Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Year I Stopped Writing

When does a writer cease being a writer?

For the last year and a half, I've lived in Portland, Oregon, working as a social media and communications specialist for a small business. I've written more professional copy in the last year than I did in my final year of graduate school in 2013. I also journaled more and read more books in 2014 than any other year of my life (including that one angsty year in sixth grade when I filled an entire Five Star notebook).

Yet, this is the first "complete" piece of creative writing I've written all year. The first piece of writing I've refined, edited, polished, and submitted somewhere to live and be read outside the covers of my journal. The first piece of original writing since my graduate thesis.

Sure, there was that old lyric essay I cleaned up, re-labeled as fiction, and submitted to a handful of journals. I wrote that first draft in 2011. Does editing, re-purposing count as writing? I'm not sure.   

As far as any new, original pieces by Renee Long? Nada. My first year and a half outside the MFA has been dry. But somehow, I don't feel too guilt-ridden about this drought.

I won’t label my experience with the ugly term some writers use (the dreaded “W.B.”). I suppose I’m experiencing heart sickness. Losing my ability (or drive, or desire, or motivation) to write feels like a best friend has left for a distant place with no phone or internet service.

I miss this friend: the days spent at the beach, the nights out dancing, the afternoons cooking and drinking wine together, the long, important talks where you share only the most vulnerable parts of yourself.

Yet I feel this long time apart serves some purpose. It is some crucial, painful experience I have to go through to grow. To thrive without resting on the crutch of my best friend.

One benefit I’ve found from this “long away,” this drought, is I have been fully present in my experiences here in Oregon. I felt the warmth of sweet driftwood on my skin while I watched the sun set behind coastal cliffs. I dove naked beneath an icy, blue lake in the forest of Mount Hood. On my birthday, I saw glittering spouts of gray whales migrating south to Baja for the winter.

For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel an itch to immediately capture these experiences in writing. Until now, of course. To me, the urge to exploit a moment for the sake of art never felt great…and this year, it was a relief for the writer-itch to fade for a while.  

I am still a writer, and I miss my long-distance friend. Sometimes, when I am reading or taking notes, it's like I receive a postcard—a glimpse into her life in the "away," and I am reminded how much I love and crave creative writing—how it fills me.

But those glimpses never replace the act of writing: the peace, the release, the high. The delight of mining a line of poetry or prose from the innermost parts of myself. This is how I see my writing: a best friend spending an extended period of time abroad. Away for the time being.

My friend will return one day. For now, my other close (but not quite as fulfilling) companions—reading and free journaling—keep me company, keep my mind sane. And when my desire to create more returns, when I am ready to write something worthy of jumping out of my journal for other eyes to see, I'll be glad. And we'll slip into old habits of friendship, develop new rituals. Grow. Learn.

I’m not sure what brought on this drought. I imagine it was the drastic life changes that occurred over the past two years: graduating from my MFA program, finding myself outside of a classroom for the first time in 20 years, moving 3,000 miles across the country. Whatever it was, I’m grateful for the respite. I’m grateful to know I am still a writer. I am grateful for the unexpected ways life re-arranges our hearts, and we still somehow survive.

Renee Long is a writer, editor, (sometimes) teacher, and novice yogi living in Portland, Oregon. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing Fiction from FAU. Her work has been published in Rock & Sling and Tiger’s Eye: A Journal of Poetry. She is the blog editor for Ruminate Magazine and has a mild obsession with orca whales.

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