Being a writer isn’t just about writing.
After claiming for most of my life how much I loved writing, I thought all I needed to do to make it my career was to write, write, write every damn day.
During my senior year of college and this past fall, I wrote every day—extensively. I lost track of time and meals and of the world outside of this burning need to wipe the dust off my memories and place them in essays. I didn’t think about becoming proficient in any other areas because I kept thinking about how to turn every noted pattern into a provoking thought or how to mine every important memory for an essay idea. I could write every day without enjoying any other hobbies, and I would technically still be a writer.
But I wouldn’t be great.
I work in a K-12 school, which means I’ve had the past couple of weeks off for winter break. Before break, I thought, I’m going to get so much writing done! I mean, really. Think about it: two weeks of nothing. Zilch. I had zero plans other than seeing family for the holidays and visiting friends. I thought about the memoirs I still needed to read and the essay topics I’d been toying with. I thought about how much I love curling up in bed with the warmth of my laptop, listening to my keys click-clacking away. I thought about the freedom. Then I thought, How am I supposed to continue to write with my temperamental laptop? But then the idea of freedom seemed intimidating: What if I didn’t read everything I wanted to read or write everything I wanted to write? Well, the answer is simple: I never will. I will never be able to do either of these, and that’s okay. I’ve learned to accept it, but I’ve also adjusted to simply getting as close as I can to those respective finish lines.
When break rolled around and I launched into Holiday Mode, my freedom suddenly seemed to slip away. Not only was I not writing everything I wanted to write, but I was also barely writing anything. I was journaling, of course, and taking notes on essay topics I wanted to try. I was mentally tabbing research I needed to explore. I tried new modes of creativity. But I wasn’t writing for hours every day like I had imagined or hoped. I intentionally took a break from writing. I wasn’t going to bed at reasonable hours so I could wake up, brew coffee, and write by my window, and I felt like a failure. I felt as though I was a fraud by trying to apply to graduate schools for creative writing. I thought, Who the hell am I to say I want to be a writer when I’m barely even writing?
Then, something clicked.
I realized I wasn’t a fraud or a fake. I wasn’t in a rut. I still loved writing, I still needed to write, and I still wanted to pursue this lifestyle. I reminded myself I had just spent months trying to cultivate the perfect writing sample and personal statements for my dream programs—programs in which I could explore other facets of the literary community, and programs that would give me the opportunity to use my other passions in order to strengthen my other skills.
I’d just done a lot of work, damnit. I was proud of that!
Even though I wasn’t working on essays every day over break, I was still contributing art to my everyday life. Everything I did had a purpose. One day, I wore pajamas until mid-afternoon and watched Black Mirror with my best friends, analyzing the rhetoric within each episode, and then we ate quiche for a late lunch. I picked up charcoal pencils for the first time in probably six years, and it was glorious. I forgot how much I loved to blend and shade and form something out of nothing. I created collages with rubber cement and photography from National Geographic and art from a 1972 art magazine. I turned off all the lights in my room, burned Sandalwood incense, and listened to Lorde’s Melodrama album. I listened to Lorde and SZA and Cardi B and Maggie Rogers and Stevie Nicks and Chance The Rapper and Childish Gambino and Lady Gaga’s Joanne. I listened to artists and I played with new mediums and I created art. I went on dates. I looked up research about eating disorders and dissociation and sought guidance from a mentor. I read Audre Lorde and Elizabeth Alexander and Nina LaCour and young adult novels and Rupi Kaur and post-apocalyptic novels that showed me new ways to play with language. I lifted weights and taught myself basic kickboxing moves before researching kickboxing classes nearby.
Still, after doing all of these things, I felt like a fraud. I had to remind myself I wasn’t. I was still a writer whether or not I was pumping out an essay every other week. They take time. It’s important to remember this. And I was intentionally using my time to take a break and explore other creative outlets I had nearly eliminated from my life.
When I was thirteen, I started to play volleyball. As one of the taller girls on my team, I learned to love hitting. I loved the way my body felt weightless in the air when I jumped and swung my arm to hit the ball over the net—hopefully to guarantee a point for the set. Soon, though, I realized how detrimental perfecting this swing was to my other athletic love: softball. Hitting on the volleyball court had sent my throwing motions completely off-course. I had to re-learn the motion the next spring, and I did, but I thought venturing away from softball by joining the volleyball team was going to ruin my short career as a softball player. Ultimately, it didn’t.
I began to carry this mindset over into my writing career in college: What if by trying fiction, I lose my nonfiction voice? What if I get worse? Ha! I didn’t. I loved writing fiction, but most of the time I churned out nonfiction instead, and I realized that while I did prefer nonfiction, I also think nonfiction liked me a lot more than fiction did. I lost track of fictional timelines and plotlines and character development. It was a mess. But I tried, and that was important for reminding myself how crucial it is to remember these aspects of my own life for my nonfiction writing.
Writing is a discipline, and we have to remind ourselves of this. I cannot continue this winter break lifestyle of only writing when I feel a spark—that’s not how to form a writing career; however, I did realize I needed to endure this artistic discovery. I had to shut down my laptop and take a break in order to prove to myself I can and I need to pursue this career. I realized the reality of imposter syndrome. I had to watch poets spit each line and listen to the syntax of their performances in order to enhance my own ear. I had to play with charcoal in order to understand how easy it is to smear my work if I’m lackadaisical and careless. I had to watch Lady Gaga’s documentary Five Foot Two to realize sometimes we have to take risks with our own art. I had to push my body until I almost passed out while punching a bag in order to understand how hard it is to learn something new, but how rewarding it feels when we get it right. I had to experience a different sleeping schedule to realize I am most creative early in the morning and late at night, which also coincides with when I am most energetic.
During this hiatus, I also realized how unnerving everything felt without being able to rely on my writing outlet. When I notice patterns, I write about them. When I remember a dream, I draft those images. When I need to better understand an idea, I write about it. During my break, though, I didn’t do that, and, frankly, I felt lost. But I realized I could do it, and I realized how to better rely on my writing in order to get the most out of it. I also gained a better understanding of its power–it’s how I learn to make sense of everything around me. Without writing, I wouldn’t be where I am or even who I am.
It’s important to dive into the unknown and explore those uncharted waters, as cliché as that may seem. It is a cliché because people have been telling us for decades the importance of being well-rounded individuals. Reading and creating across genres is vital, and I implore all artists to do this. I learned a lot by observing other artists and their methods. I choose to write essays and memoir, but, honestly, I’ve read more poetry and fiction over this break. I’ve created more charcoal drawings than I have essays. I intentionally wrote less, but now I cannot seem to write enough. I never will.
And that’s okay.