Why I Stopped Writing for Seven Years

The Jack ThinkerDuring my senior year of college I took my last creative writing class. At the end of the semester I met with my professor for a final conference on my progress. At that time she told me that she recommended I pursue something else. I wasn’t cut out for writing, she said.

Really? I asked. I was half shocked that it could be that easy to kill all of my hopes and dreams in ten seconds, and half already resigned to the fact that she was probably right.

Couldn’t I get any better? I asked. You know…with practice?

No, she said. I don’t think so.

That was in the spring of 2000 and I didn’t write one word of fiction after that for the next seven years.

I had a lot of adventures in the meantime. I moved to Seattle and lived there for a while and then I moved down to San Francisco. I still kept up my passion for literature, landing a job in a bookstore and reading everything I could. I followed the lives of my favorite authors, living and dead, and thought sometimes about trying to write again.

But I didn’t do it. Every time I bought a journal and opened it to that first page, or started composing a poem in my head, something inside of me cringed and shut down. It was painful. Like, real pain pulsing through my real physical body. It felt similar to black grief choking me, or a simmering rage eating away at my insides.

I couldn’t explain it. And I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about it.

I felt completely alone.

I also felt extremely guilty. My biggest problem on earth was that I wanted to write and—for some inexplicable reason—I just couldn’t. I beat myself up over it all the time. There were people starving across the globe for God’s sake, and the thing that was killing me was good old self-indulgent writer’s block. My problem seemed to have the easiest solution in the world. All I had to do was sit my butt down in the chair and write.

Right?

But it wasn’t easy. And I couldn’t do it. Even though I felt worse and worse about it every day.

By the time I joined a writer’s program in San Francisco—a writer’s program that described itself as a support group for recovering writers—my seven-year writing drought was making me physically ill. I was depressed, tired, with little to no energy, and I couldn’t kick the sore throats that had plagued me for years. I showed up at my first meeting ready to cry, scream, and run out the door at any moment.

I was absolutely terrified.

That first meeting was hard. We did one hour of silent writing and I wrote about three pages. I still wanted to cry, but I didn’t scream and I didn’t run out of there. I sat with my pages, folded them up and then pushed them down into the bottom of my backpack where I could keep them out of sight.

I showed up again the next week. And the week after that. I kept showing up, and little by little it got better. I got better. 18 months later I had finished my first novel. And I wasn’t depressed and sick anymore. I was hopeful about my life. Everything looked different.

And I already knew that I wanted to start writing the second one.

When writers don’t write it is more than a hobby we’re ignoring. It’s an essential part of our being that is being neglected. It’s like slowly starving yourself. When you deny your soul the basic nutrition it needs to live, it will start to shrivel up. If you don’t address the problem, it will get sick and cause you tremendous amounts of psychic pain.

This is why I decided to become a writing coach. This is also why I urge writers to join groups, find writing friends, and do whatever it takes to carve out writing time in their life.

Because it’s important.

It’s the difference between living with an open heart and the power to use your full potential on this earth, or just getting through the days, waiting around for it to be over.

What’s your choice?

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