I get kind irritated when people say things like, "If writing is important to you, you will make the time." Or, "Writers write—if you're not writing, you're not a writer." Or, "If you're really passionate about this, you'll never stop trying."
Bah! We sure like to invent a lot of rules for things. So judgy. All these commandments posted in some meme or a tweet, and we writers so desperate for rules in an unfairly subjective universe soak it up like gospel, retweet, and rememe, and suddenly it's as if they're written in stone.
But these rules—they're not helpful, you know? We assume they are, like they're some sort of guidelines for what makes a writer, and if I can just get myself to do this or do that, then I can call myself a writer. But they're kind of . . . crap. They're designed to make some of us feel superior (those writing like gangbusters) and the rest of us inferior at what is already the worst time of a writer's life. Like, if you aren't doing XYZ, then clearly you're a suckturd that actually hates writing deep down, so go away, you failure, and leave us real writers alone to write in our Starbucks-infused let-me-take-a-selfie-of-my-typewriter-on-my-thighs caves o'wordporn.
But, it's not like you stop being a writer just because you aren't writing right now, any more than you stop being a mom because you aren't momming right this second, any more than you stop being a foodie because you stress-ate a pint of Chunky Monkey during the Republican debate, any more than—whatever, I could go on like this forever. It's like this—you don't have to sacrifice a goat to prove how faithful and spiritual you are. (Ok, that doesn't really clarify my point). I mean, you don't have to prove your identity or your value within that identity to anyone, not even to yourself. And just because you're not actively doing something right now doesn't mean it's not important to you.
I mean, yes, obviously if you have never written anything in your life, you're kind of a lame toolbag if you start handing out business cards advertising your Writerly status, especially if you always claim to be "working" on some novel while never having actually "worked." But this isn't what I'm talking about—and even then, I don't rightly care what you call yourself. I'm not talking about what we say we are or what we identify as. This is bigger than that. Sadder.
Earlier today, I was talking to one of my BFFs about how I've been feeling. She knows, of course, that despite the awesome that my life has in many ways become, it has been fairly complicated the last few years. That I work and work, because food, children, roof. That leisure time is rarer and more precious. And that writing, which was once my thing—my escape, my mirror, my need—is now a luxury, and also my bane. I talked about how in the spare time I have I still try to write sometimes but that I don't get far, and about how other times, I think I could write right now but then don't because it feels pointless. I talked about how instead I just sit there and close up and get sad because it's pointless and don't want it to be pointless. I told her that it feels like I'm standing at a window waving goodbye to a large piece of me, like "Goodbye, torso of Carolina," just sitting there sad because I know I can stop her from leaving but I don't know how.
I wrote my first story when I was seven years old, my first real novel when I was sixteen, seventeen. Since then, I have written countless novels and stories and essays and yadda yadda. I have dreamed of publishing for a very long time. Hope has been high—and low, the blows sometimes especially hard. But through it all, I have kept writing. It has been the one gift I could always give to myself, the special, intimate time inside my own head, escaping into other people's lives, which I could invent with my very own brain. As much as I have always loved reading books, I have loved writing them more. The most important thing to me was never really to have my stories read. I mean, I have shaped, twisted, and danced in my own words, watching and feeling the stories come to life from my own head, my own fingertips. I could always access a new story whenever I wanted. If there is magic in the world—this is it.
But now, the magic has slipped away, dissolving into the fog of work and life and life and life, and I grieve. There are writers who write. And there are writers who mourn not writing.
There are no rules. Sometimes there is time to write, and motivation, and words. And sometimes there is nothing but a blank screen and grief.
It doesn't matter what you call yourself. A writer. An author. An artist. An aspiring mother-fucking scribbler. This isn't what matters. When the words are gone, you're not not those things. It's just the words are gone. They're gone.