things are. They are skewed perceptions based on your deep, inner unhappiness. And that unhappiness is stemming from the fact that you’re not writing.
If you are in the grip of these types of feelings, you’ll have this little nagging ranting voice in your head that tells you that you’ll never be a writer, whatever you write is shit, and you might as well give it up before you even begin. This is the voice of your Inner Critic. It is the voice of your ego, which is terrified of you making any changes or taking any risks at all. It is not the voice of your heart. It is not the truth of your essence as a human being.
The voice of your truth is quiet and still, and it is patient. No matter how many years go by before you sit down and pick up the pen again, that voice that comes from your heart remains and waits for you.
It’s okay to be scared to start writing again. It’s okay to have no idea how to write a novel and start one anyway. You don’t need to be subscribed to all the best writing email lists, and adept at all the different forms of social media for writers. You don’t need any “expert” to tell you how to do what you already, deep inside, know how to do.
You are a born storyteller. All you have to do is take the risk of opening your own heart. All you have to do is tell a story.
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