On Learning to Write Again

From the moment I learned to draw that twenty-sixth letter of the alphabet, I’ve loved to string them all together. Writing and I, we go way back. A tower of journals has hovered in the corner of my bedroom for years. The first one began in second grade. I used to write every day during snack break, until Rebecca, who sat next to me, decided to read the entry about my crush out loud during recess. My journals have stayed home since then.

Soon, my journals were so full that written words starting spilling out everywhere else - birthday cards, songbooks, letters to faraway friends, and eventually, a blog. Writing was clarifying for me. It helped me to sift through my brain until I got to my heart. To read through pages from years past made messy thoughts clear. I understood my heart best once it was scrawled across a page.

So when a book deal came along, it only made sense. Turning thoughts into dollars? I couldn’t have dreamed up this kind of career perfection at age twenty if I’d tried. Those hours staring at blinking cursors and incomplete sentences were wrestlings I’d gladly choose over and over again.

It was only once the manuscript was complete that the cursor turned angry, shouting at me with every blip across my screen. No longer was I penning messy thoughts to bring some clarity to my heart; now I spent my days typing book pitches and blog quotas and marketing emails that made my passion cloudier by the minute. I didn’t care how many people read my words — until people started reading my words. So my stats skyrocketed, and the joy of writing felt further away than ever before.

One year and one thousand marketing emails later, the book came out.

I stopped writing.

A year of promotion had exhausted my creativity, and I needed to retreat from the blog, from the emails, from the noise. I was right to close my laptop. But I was wrong to close my journal.

I loved the book. I still do. But in that moment, I’d forgotten that I loved to write. I took an exhaustion from catering to thousands of eyes and turned it into the ridiculous idea that the words I was writing were the problem. So the words stayed inside. And that razor-sharp clarity I’d found on pages since age eight went away.

It took almost eight months before I picked up a pen again. When I did, it was euphoric. I lit a candle and brewed some coffee and stayed up until 4am. I wrote fifty pages. And I learned the most valuable lesson of my creative life.

I am a writer. There are things about that job that I do not love. But the thing I will always love? Writing. Never again will I make the mistake of putting the thing that brings me joy on a shelf because other things are making me tired. I will fiercely guard my creativity. And so should you. Write because it brings you joy, the pure kind that makes you feel like a second grader again. When other things threaten to take that joy away, kick them to the curb for a while. But never throw the pen down with them.

Those of us who choose creativity as a profession see things a little differently. Our focus is unique because we were wired to create. So let’s pick up the pen, move the cursor, dip the brush into the paint. We’ve got joy coursing through us that’s dying to get out. The world needs us. Let’s get to work again.