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Am I Still a Writer (If Words Evade Me)?

Image by Andreas Lischka [1] from Pixabay [2]

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” – Gloria Steinem

Novelist Barbara Kingsolver wrote her debut novel, The Bean Trees, while pregnant and suffering from insomnia. Not only that, she scribbled away at the draft inside a closet so as not to wake her sleeping husband. Jean-Dominique Bauby, author of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, suffered a massive stroke which left him paralyzed. Yet he managed to complete his novel by blinking to an assistant as she repeated the alphabet over and over again, only to pass away two days before its publication.

For the record, I haven’t sacrificed for my craft like Barbara and Jean-Dominque.

And though I may also never approach their authorial success, I could once relate to their devotion. There was a time when I possessed an admirable drive. I recall the furious energy, carrying a fire in my heart as I researched minute details of WWI France and forgotten Virginia mountain lore for my first novel. For nearly two years, I routinely rose in the dead of night to jot down scenes or descriptions that felt akin to me as my own memories. The desire to get the story right, for the emotions to ring true, filled me with an urgency that kept me going even when the destination was unclear.

I wish I could find that motivation again. But the promising vein, it seems, has turned to solid rock. My efforts these past few years have sputtered, again and again (and again).

Reasons exist, I suppose. Family matters have consumed my energies and brought details to the surface that eroded illusions of my youth. In addition, my empathetic nature, which in the past connected me to the world, instead now binds me into an emotional paralysis, punctuated by a formerly uncharacteristic rage. Some days, quite frankly, I am simply not sure I like people, at least not on the whole. As a consequence, the belief that I had something to add to the conversation – stories to share, feelings to explore – has faltered … horribly.

This understandably raises questions. Am I no longer a writer? Should I ask Therese to bequeath these periodic posts, one of my few strands of production, to someone else, allowing a “real writer” to share their insights, their gifts, and their generosity.

The latter will work itself out, I have no doubt. Writer Unboxed is my tribe and will remain so in whatever manner I serve (or observe). But the former, well, the very thought bruises my heart. Like some of you, my path into writing was a long time coming, following careers and pursuits galaxies away from the creative life. And it is for that reason, here and now I am taking a stand – I will not let this go without a fight. It is in that spirit, despite the uncertainties of our shared circumstances and my ongoing inner turmoil, that I pledge the following:

Going Back to the Start

Though I knew I wanted to write in my teens, life pulled me in another direction. Education and career propelled me far from pen and paper, and from the stories that bubbled so effortlessly inside me as a child. For that reason, when I found myself years later in a position to explore the latent rumblings, I exploded in hopeful giddiness. Everything I wrote was magical (at least in my eyes). My imagination felt boundless, and no hidden critic held me back.

I pledge to open that door again. It will not be the same because I am no longer the same. Still, I will take deep breaths and let the words flow, without judgement and without a clear aim. I will trust, as I once did, that the direction will become clear in due time, that the fruit will ripen as it should.

Set Limits / Set Goals

This is my confession – I have become a junkie to the turmoil of the world. I scan pandemic stats the way a financial broker monitors global markets. I quote virology studies like an armchair epidemiologist. On the political scene, I scan every breaking news story (and not just because DC is my home). I seethe; I swear; I rant. But ultimately all I really do is spin myself until I grow dizzy. These things have become my fixes, and I seek them out even when every fiber pleads to let them go. In normal times, I can hold these instincts in check. But in the shrunken world of the pandemic, my circuits have become overloaded.

I shall make boundaries, setting time-outs and establishing healthy routines while turning off and turning away those things which strangle my faith in others and suffocate creative instincts within myself. Furthermore, I will set goals for my mental, physical, and spiritual health. And I will let the initial play in my writing become achievable goals as mental muscles now strained and taut become limber and toned anew.

Find Alternative Creative Outlets

When one is ice-bound, everything freezes. It is not simply my writing that has withered on the vine. Many creative outlets I used to enjoy– taking photos during hikes, cooking new dishes, designing home projects – have suffered as well. To augment my “play” writing, and frankly to relieve pressure that is bound to appear, I will set aside time for pleasures I have neglected and make time for discovering new ones.

And that, dear writing clan, is my response to the question posed above. I am most definitely, and most defiantly, a writer. I will find a way to keep the flame lit and let it guide me through the dark of night.

Have you experienced a profound or prolonged gap in writing? If so, how did you find your way back? What are your secrets for keeping the pump primed? Has the current pandemic or political situation impacted your writing process, or short-circuited your creative juices? If so, in what ways? What lessons have you learned, and what challenges remain? Please share your thoughts — I look forward to exchanging ideas. Thanks!

About John J Kelley [3]

John J Kelley [4] crafts tales of individuals at a crossroads, exploring themes of growth, reconciliation and community. His debut novel, The Fallen Snow [5], about a young soldier’s homecoming at the close of WWI, received a Publishers Weekly starred review and earned an Honorable Mention nod at the 2012 Foreword Reviews Book-of-the-Year Awards. Born and raised in the Florida panhandle, John graduated from Virginia Tech and for a time served as a military officer. Today he lives with his partner in Washington, DC.

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