I don’t like “always” statements because they imply certainty, and I know with certainty that certainties come with exceptions.
For instance, when I teach college-level composition, I tell students that repeating the same word is a form of redundancy (and readers don’t like redundancy); yet just now, I chanted “certainty” three times, and I also mentioned “redundancy” twice after that, which means variegation is not a steadfast rule.
Certainties include exceptions.
Gracefully, uncertainties come with exceptions, too.
This helps me sleep at night while still doubting if I am a writer. Like, a “real” writer.
I used to seek out certainty. In graduate school, I asked one of my professors about writing rules, and balked at her response: “Rules? There are no rules.” The younger version of me thought that, without rules, I couldn’t learn how to write well. It took time to shatter this notion of “always,” of rules: the illusion of the perfectionist.
The art of writing is full of uncertainty, the label “writer” included; so when the “not enough” feeling claws into my throat, I remind myself about exceptions. I am permitted to feel like I draft “bad writing,” while also believing someone, somewhere, could read my stories and say, “This is good.”
My anxiety is certain I will fail.
I am uncertain if I will succeed.
And none of that matters, so long as I keep stirring my cauldrons of words.
why I don’t write as much as before
Maybe I’m the one imposter no one will catch. Perhaps, I’m the shittiest writer in the world, but I’m two short stories and a novel away from an opus.
Tor author Charlie Jane Anders writes in “Chapter 2: Imposter Syndrome is Just Part of Being a Writer” from Never Say You Can’t Survive, “imposter syndrome can be a sign that you’re doing well, because you always feel more insecure when you’re starting to get more recognition,” as well as, “if you don’t get paid (or paid enough) for your writing, you might also also get force-fed the idea that you’re not a real author,” which sums up how my writer-self felt after exiting graduate school: yes, I could publish, and people might want to read it; except, I was (mostly) not paid for it.
As a result, I felt paralyzed between this belief I should be paid for my work (at least, if I wanted it to be “real”), and an overlapping yet conflicting belief that I was a “real enough” writer, as evidence by my zine publications. What a weird in-between.
Yet I wanted to buy into the idea that to write is to be a writer. Ergo, I didn’t need to squeeze money out of it. So I stuck with teaching college composition as the money-making side-quest brought on by my MFA; and that turned out good, since adjunct teaching filled my soul’s desire for meaningful community work; but I also returned to blogging to write my heart out, to be the “real” writer who was writing for the sake of it—and that’s where things went astray.
I tackled subjects that mattered to me: autism; generational trauma; mental health. Had I been left to my shenanigans, a project might’ve emerged from it: memoir; poetry collection; the growth of an idea. Until my mother threatened to sue me for writing about our family, ramping up my paralysis.
I gave up writing for years.
Instead, I relied on visual arts for a creative outlet. An Etsy store came to life from that journey. A deeper understanding of my relationship with creativity surfaced, too. The abandonment of my cauldron of words wasn’t all bad news.
Alas, if I stop writing completely, I turn hollow and empty. It really is the theft of my core. The pandemic added yet another layer of stress. Depression returned. Perhaps, the most obvious reason I am a writer is that I cannot survive long-term without writing.
So I am blogging again.
This time, I’m writing about writing. Like right now.
I still write so much less. It’s hard. Each sentence is its own dragon.
am I writer after quitting for years
According to the ideals I want to ultimately internalize, if I am writing, I am a writer. That’s enough. It doesn’t matter if I checked out of my words for years. What matters is that I’m writing today; that I intend to stir the cauldron tomorrow; that I am here.
In Kristen Kieffer’s “Eight Ways Writers Can Combat Imposter Syndrome” from well-storied, she writes that “uncertainty is otherwise known as doubt, and doubt is not the enemy. All doubt does is recognize the uncertainty of a situation and present you with a choice: will you take action to resolve that uncertainty or will you allow it to warp into a limiting belief?”
Limiting beliefs scare me. Since I was a child, I told myself I wouldn’t age into a person who is trapped by their mind. I wanted to remain open. I still want to remain open. I am capable of openness, of continuous growth, of learning till I’m dead, of acceptance and letting go; I just need to let it be so.
This means I can’t live under the pressure that the fear of my mother, and the fear of the pandemic, bears upon my body; to overcome those fears and limitations, I have to check and balance my uncertainty with actions. I have to act like the open and creative spirit that I am.
I have to write whenever I can, no matter how sludgy the cauldron of words gets when I stir it.
but are you anything after quitting
The way animals hibernate through difficult weather—or spend years of their life in migration for the sake of shelter, food, and breeding—should show us that nature intended for breaks, siestas, and struggles between the fertile days: the perilous journey towards the days of feasting and propagating.
Similarly, artists, creators, and innovators go through hibernations and migrations, moving between mediums and through hardships, into interests and out of spaces that no longer serve them.
It’s okay for the hibernations and migrations to take time. Breaks are not quitting; they are part of the process. The word “quitting” only applies when something is final—when we want to end our practice, whether that’s no longer playing our first musical instrument, no longer writing fantasy novels, or no longer painting portraits. That happens sometimes: the decision to quit.
If we just stop doing something though, I am not sure if that’s quitting. To quit is an action; and inaction can be remedied just as easily by deciding to get back into it as deciding to not return to the practice.
So yes, you are still a writer after you’ve been inactive for awhile. You’re still a printmaker after not making prints for years. You’ve only quit when you wake up one day and say, for certain, that you’re done.
Most artists on hiatus have not internally flipped the “done” switch, so much as taken a break. For us, we need to evaluate where the inaction started, then break out of that limiting container.
Also, even if you’re certain that you’re done, remember: certainties have exceptions.
(almost) all writers have imposter syndrome
If doubt is part of the process—if hibernations and migrations are part of the process—I imagine all writers have imposter syndrome, at least at one point or another.
Yet I have to leave room for the caveats—for the few who might not resonate with this struggle—because that’s got to be a thing, too. If there are writers out there who can pump out one draft and publish it, (and there are, I’ve met them,) (curses upon their ancestors and children,) there must be writers who escape this vortex of self-doubt and writer blockage.
I am not immune to imposter syndrome, though. I daresay I am the opposite: nearly drowning in it.
Only I will not let that uncertainty stop me from writing anymore.