How to Give Up Writing and Your Dreams, in 1826 Daily Lessons

Calendar-pages-jpgIf you’re a writer, you’ve probably had at least one moment of pure bliss, when your word count is on the mark and the words are flying, alive. And maybe you thought, I would do this, even if I never got paid a cent, even if I never got published.

Have you also had the moment where you had to concede to yourself that maybe you weren’t meant to be a writer at all?

In my experience, that dark moment—that black hour, if you’ll forgive me—isn’t a lightning strike. It’s a slow dwindling of your attention, one decision after another over a series of days, then weeks, then months. Even years. And these decisions aren’t even bad ones. You choose your loved ones, your job, your daily survival and comfort and enjoyment—until the small voice nagging that you should have written today stops saying a word.

I did that. There are about five years in my writing history that will forever be blank, because I chose everything else first. Much of that I can’t regret—I met my now-husband, moved to Chicago, built a solid career that has financial benefits still. But I regret that I didn’t write also.

I’m all about also now. Still have the husband, still live in Chicago, still rock the day-job. And I wrote a book. And I’m writing another one.

And I have dark moments. (If you read the last few weeks of posts, you’ll recognize that I’m flailing about, trying to end a novel.) But now I know how fast five years can pass by without a word being written. I know how bad that stretch of time feels, if you’ve been ignoring the thing that makes you feel like you are flying and alive.

I know how many books I could write in five years.

I won’t waste that kind of time ever again. And yet—I can’t wallow about those blank years. Those years were part of my process, just as much as the years I spent catching up, focusing and finishing all those short stories (published and unpublished) and that book in the drawer. We can’t cherry-pick the moments that got us where we are happy to be. We contain our successes, but also our failures, our actions, but also our inaction.

I am those five, writing-free years. But I’m also a debut novelist, come July.

If you have blank days, blank weeks, months, or years, don’t let them stretch out any longer. They will always be there in the calendar. You can’t change them. But you can also turn them around. Write on this day. Write during this week. If you act fast, 2013 won’t be a blank year in your past, but the start of something big.

Did you give something up? How did you start again?

Photo courtesy of iStock / kutaytanir

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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

22 thoughts on “How to Give Up Writing and Your Dreams, in 1826 Daily Lessons

  1. I try not to beat myself up over the days I do nothing with my book and get nowhere. As you said, it’s part of the process of digesting those story elements…and just gathering strength to move forward.

  2. I had blank years too — following a close call to publication (didn’t quite happen) — and then I got very and happily busy with my kids’ lives, volunteering, etc. But there was a point I crossed, when I knew I should’ve gone back to the writing (and didn’t) and that’s where the blank years started. I do look back and wish I’d re-started sooner. Like you, I know how much I could’ve written. Like you, I won’t waste that time again. How did I start again? I can’t say for sure, but I just started, decided it was the only thing I really wanted to do. And I heartily join you in saying about the blank times: “don’t let them stretch out any longer.”

    Huge congratulations on your debut, Lori! Very inspiring!

    • Congrats to YOU, Julia. It’s amazingly hard to pick up writing from zero. I remember how I did it. I took a day off work and sat down to see if I could still write something, anything. I came out of that day with a short story, which I then used to get into an MFA writing program. And with deadlines and a writing community, I didn’t have a chance to be creaky after that. Keep at it, Julia!

  3. I stopped writing. Put my finished novel in a drawer and decided the rejection, the groveling, the begging others to validate my work was killing my spirit and my passion.

    I volunteered. I taught. I mothered and got kids through high school with few major catastrophes. I room-mothered. And I excused myself when people asked me about my book: “It’s the industry. Agents, wow, you know. Landing one is like winning the lottery. And then…”

    My first reader and dear friend fell over dead at 47 years old New Year’s Eve night: one minute dressed up for a glitzy night out and the next–gone. She was one of the ones that always asked when I was going to get the book published. She loved it. I loved her. Still do.

    I decided to self publish. I am writing again. Reaching out of my comfort zone. Making new rules and expectations as I go, but writing has now become a memorial to my friend. I do it for her but I also do it because she lived her best life, encouraged all who knew her to live their best lives. And my best life is one that is saturated in the sounds of clacking keyboards, the smells of heated ink on paper, the feel of pages in my hands, and the realization of characters let out of a drawer and into the world.

    • Stacy, wow, that’s a heartbreaking and inspiring story. Congratulations on returning to your writing. Regarding your first paragraph — I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been there.

      • Thanks, Lisa. Perhaps misery shouldn’t love company but it does create a sense of community to know we are not alone in this struggle! I appreciate your conviviality.

  4. Lori, I love your attitude about the lost years. I try hard no to beat myself up about all the time I’ve lose — all the time I still DO lose. The “slow dwindling of attention” is exactly it. There was a time I didn’t even feel like a writer anymore. Thank goodness for being out the other side!

  5. I can SO relate to this. What got me through my blank period was similar to what helped you: that realization that all this time had passed and I could’ve written so much, but didn’t. It helped me realize that I needed to make the most of the time I had ahead, because that, too, would fly.

    • Trying to remember that now, especially. Still need to see friends, play with my nieces, read books (instead of just trying to write them). Otherwise the well goes dry.

  6. “We can’t cherry-pick the moments that got us where we are happy to be. We contain our successes, but also our failures…”

    So, so true. Thank you for this post. It’s a great reminder, and tough but encouraging in all the right ways.

  7. Great post. I had a writing-free period too, from the time I graduated from college until five years after I finished law school – almost nine years, in total. Ironically, that’s almost the same length of time it took me to finally get published after I started writing again. I’m hoping there’s not some cosmic irony in there somewhere…

  8. Great post! It really resonated with me. Congrats, first of all, in getting past that blank period and making it happen for yourself.

    For me, I’ve been in the “blank” for about two months. I met my deadline of finishing my book. Got a lot of feedback.

    Then my husband lost his job of 14 years – all good as he need a change. I have LOVED having him home.

    Then a great writing gig landed in my lap where I get to blog about my faith for pay. Um, yes please!

    But of course, commuting 2 hours/day and getting a new dog and my husband is now up for a job again and ballet and school and a bullying issue and… OYYYYYYY.

    I will say that I have confidence in myself to know I will pick up my writing again. I MUST have a schedule and a discipline. My one discipline? Coming to this site every day. It reminds me that I am, indeed, an artist. But being an artist means that there’s a lot of work, too, and it’s up to me to get it done.

    After this weekend, my plan is to find a way to edit my book 2 hours/week. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start. In my gut, I know I have to work for others, but if I chip away at my own thing, little by little, it will work out.

    Thanks for therapy session! I feel so much better!

    • I think you gave yourself some therapy there! Actually, you sound like you have it figured out. Keep your head in the game, even if you can’t do as much as you like. And editing/revising for two hours a day is not a small commitment. If you can give yourself those two hours, you are living a writing life. I wrote a novel that way, edited and revised a novel that. And now I’m promoting a novel (and writing another one) that way. You do what you can and what you have to.

      Good luck, and keep us posted on your progress!

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