Like Breath

Like Breath

Writers talk a lot about how they write. It’s a question people (including other writers) ask a lot. We also talk about why we write. What got us interested or involved in writing. The question people don’t ask, is what happens to a writer when they stop writing?

It’s strange that the topic isn’t addressed more often, considering how misunderstood a discipline it is. You wouldn’t, for example, tell a doctor or a construction worker that they should consider pursuing other passions, something more lucrative, something more productive to society. Yet struggling young writers hear time and again why not just do something else?

I, and others, touched on this briefly during a recent blog hop which asked why do you write? As a group we described the need to write as irresistible, as a necessity, and as a release that prevents our going bonkers. It’s difficult to explain to people who aren’t artistic or creative. For many of us, writing isn’t a hobby; it’s a part of who we are. For me, it’s not enough to come home at the end of the day, pick up a story for a little while, slap some words in a document and wait happily for another opportunity to get a few words in. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, about what should happen in my stories, about what kind of people my characters are and what kind of trouble they’re going to get in to. It’s not that I’m incapable of focusing on other things, it’s that I’m happiest, I feel most fulfilled, when I’m writing.

The closest example I can offer is coming home at the end of a long, bad day. You’re tired, you’re stressed, you may even be angry. All you want to do is order pizza from your favorite pizza place. Or play an hour of your favorite video game. Or watch one particular show you really love. Because if you don’t get to do that one thing, you know you’re going to explode. And after you get that one thing, you feel such a flood of relief, you actually think you might be able to get through the next day.

Going awhile without writing causes that stressful buildup for me. Usually it happens when a long string of pressing obligations pop up in a short span of time. I’m not opposed to jotting down a few words when I have a free moment, but every now and then you don’t have a free moment for several weeks (such as when you move across an ocean or buy your first house). As the weeks pass, and writing continues to fall by the wayside, I get irritable. Sometimes I get lethargic and sometimes I even get depressed. It doesn’t help that writing isn’t like riding a bike; you don’t just pick it up again and take off at the usual speed. It’s overwhelming to wade back into a paused project and expect it to take the momentum it had before the break. You often have to build progress slowly, doing more each day. It takes a while to get back into the routine, to find the tone and atmosphere you were building when you set the project aside, and to get your narrator to cooperate again. And depending on how much time you usually devote to writing, a small amount of progress might be as frustrating as none, especially if you feel you should be able to complete a project in a smaller time frame.

Of course some of this has nothing to do with not writing and everything to do with time management and everyday life. But the fact remains that many writers feel writing is a force in their life, something they must do. Something they cannot live without or cease to do; much like breathing.

Aristotle said that writing, like the other arts, is cathartic. That the act of writing allows us to purge all our negativity and allows us to feel refreshed. That’s certainly the best way to describe my experience.

I wrote recently on Tumblr about the passing of my grandmother. We were very close in my youth. Her passing hit me hard, especially since it happened just before the holidays. At first, all I could do was cry. I thought of all my fond memories and I realized I would never speak to this wonderful woman again. It devastated me. Until I sat down in front of a blank word document and began to write. I wrote personal things, things for her, things about her, things for my family. Since I was unable to attend her funeral, I wrote words of goodbye and asked my family to read them in my absence. My tears flowed freely while I wrote all of it.

At the end I felt better. I took out a short story I wrote months ago and started editing it again. In my heart I know that story is for her.

Writing is a part of who I am. I paint my pictures with words. It isn’t just what I want to do for a living, it’s how I express myself, how I cope with everything life throws at me. Just before we moved to England, with the help of a friend, I wrote a for-fun plot about one of my favorite characters falling into an alternate universe. Separated from everything he’d ever known and everyone he loved, he dusted himself off and built a new life. He found a place in that strange new world that allowed him to use his skills. He even found love.

And it was only after I crossed the ocean I realized I had written my story. The story of giving up everything familiar, everything I thought I needed in my life, to discover something new and fantastic.

I can’t imagine a day I will ever stop writing. I can’t not write.

2 Replies to “Like Breath”

  1. Oh, this is so wonderfully written. I am SO there with you! (And very grumpy this week because my obligations have kept me from writing–thankful my hubby finally understands and respects this!)

    And I’m really sorry about your grandmother. May her love and inspiration live on in you always….

    1. Not enough people understand, or try to understand, what it’s like for a writer when they’re prevented from writing, whatever the reason. Sometimes I feel like talking about it is talking to a brick wall ^^;; but at least my fellow writers understand :)

      And thank you. Her loss hit me pretty hard and I still have days where I can’t quite believe it. But I know she’d be proud of me for pursuing my dreams. She was a big reader, my grandma. She shared my love of books.

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