Writing For Yourself

bekah Guest Writer 3 Comments

You know those people who invite inspiration simply by sharing the truth of their story? Christin Taylor is one of those women and I’m beyond thrilled to introduce her to you, as a friend and guest blogger. Christin is an incredible writer, author, professor, and all-around lovely soul. Our mutual friend, Kristin, encouraged me to connect with Christin, and this summer I was humbled to learn from her writing coach gifting. No doubt she will impact you and your story today.

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I think I knew, even as I finished the article, that I couldn’t send it.  With this realization came a rising tide of barely suppressed panic.

You see, I am a working writer, and a writing professor. Both of these careers depend on me producing a steady flow of publications.  

As it turned out, this past school year was very prolific for me. I finished my second book, I got a significant publication in the NY times, and I was acing my teaching gig with rave reviews from my students.

As the semester came to an end, I stepped off of my busy schedule into the turquoise blue waters of summer break, suddenly free and floating. I had nothing to do this summer except take care of my two lively and beautiful kids, Noelle (6) and Nathan (3).

I began the summer thinking, Great, I have all this time to ramp things up, produce more, write more, publish more.

Instead, I ran head long into writer’s block.

This is how I ended up slaving away over a second article for the NY Times, which ultimately I knew I could never send. It just wasn’t good enough.

An onslaught of irrational self-doubt and anxiety hit me. This is it, what if my writing career is over? What if this writer’s block is permanent? What if I never write another thing again? What if my audience shrivels up and disappears? What if my publishers drop me? What if…?

Into the middle of this madness, spoke my friend Kristin.  Kristin is a published author, a PhD student, a professor, and a full-time Mom.  I rely on her heavily for insight, companionship and a good heavy dose of daily sanity.

“Maybe you’re just supposed to write for yourself right now,” she said.

I hit her words like a brick wall. No, no, no, I back pedaled inwardly.  That can’t be. I can’t actually fall silent this summer and write only for myself. I need to keep cultivating my audience and my platform. I need to start working on my second book. I need to nurture this connection with the NY Times.

With the kind of stubbornness that only someone in denial can embody, I dove back into my writing. I tried to beat my NY Times article into submission again and again. I cut my wrists for more blog posts, but nothing came. I decided to start writing my third book, but found myself staring at a blank page, utterly stumped. 

I went on like this for about half the summer, until one morning, while having coffee with one of my writing clients, something clicked.

She and I were discussion writing practice and process. “I haven’t been able to write a single thing this summer,” I moaned to her.  “I’m afraid I’m losing my edge, not to mention my audience.”

“Oh! They can live without you for the summer!” she chirped, her hands flying suddenly from her lap. “They don’t need you right now. They’re all on vacation and traveling.  Your audience can have you back this Fall.”

With Melissa’s words, a latch on a gate somewhere deep in my heart released and the doors swung open.

I had gone into the summer imagining spending all my free time writing and generating even more than I had generated in the school year, but the truth was, I just needed to rest. I needed to recuperate. I needed to give myself permission to write – gasp – nothing.  

By the time I arrived at this realization, I felt sheepish.  Hadn’t Kristin said this to me earlier?  “I didn’t want to hear it,” I confessed. She laughed. “It terrified me to just write without agenda or purpose. To maybe not even write at all.”

I didn’t write on my blog once this summer. Didn’t even start my book.  Didn’t write any articles. I did nothing I had planned on doing.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t write.  I did, a little bit here and there, when I felt like it and when I had time.

What came out instead by the end of the summer, was a deeply personal essay about the miscarriage my husband and I experienced between Noelle and Nathan.

I didn’t set out to write about this.  In fact, it just bubbled up and I followed it.  Because of the nature of the essay, it may never see the light of day. It’s hard for me to imagine this, to have spent time crafting something only to let it lie quietly where I put it down. It’s hard for me to make peace with a whole summer spent and no writing to show for it.

But, I learned a much deeper lesson beyond just writing this summer. I learned a little about what it means to be human.

Who of us can go and go and go without end?  Who of us can constantly produce, constantly preform, constantly generate?  We can’t.  Just as the seasons rotate, so does the soul, so does the body, so does the mind.

It is terrifying to step into a season of quiet, a season when the ground lays fallow and no green sprout unfurls from the soil. It’s terrifying to see the dry dusty earth and to wait with no promise of reward.  It takes trust and it takes faith.

It also takes a few gentle, but direct voices giving us permission to let go, and be still.  Giving us permission to write only for ourselves.

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Bio

Christin Taylor’s new book, Crew: Finding Community When Your Dreams Crash, was released this month from Wesleyan Publishing House.  In it, she writes about how to find the those voices that give us permission to live life!  You can read more about her and her writing at www.christintaylor.com.

Comments 3

  1. Christin…this was my exact dilemma over the summer. I had expected to finish revising my WIP, draft some blog posts, IN ADVANCE, on top of conducting research, networking with other writers, and accomplishing a million other items on my writer’s to-do list. But what happened was quite the opposite. I played with my kids, I hung out with my teacher-husband, off for the summer, and I read a dozen books. With just my part-time day job and managing only the essentials, I slightly ignored the writer in me. After a few weeks of summertime easy living, I sat down to write and nothing. The well had run dry. Like you, I panicked. But only in private. Then I ignored that uncomfortable feeling because it’s SUMMER! You can’t be sad during the summer!

    Beach-bound by day, I felt free, but come evening, when I cyber-stalked all the writers I admire and witnessed their extreme productivity, a crisis of confidence overtook me and I felt like a failure. I contemplated whether I was meant to write in the first place. Maybe the last year and a half were all I had. Could it be true?

    It took a month of therapy (mostly with my writing partner and my extremely patient husband) to process it all. I wanted them to tell me that I was right; that maybe this wasn’t the season for me to elevate my writing to “high priority.” Maybe I could try again when the kids were out of the house and I didn’t have SO MUCH driving to do. I thought they’d tell me that I was down and out-of-sorts because I needed to mourn the “writing-dream-on-hold” decision.

    Those were my thoughts. But not theirs. They said it over and over: “You NEED to write. Because you’re not yourself when you aren’t writing. Don’t you see you’re a little CRAZY right now, thinking about quitting? Writing is just as impossible to quit as your Diet Coke addiction. Don’t worry…when your little summer reprieve is over, you’ll find it again.”

    I didn’t believe them. But I waited it out. A couple weeks before the kids started school, when they were enrolled in prep classes and working on summer assignments and getting organized, when I’d finally stopped trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with my writing dream, something happened. It all came back…I came back. Four blog posts drafted, two chapters revised, connections made, hope renewed!

    When I look back, I’m a little embarrassed that my writing resolve could be compromised so easily but I can’t let the regret/guilt get to me. There’s too much of those out there for us “writers-in-progress.” What I know now, is that writing is more than learning just about the craft, honing skills and building your platform. I also know that sometimes, I will need some time off, and that’s okay.

    So next summer, when there’s more sand in my toes than words added to my WIP, I’ll be prepared. Thanks for the reminder. Keep writing and inspiring and sharing. I appreciate you!

    Jenn Hale

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      Jenn, I adore your words, “You NEED to write. Because you’re not yourself when you aren’t writing… Don’t worry, you’ll find it again.” Amen and wise words. So glad you found it again. Sometimes we all need to step away and come back with fresh eyes and renewed perspective.

  2. Jenn Hale, Bless you! It sounds like you and I were on the exact same writing journey this summer! 🙂 Yes, yes, yes. Just like you, it all came back to me right when the kids when back to school: 3 articles, and a blog post, connections made for my book tour. Isn’t it amazing how we can be so easily convinced to throw in the towel?!

    I love these two lines: ” What I know now, is that writing is more than learning just about the craft, honing skills and building your platform. I also know that sometimes, I will need some time off, and that’s okay.” Amen. So vital for us to know in this culture of high-productivity.

    Hugs!
    Christin

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