Sometimes you have to take a break.
Tomato Hornworms bury themselves under ground and cocoon themselves in hard, red chrysalis to wait out the winter. The moth emerges in the summer, ready to start the cycle over again. While they are still larvae, they consume massive amounts of leaves. I watched one strip one side of a leaf bare. It was hypnotic. No questioning. No doubting. Pure instinct. Total harmony with its current status in life.
Writing should have moments like this, I think. Periods where you are totally synchronized with the words and the music and the whole process. You write until the leaf is bare. That’s where I found myself after graduate school: bare-leafed and no winter in sight. It felt like a winter. Lots of rejections from lit magazines and journals. Peers moving onward to their next steps, constantly churning out new works and revisions. Many a conversation revolved around the “try, try again” mentality. You won’t get published if you don’t submit.
And yet. And yet. Writing was giving nothing back to me. Every avenue I tried often ended in failure. The stress of being a visible figure in the poetry scene weighed on me. The politics of networking panicked me. Writing stopped giving me pleasure. My ideas dried up. Barren. Nothing. I had no energy left to keep fighting for my art. So, I let it leave. The sense of guilt at giving up was surprisingly minimal. There were other priorities in my life that needed tending. Family concerns, jobs, friendships… all of these were more important.
I never really subscribed to the “If I didn’t write, I would die” mentality. I mean, I’m kind of always writing because that’s how my brain works: poetic fragments while driving to the airport, storytelling to fall asleep, what if scenarios throughout most of my personal interactions. Also, working with kids really lets you work your creativity. I never felt artistically deprived. But, I did feel artistically denied, and that insecurity prevented me from honestly interacting with my writing. I just couldn’t keep pretending.
So, it let it leave. I gave myself the permission to focus on other goals. I didn’t fret about being surpassed by my peers. I buried myself deep and wrapped up for warmth. I trusted that I would know when to return to writing. I trusted writing would return to me. And it did. No longer heavy with the hyper competitiveness I had, for some reason, felt essential to the process. Now, I jot down story ideas and brainstorm poem series. I feel the old thrill of creating, of sculpting worlds and ideas. It’s good to have the excitement back.