Can one quit being a writer?
This is a post I’ve wanted to write – and dreaded writing – for a long time. For about as long as I have no longer considered myself a “writer,” at least outside of my freelancing career. How long has that been? It’s hard to say. There wasn’t a single defining moment when I decided. It came gradually, in waves. I would realize I hadn’t written anything in weeks. Then it was months. I would try to write, and make a little progress. Then the cycle would continue. Sometimes I would send a story to a magazine and its rejection letter was met with a shrug. I just didn’t care about it.
It’s hard to talk about these things without sounding like I believe I’ve been touched by some divine hand of creativity. I don’t want to sound like a snob, or really up myself. But the fact is writing was the first thing I was ever good at, and it’s been there for most of my life. Maybe I took for granted that I would always find something to write about. Maybe it was personal life issues that made writing seem futile or made me doubt my ability.
Either way, when I started to notice my desire to write slipping away, before I stopped caring, I got angry. I was angry at myself for relying so much on being published by paying magazines (the result of a goal I’d set for myself years ago to get a grant). I was angry at those magazines for seemingly favouring experimental, short writing that I don’t and can’t do. I was angry at the writing community for making me feel like if I wasn’t promoting myself every minute of every day or producing work at breakneck speed, I was failing. I was angry at all the things I’d tried – workshops, prompts, contests – that just made me feel more disillusioned.
Some of those things didn’t deserve my anger – I knew that even then. But that’s the thing about it. Writing was the only thing I’d ever wanted to do. I didn’t go to university or college because I knew I was going to be a writer so why bother? Writing was something I’d always had, always loved, and so when I felt it leaving me, I didn’t know what to do or what to think, or how to make it stop. I lashed out. I would have a couple of things published online, writers would add me on Twitter or Facebook, and I felt like a huge fraud. Didn’t they know? I was no more a writer than I was a parakeet.
I’m reading this over and I sound like I’m sitting at my laptop weeping, or asking for a pep talk. Neither of those things are the case. I know that creativity is fluid and this isn’t necessarily over, but I also know that some creative people just walk away from their art of choice and never return to it. There’s a weird sense of judgement when you lose interest in your craft, like maybe you didn’t deserve it in the first place. It can be so intertwined with your sense of self that you lose your equilibrium.
I suppose I wanted to talk about it because I don’t hear writers or artists talk about giving it up, or even taking very long breaks. The narratives you always hear are “Talented genius lives and breathes writing and has 10 books published” or “Person calmly doing something that is not writing until age 40 when they decide ‘Hey I’ll give this writing thing a try’ and is immediately beloved.” Or they get writer’s block for a little while but then gleefully return to writing. I want the in-between, the stories in the grey areas. There have to be some out there.