“I do not know what makes a writer, but it probably isn’t happiness.”
— William Saroyan
Last year I tried to stop writing. This wasn’t a decision I officially made, but over time I noticed that I devoted less and less time to the process — I got lazy with brainstorming and read almost zero books the entire year. I found myself making excuses whenever a friend asked if I’d written anything recently, often stating I was too busy or that writing was just a hobby I never intended to commit to.
I can’t imagine I sounded very convincing — just a few years before, I tried to convince everyone that writing was part of my identity (I was that asshole). I was fascinated by the art of storytelling in high school, spending hours dissecting and reconstructing ideas until I created something I felt I could show to my friends and teachers.
Unfortunately, I learned about a year into writing that I actually wasn’t very good at creating anything new. While I thought the quality of my work was passable, I was troubled to learn that the elements from my stories turned out to be elements I’d simply picked out from my life and re-branded. I tricked myself into thinking I was writing good fiction when in truth I’d just been spilling my guts all over the floor for everyone to see. Even worse, I realized that none of these surprise reflections turned out to be particularly happy.
I began to question how accurate a reflection of my life my work truly was and whether my writing tended to be sad and angry because I was sad and angry or because these emotions just happened to be easier to recall. It was confusing; I was a mess. Then I stopped writing.
At first, I felt better. I no longer felt the pull to relive and dissect moments of my life so I could get it on paper. This might sound weird to others, unless this happens to be how everyone works, but when I wrote I sometimes felt trapped. I felt as if I’d been sucked back into one of my past experiences; it was Groundhog Day and I was forced to see and feel everything over and over until I managed to write my way out.
Someone once asked me who I wrote for and I told them it was for myself. If that was true, writing almost seemed like a bizarre self-imposed punishment— or at least, that’s what I told myself whenever I started to miss it. But the truth is, although I felt less sad after walking away from the art, I also felt less happy. I’d confused feeling better with feeling less and while it did make some aspects of my life easier, I felt hollow.
Let me tell you about a truth I stumbled upon in that year I stopped writing: Apathy isn’t healthy.
After about a year of this self-imposed exile I decided to come back. It’s only been a couple of months since I started writing again so I can’t say for sure what it’s doing to me but I’m starting to fill out again. Things can still get tough when I tackle more sensitive subjects but I am learning how to get through— more often Sad is a moment instead of a day. I’ve found the trick is to surrender: I no longer try to fight my demons, I only want to make peace with them. I am learning to stand my ground in unfamiliar places; to leave doors open so that new things can come in. I still feel sad and angry and scared, but I am learning to write anyway.