I don’t really want to go back and look at how long it’s been since I sat down to Write (yes with a pretentious capital ‘W’). I know it’s been months, but to be fair it’s really been years. Sometimes I look back to my best writing days and see it as another lifetime. A human life is made of many little lifetimes, overlapping yet often so distinct as to be held as a perfect memory separate from the whole.
For me, the little lifetime was six years. I locked myself in a room nearly each and every day and wrote for several hours. I wrote two novels, several stories, a few stubs of tales as yet untold. And yet, millions of words are not enough to be a writer.
It’s true that writing is hard work. Frankly, it is impossible to come day after day to the page and expect to release your best work. You must take what the writing gives and be happy that it gives at all. You must also show up.
Some writers, when faced with the prospect of not writing, will say things like:
“I would rather stop breathing than stop writing.”
“I would die if I wasn’t writing.”
“I cannot live without writing.”
But the reality is that you will not die nor will you stop breathing. You won’t stop living or stop feeling alive. You will still be a writer, you will simply not be writing.
This may sound sad and depressing but not as bad as you might think. In fact, it becomes rather pleasant after awhile because you stop worrying about all those things which only exist in your mind. You stop tending the universes there and the characters and the stories.
Not writing, after a time, is as pleasant as a warm bath.
As I said above, I’ve been in the tub a long while now. My skin is well past pruning. It’s withered and white. Soft and rubbery. My muscles are weak from buoyant caresses. My bones do not feel capable of holding my weight, and oh how that weight has grown.
Yes, it is pleasant in the bath. Pleasant and dreadfully dull.
Getting out of the tub, especially after you’ve been in it for awhile, is a painful experience. First, you must gird yourself against the atmospheric effects. Then you heave yourself out of the water, for there is really no graceful way to exit a bath. Even though you have prepared yourself mentally, you’ll find that your limbs have forgotten how to support your weight. A curse for the chill that wasn’t in the air five seconds before and a hustle for the towel. You’re focus is entirely on the goal of drying off quickly all sense of relaxation gone.
If you think about this, you’ll stay in the tub a bit longer. You’ll use your toes to fiddle with the nobs and eek out that last bit of hot water from the tank. You’ll sink below the water till it nearly touches the edge of your nose, knowing that if you fully submerge you’ll be freezing when you come up for air.
This is what the latter stages of not writing feel like. You know the chill is spreading. The water has long since stopped steaming. You wouldn’t be surprised if ice began to form near the edges of the tub, slowly closing in on you, forcing you to pull yourself into a tight embrace around your fear of emerging.
But like the warm bath, you know that even your fear cannot last. The water will be flat and cold as the grave. Your eyes, held shut against the inevitable, will open wide and you will clamber from the tub like a scalded monkey. Teeth chattering, you’ll wonder why the hell you ever got in there in the first place.
And maybe, if you’re smart, you’ll get back to work.