Returning to the Lonely Page, What I Learned After Taking a Break From Writing

December 28, 2011 3 Comments

Long ago the word alone was treated as two words, all one. To be all one meant to be wholly one, to be in oneness, either essentially or temporarily. That is precisely the goal of solitude, to be all one.

—Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I took a break from writing in 2011. I did a fair amount of writing in 2010 and the early part of 2011, I liked how it felt, I got used to putting my words out there and having them be reasonably well-received, imperfect as they were. So after a handful of published pieces, some part of me figured I should probably stop while I was ahead, while everything felt golden and I felt a bit unstoppable. At the moment when I could have aimed for bigger things, I found I needed to go back to where my words didn’t matter so much—my own not-so-exciting, incoherent, unpublishable life—and do more work there.

Writing in public made me realize that I needed to go back to find out what I cared about. I thought I knew what I cared about, but it turns out life has a way of changing you, sometimes in rapid cycles. Dar Williams says it better in one of her most heart-breaking/healing songs: “Life gets into who you thought you’d be.” That’s the feeling. All I knew this past year was that I wanted to observe and participate in what was happening around me without needing to say something about it. A lot had happened and was happening still. For the first time in a long time I knew I was a part of it all whether or not I ever opened my mouth.

The tagline on one of my favorite writing websites, The Rumpus, is always changing. I find this comforting in a world where everything feels branded with a tagline meant to stick. I don’t need things to stick these days; I’m interested in noticing what is and letting whatever comes next come next. Right now the tagline at The Rumpus reads: “Part of working is not working.” I like this because part of being a good writer is knowing when to be quiet. Part of being a good writer is letting it be ok that you have nothing to say. Part of of being a good writer/conversationalist, is listening with your whole self, not crafting a response as you’re listening, just listening and letting that change you. And then if necessary, paying close attention to your own changing heart.

In my year of mostly-not-writing, I’ve been changed by my desire to support others’ writing rather forward my own, feeling what it feels like to do that. I’ve been changed by what feels like an almost daily bombardment of information coming at me from all directions (even though I usually go seek it out online). I’ve been changed by new creative projects that seem to have come out of nowhere, demanding my time and attention whether I’ve liked it or not, which now I’m incredibly grateful for.

I’ve tried to notice all of these things rather than judge them. I’ve tried just to listen and be quiet. As a result, if you look in my drafts folder on my laptop, you’ll find a bunch of half-essays from this past year that read like they have resigned to being forever unfinished. Essays I flirted with and left behind because I was never wholly emotionally available to them anyway. There was something good there, sure, but I knew I couldn’t stay. I had other work to do.

And now this writing hibernation period is on its way out, too, just as unexpectedly as it came. I’m also kicking my own ass out of it because there’s only so long a writer can brew on something. I have things to say again.

I won’t be writing about things I thought I’d be writing about this time last year. But after taking time off, I know I’ll be writing from a more authentic place. Coming back to writing feels simultaneously fantastic and totally scary. I forget how lonely this writing business is. How it’s not a business at all. How much it’s about having an honest conversation with ourselves about how we seek to live in the world. No matter how our writing serves, how many new conversations it helps to start or doesn’t. And how important it is to do just the same.


Comments (3)

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  1. Amanda says:

    Lex, this was so timely! I took a break from writing in 2011 too. I was starting a business, and my therapist (bless her) suggested that maybe, instead of being too busy to write and feeling guilty about it, I should just make a decision to focus my efforts on the farm for now. It was good advice, and I spent a lot of time playing in the dirt and thinking about the story I want to write. Last week, while I was brushing my teeth, the last major plot problem that I couldn’t get past suddenly resolved itself, and I sat down, outlined the story, and started writing again. It felt like magic, but I guess it was just… time.

    I’ve missed reading your essays, so I’m so glad you’re writing again. Welcome back!

  2. masiac says:

    So many examples where the not compliments and therefore defines the is. Music needs silence. Pillars need space between. Jean Girard needed Ricky Bobby. : P

    Yoga is the balance of effort and relaxation…ultimately the yoking between body and mind. Perhaps when we are in a period of not (not doing what we want, not where we want, not what we want) we have to listen, so that we are prepared for what is…or what is about to become.

    On a less eastern note, there’s a deleted scene from Pulp Fiction where Mrs. Mia Wallace asks Vincent Vega if he listens or waits to speak. He thinks a minute and then admits that he waits to speak…but that he’s trying to listen.

    Also..really sorry for following up your beautiful piece with such inane references!

  3. Yoon Lee says:

    On NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday, I tuned into Carrie Brownstein (I adore her), actor and writer of the show, Portlandia, just as she said this: “Sometimes you need to take a break from music, so you’ll want again and not take it for granted.” I cannot agree with her more and your essay resonates the same tune. I’m so happy and proud that you had the courage to step away, to trim in order to grow stronger branches. Your voice will be clearer, stronger, and more beautiful because of it, and I’m excited for this period when you’ll get to encounter the more mature you, a more thoughtful writer, and most importantly, someone you understand better, so you can embrace, express, and defend her. And the rest of us will benefit from always hearing a beautiful artist of words who has the talent and audacity to take what’s around us and translate into something that will challenge us to take a step back and also reevaluate what we believe in.

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