Is this a problem?

So this thought occurred to me the other day: I maintain a blog about writing, and …wait for it… I’m not writing anything. In fact, other than this blog, I have written nothing since getting my MFA in mid-December. Absolutely nothing. And since I spent much of my last two months in my program revising my thesis, rather than writing new material, you might argue that I haven’t REALLY written anything in several months. Shocking, but true.

Some days this bothers me more than others. Mostly there is nonchalance: I think, “well, you were pretty burned out…” “Give yourself a break….” “Everyone has trouble starting new projects after finishing up something as all-consuming as a book….” “You’ll get back to it eventually….”

There is, occasionally, annoyance: “So this is what happens to MFA students! I’m unemployed and I’m not writing!” (I’m kidding. Sort of.)

Recently I’ve realized that what was once fulfulled by writing is now being (partially at least) fulfilled by other creative outlets. I’m creating visually, through photography and other media. And I’m painting my office, which although it comes under the heading of “redecorating” feels very creative for some reason.

Which raises the question, what the heck was being fulfilled by writing, and is it ok to substitute creative outlets? I mean, of course it’s OK, but what I am getting at is that there is this pressure on writers to always be writing something, to have discipline, to be able to answer all of those annoying questions that non-writers ask: What are you working on? What’s it about? Etc. And there is, of course, the financial pressure… At some point it might be nice to make a little money from writing.

So is the pressure valid? I mean, is it possible to be a writer and not write every day? My professor and thesis advisor would have said no. But then, I suspect that he didn’t write every day, and he’s published a string of well-researched nonfiction books. In fact, he even admitted that during the research phase of his books, he wrote nothing. A number of other authors I met in Boston might have said that even if you don’t write every day, you probably need to have some kind of schedule. I suspect that they are right. If the goal is to be a “successful” author. And I don’t know any writerly types who don’t — at least on some level — dream of some success.

I don’t for a moment think that I am “done” with writing, or that I won’t have a return to focus and discipline. But for now I am trying to learn to let the pressure slide off — I suspect that I’ll be a better writer when I write for my own needs rather than because I think I should be writing. As part of that, I am surrounding myself with things that inspire — pictures and words, art and writing. I’m taking photos, doodling in notebooks, painting my walls. I’m reading a novel. For now, that’s enough.

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5 thoughts on “Is this a problem?

  1. Elizabeth, it is not a problem at all–sometimes we need a break to see things from a different/bigger/new perspective. Teachers take 3 month summer vacations–they don’t teach at ALL over these vacations and yet they are still teachers! So just embrace your time off. :) yay!

  2. Hi. You don’t know me, but I stumbled on your blog and enjoyed this post. I think it’s ridiculous to say someone is not a writer if she doesn’t write every single day. Lots of writers (real writers, with books!) don’t write every single day. Sure, not one day goes by without me feeling like I should write, or guilty that I’m not writing, but I don’t write every day and I know I’m still a writer. And honestly, I don’t always believe people who say they do write so darned often and regularly. Sometimes I think writers are so overcome with guilt about maybe not writing in every spare second that they go around saying they do, in fact, write every single day. :) Phew. In any case, nice blog.

  3. Thanks for the comments/encouragement. I’m still feeling the not-writing guilt, but I definitely agree that most writers probably don’t have half the discipline they claim to have. Sometimes I think the talk is just competitiveness and jealousy at work.

  4. I just came across your blog too (looking for other MFA folks. I’m starting my MFA thesis now, and I took a class in my program about the creative process (psychology, science, essays, etc.).

    The creative cycle usually goes something like this:

    input (reading, living, absorbing art, etc.)

    unconscious incubation (resting, doing dishes, living, sleeping, going for a walk, more living…)

    write/work (output)

    rest

    re-work

    perhaps more input

    repeat, repeat (work a ton, maybe get sick of looking at it…)

    finish

    rest

    input… start over.

    The mulling it over part and the resting part are the “unconscious incubation” times that accompany creative input (like reading or getting inspriation). Your brain is working behind the scenes, and works best when the conscious mind is occupied with other, maybe mundane things. It’s vital to the process. It’s the reason Einstein had his biggest breakthroughs when he was shaving. Give yourself permission to honor this.

    Recovery time isn’t premission to be lazy or self-indulgent, of course, but some people call taking care of yourself and not writing constantly a lack of discipline.
    I agree that this has more to do with their ego–to prove how “real” writers are.

    You sound like you’re in the resting and input time right now–very healthy, and will lead to creative places.

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