I’m writing this at the end of a hard year, as disheartening a year as many of us have ever known.
I’m not going to recap the many offenses of 2020—you all know them as painfully vividly as I do. And I’m not going to review all the good things that also came out of this annus horribilis—I hope you know many of those things too from your own lives: the goodness people showed, the creativity and adaptability, the civil-rights progress we’re making, the forced opportunity to slow down.
What I want to do instead is to congratulate you.
In a year as fraught with reasons not to write as any I’ve seen in my lifetime, a year that in so many ways made it harder to focus on the creative spirit, a year that invited us all to curl into a ball and give up—on everything—you didn’t. Even if you didn’t write, you didn’t give up—and I know that because you’re reading this. Because you care enough about your creative impulse to keep a hand in the game, so to speak.
Maybe you tried writing and just couldn’t connect to your story when life was so much more fraught and fantastical than anything you could come up with. Maybe you did manage to write, and then judged it as terrible, put the manuscript down, stepped away. Maybe you meant to do NaNo this year, but there were so many people at home, ALL THE TIME, and you just couldn’t carve out space to do it. Maybe you felt like a failure at your writing, thought about giving up.
But you’re here.
I’ve written before about all the writing advice that tells you to write every day without fail, or on a regular schedule that’s inviolate, whether you want to write or not. We’re told that writing is a wonderful and terrible passion and privilege and we must honor it by doing it no matter what—that we must “sit down at the typewriter, open our veins, and bleed.” That we must never, ever give up, even when we’re absolutely tapped out and writing is a miserable chore—because by God, WE HAVE A CALLING.
Frankly all that sounds pretty brutal and oppressive to me—and it couldn’t make me want to create less.
Maybe even just keeping things together felt like all you could handle this year. Maybe adapting to our temporary new world order sucked every shred of creative mojo from you. Maybe all you managed to do in this “lost year” of quarantine and depressing world events and despair for humanity is sit on the sofa and read, or listen to the Hamilton sound track over and over and over, or binge-watch every single bit of programming Netflix shoveled in front of you.
And you know what? You’re still a writer. You’re taking in other people’s stories, filling the well, learning the craft. That’s such a crucial part of growing as a writer that I created a whole online course about it.
And if you feel like you may never go back to writing…that’s okay too, friends. If that’s what you’re feeling right now, then honor that—maybe that will change and maybe it won’t, but either way it makes you no less worthy a person, no less of a creative soul. I haven’t written a drop of fiction this year—but I’ve been having a ball working on presentations and workshops and posts for other authors on editing, revision, and craft. I’ve baked enough cookies and sweet treats to open a commercial kitchen, and tickled myself silly delivering unexpected socially distanced “cookie bombs” to friends’ and family’s doorsteps. Those have been my creative outlets, and honestly they’ve done more to salve my psyche than any amount of gritting my teeth and pounding out words. I’m living, whether or not I’m writing.
I recently read this courageous, honest, self-affirming approach to not writing and it spoke to my soul. Some of the comments fell along the lines of the oft-repeated exhortations I mention above—“Don’t give up! Keep writing!” But I was blown away by Kathryn Magendie’s honesty and the way she honored her self—not her writing or her career, but her person—by listening to the impulse that kept her away from her keyboard and let her experience something like this:
Oh, the freedom just to walk around as My-Self and not as Novelist. I tasted and explored and did stupid as hell crap and did smart as not-hell crap; I lived the life I normally gave to my characters. I busted out all over and created chaos and memories and that will enrich my writing if I’d sit down and actually do any.
Doesn’t that sound life-affirming and marvelous? Doesn’t the person who experienced those things sound like someone who will have so much rich life experience to funnel into her creative pursuits, if and when she decides to pursue them? Doesn’t it sound unfettered and open and joyful? I think this article is a must-read for every author who has ever felt that stepping away from writing would be a betrayal of themselves and their art. It’s the exact opposite. When you’re out of juice you have to recharge.
So here’s to you, my friends. Whether you wrote or not, whether you were proud of your creative output or not, you got through this unprecedented time. You loved and cried and worried and raged and mourned…and you lived. You simply lived your life.
And that’s enough. It’s always enough.
You are enough.
May 2021 bring brighter days for us all.