It’s a raw day here in central Ohio with a brisk wind, temps in the thirties, and a few snow pellets from time to time. Wouldn’t you know the forsythia and daffodils are in bloom? It seems to happen each spring. A stretch of warm days coaxes the plants to light and air. They put on their blooms only to get hit with a cold snap. Our spirits rise only to get tamped down. We long for consistent warmth, the kind that will make winter a distant memory.
A writing life is a life of peaks and valleys. Sometimes we’re up, and sometimes we’re down. That never changes no matter how much you publish or how much acclaim you receive. The fallow periods come, and we despair. Is this it, we ask ourselves. Is this the beginning of the end? Is this the day I stop being a writer?
To my way of thinking, only we can make the decision to stop. It’s easy to believe that other people—the gatekeepers like agents, editors, contest judges, etc.—hold that power, and to an extent they do because they can always say no to us. The last time I checked, though, no agent, editor, or contest judge ever sat with me in my writing room while I worked. If they threaten to invade that sacred space via their naysaying voices from past experiences, I find a way to say no to them. No, you may not steal the joy I feel when I’m writing. No, you may not cause me to cast doubt on myself. No, you may not make me hesitant. Our writing spaces are where we can be bold, ferocious, insistent. They’re spaces in which we can practice what we love.
And yet how many times over the years have I told myself to just stop—to stop trying to figure out narrative arcs, to stop exploring characters, to stop wrestling with sentences. How many hours have I spent alone in a room imagining stories or recreating experiences? How many hours have I stolen from loved ones? How many hours have I stolen from myself? Then I realize it’s the only thing I know to do—to keep trying to give this world of contradictions and chaos some sort of artistic shape, to make it hold still for a moment, so I’ll have a chance at clarity and hope. Without that, I fear I might vanish, caught up in the chaos. I might fall into such a well of despair I’ll never find my way back to solid ground.
I write to better understand our conflicted hearts. I write to remember the humanity we share. I write to bear witness. I write to illuminate. As pretentious as it may sound, I write to try to stop myself from disappearing. For that reason alone, I imagine I’ll keep doing what I do as long as I’m able even if no one’s interested in what I write. Maybe I’ll just be whispering in the dark, but a whisper is something I can hear. A voice, no matter how quiet, is still a force. It says, “Listen.” It says, “I matter.” It says, “We’re not alone.” Each time I sit down to write, I speak from the chaos. With ink marks on a page, I engage with the world, and why would I ever want to stop doing that?