What happened when I gave up on writing
I’ve always been a writer. I’m a film archivist during the hours of 9 a.m to 6 p.m. on weekdays, but during all other hours I’m a writer. But this past Fall I made the tough decision of putting my writing career on the sidelines. This was a decision that came to be after grad school, after my big move to a new state, and amidst my adjustment to the standard workweek. As each week passed, I found that writing was morphing into more of a task than the creative outlet it had once been.
Throughout college, I had the privilege of making my own work schedule. If my thesis was taking more time than I originally planned, I simply bumped my work hours and came in at a later time. If I was knee deep in an article that I felt I couldn’t rip myself away from, I simply moved my work shift from the morning to the afternoon or from Friday to Saturday. Although I knew this wasn’t going to be my reality post graduation, I was confident that my writing wouldn’t interfere with my day-to-day life. Though four months into my job I found myself confronted with the harsh realization that time is limited. Despite my own pride with my time management capabilities, I found that they were useless when it came down to how each day panned out.
Most days are filled with work, commuting (public transportation in Los Angeles, yikes), meal prep and cooking, exercise, and the suggested down time, which generally means reading before bed. I know some people function fine on five or six hours of sleep, but I’m an eight to nine hours kind of person and have no shame in admitting it.
I used to write in the mornings. I would wake up at 5:30am, watch the light brighten with each minute, sip on coffee, and type away for a little over an hour. But with each day came a later start because with each evening came a later bedtime. I was hit with the unavoidable reality that we can cram as much as we want into our day but we’re still going to have the same amount of time. If I want to wake up early, I’m going to have to go to bed earlier. I’ll have to cut out exercise or cooking (luckily I’m a huge fan of eggs and those take about two minutes to cook). If we want to include something in our lives, another area is going to fall short and suffer. We simply cannot keep adding new hobbies without sacrificing an old one.
On top of my 40-hour week I was writing for an extra 30 hours. But this newfound career didn’t feel motivating, it felt exhausting. I was burning out fast on the idea of becoming a writer. My legs ached because I let my exercise fall to the side, my food was off balance because I stopped cooking and lived off of snacks, and my sleep schedule was in disarray.
The biggest issue of all was my writing was negatively affecting my day job. You know, the one that paid for my bills and provided me with health insurance. I began showing up late to work, putting my tasks aside to finish an article during office hours, skipping lunch to catch up with the work I should have been doing while I was writing, etc. What started out as a simple creative outlet was now a second job that I never intended on having.
I’ll admit I can be a bit of a workaholic, but the difference between some workaholics and me is I’m not a very successful one. I don’t get better with each additional job; I tend to get worse. It all crashed down when I took on a writing gig with a site that had a significant following. My already existent anxiety grew inside of me as I found myself wanting to retreat but not yet having the skills to do so. I knew this wasn’t the site for me, and I also knew I couldn’t take on a job as big as they needed. In my next piece, I made some major mistakes.
I spent a couple of days contemplating what had happened and how I might overcome it. The mix between wanting to throw my blankets over my head or charge forward and show them what I’m made of left me feeling stuck and uncomfortable. Although the issue was with the mistakes in my article, I was more upset by the realization that my time management was not cutting it. I had to make some serious decisions on how I wanted to spend my days and what I wanted to pursue in regards to a creative hobby.
I took a big break. I told the online magazines that I was working with that I would no longer be contributing to them. I put aside writing completely. I gave myself one month off of writing to get things in order with my health and career. This way I could get a sense of what my days would pan out like if I just had one, traditional job.
The first few weeks were easy. I caught up on movies, took advantage of the extra reading hours, and explored different parts of Los Angeles. It was like the vacation I had been meaning to have for the past few years. As someone who went directly to graduate school, worked through college, and didn’t take summers off, time without the homework hanging over my head was a vacation.
But soon after those feelings of euphoria came irritation. It was minimal at first, something I could calm by exercise or cleaning, but it gradually increased with each new day. Nevertheless, I couldn’t for the life of me come up with an interesting topic to sit down and write about. It was as though my vacation had turned against me and if I had decided to put the laptop down for a month then writing as a whole would be taken away forever.
I began to spend more money, sleep longer hours, and watch movies to distract myself rather than to enjoy them. Conversations with friends and family dwindled. I’d never realized that writing got my brain working, whether it was a narrative or a listicle.
By the end of autumn, I decided to wipe the dust from my laptop and bring it out with my morning cup of coffee (pot of coffee if we’re being honest). I sat with a pen and paper and racked my brain for titles that used to flow so easily from my fingertips. For a couple of weeks I would wake up prepared for a day of productivity and end up sitting, sipping on my coffee and feeling totally blocked from an activity that was once second nature.
After an obnoxious amount of mornings trying to write I thought, “What am I if I’m not a writer? What if it’s just something I like doing?” And something about that separation, between what I do and my identity, helped. The wonderful thing about having a creative hobby is that it doesn’t have to be for anyone else but yourself. So I started writing.
I wrote half-assed pieces, clunky pieces, and unfinished pieces. I tried writing about things I cared about, didn’t care about, and pieces I had no particular opinion on. I felt frustrated every time I sat down and the words didn’t flow as easily as they once did. What once took me a single morning was now taking me the span of a week. I got rejected. But it felt good to try. To get up each morning and decide to sit down and write whether or not it was publishable.
Maybe I don’t write an article a day, but I get up each morning and sit down at my laptop. Maybe my journey as a writer isn’t as quick as I would like it to be, but I’m still pursuing it. The point of finding your creativity is not to turn it into a career, aim for public approval, or be the absolute best. It’s meant to satisfy you. It’s okay to take breaks. But don’t give up something you love.
(Image via Paramount Pictures)