I have a confession to make. It’s been over a week since I sat down with my writing. That’s not to say I haven’t written anything, I just haven’t touched my Work In Progress. And as I type these words I admit that I during that time I couldn’t help but feel a sense of shame; as if I’m guilty of some unforgivable crime. As if I have no right to call myself a writer.
I could easily claim end of summer activities have gotten in my way, that my day job has taken up more time, or that a week-long migraine has turned me into a pseudo-vampire whose fatal weakness is the stabbing glare of a computer screen. All of this is true, but as my brother so aptly likes to remind me, excuses are like armpits….
Everyday I see other writers posting their goals for the day, how they’ve written so many words by a certain time, how they’ve stayed up late and are celebrating with a bowl of ice cream, and I think: these people are the writers, not me. Their lives are just as busy, but somehow they’re making it work.
This evening, I happened to look at my bookshelf and noticed “How to Grow a Novel” by Sol Stein. It had been a while since I read it so I took it out and opened it to the foreword where I saw I had at some point in time underlined the following passage, “A writer is someone who cannot not write… a nonwriter is someone who can write or not, who does not have the drive and need to put words on paper.”
In re-reading this, it suddenly dawned on me. I haven’t worked on any of my fiction writing lately, but I have been writing every single day. I’ve written a couple of blog pieces, a human-interest piece for work regarding the damage a small model manufacturer suffered at the hands of Hurricane Irene, and I also spent several days working on a devotional piece for my youth group’s monthly newsletter.
My fiction writing is still a skill I’m learning to master. The notes (though thankfully largely positive) from my beta readers on my WIP are proof enough of that. My fiction writing has not yet made it out into the world, though I am ever hopeful that it will soon. My non-fiction writing, however, is a completely different matter. It’s already being seen and, more importantly, it’s already being used to make a difference in the lives of those who read it.
Last week I received an e-mail from a young woman I’ve never met in response to my post “The Honest Writer.” In it, she shared a good deal of her life story, which bore an uncanny resemblance to my own. As a result, we exchanged a few additional messages that encouraged both of us in our writing and everyday lives. If I was a nonwriter, the words that spoke to her at that particular moment would never have been set down on a page. If I was a nonwriter, I would be in bed sleeping off the effects of a migraine right now rather than braving the light emanating from my screen. And if I was a nonwriter, than I would never have told my mother years ago: Sometimes all I want to do is write. Most of the time it’s all I can think about. When I don’t write I have this ache inside me, right here in the middle of my chest. My arms get tense, like there is this pent up energy inside of me that can only be channeled through a pen.
I said earlier that I often see writers talking about their achievements, but I also see writers struggling with the same sense of guilt and helplessness in their writing endeavors that I’ve faced this past week. So I put to you Sol Stein’s words — a writer is someone who cannot not write; whether it’s a story; an article for a newspaper, magazine, or newsletter; a blog piece; a devotional; a poem; or a song. If that describes you, if the only relief you can find to that odd “ache” in your chest, your arms (or your head) is by putting the pen to page or filling a blank Word doc, then you, my friend are a writer.
When life gets hectic and you can’t write for a week, a month, or even years, don’t let senseless guilt prevent you from picking up again right where you left off. Just take it one step at a time until you reach that final goal. And then, start again.