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10 Years of Not Giving Up: How to Keep Your Writing Life Alive

Shortly after my book came out, I stopped writing. 

Leading up to publication, I had put in the six years it took to draft the poems, workshop my writing, get expert reviews from mentors, work with an editor who helped me assemble my manuscript to send it to publishers, then finally work with the editor that my publisher hired before launching the book.

I stopped in part because everything leading up to publishing my book was directed at this one goal: get a book published. And here I had done that. 

I also stopped because of a personal tragedy that year that I wanted to avoid revisiting, since as, Anaïs Nin said, "we write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect." 

And, if I'm honest, I stopped in large part because I got hung up on the reception of my book, or more precisely the lack of reception of my book. (Scant reviews, and no invitation to join some secret society of poets. What!?)

Ultimately, I stopped because I forgot what all of my writing mentors told me: there is only the writing. 

When it had been long enough for me to ask myself, As a writer who was no longer writing, had I also stopped being a writer? the answer to that question was hell, no. I didn't want to lose my identity as an artist and thinking person but more than that, I didn't want to lose my community of other writers. 

The problem became, how can I be a writer even when I wasn't writing? For me, the answer was a deep dive into editing other writers. I produced my first issue of Room magazine on the theme of grief and loss, so I could learn how other writers do taste the worst of life's experiences in retrospect. 

This was the bridge I needed to get over my slump. Through editing writing that inspired me and filled my cup with bittersweet wonder, I was able to slowly nurse my way back to my own writing practice.

Today, I expect it'll be another six to ten years before I produce a book-length manuscript again. And that's okay. I'm learning to enjoy the process of writing and I'm learning what works and what doesn't work in my writing life. 

Because the thing my mentors tried to tell me and that I didn't heed enough at the time is that successful writers are not the ones who shine brightest on the page. They are the ones who keep on being a writer and weather the inevitable storms that come through living life, through being a creative person, and when our expectations of our writing lives don't account for the adversity we face in this arena.

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