“You can’t seriously call yourself a writer if you’re not writing every day” is something my Creative Writing professor at University told us in nearly every seminar.
I suppose the message was supposed to be one of commitment, of showing up for yourself and your art. Writing is often likened to a muscle, something you have to train to keep getting stronger and better at. Working on it, and yourself, will only lead to greater success. The key is perseverance, then – but also ownership.
His point was that you don’t have to wait for a commission to be a writer. Whether you’re blogging, or working on a draft that no one’s asked for, or will see – if you’re producing, doing the thing regardless of whether anyone is asking or paying you too, you are A Writer. You are.
What happens then, I wonder, when no one is asking you to write for them, but there’s also no spark for you to write for yourself, for your own enjoyment or betterment. What are you then?
Today – I am a writer. I have created. But yesterday, the day before and a good chunk of last week? I can’t say the same.
When I met a friend recently to share coffee and our burdens, I told her I was mired in an overwhelming feeling of guilt. On the back of more rejections than I thought I could handle, I’d stopped writing completely. It had gone way past writer’s block. I felt like I was barely contributing to the world, constantly unproductive and as a result, I’m a bit scared to say, worthless.
Productivity is such a mythical concept.
“You know what you need, don’t you?” She replied. “A commission.” For encouragement and a confidence boost, but most importantly: a reason to make something.
She was, of course, right – but isn’t that also kind of wrong?
Capitalism has all of us measuring our productivity to evaluate our self-worth. The more we do, earn and work, the more we’re valued. As much as we’re becoming increasingly aware of the damage of hustle culture, what we can contribute is still king.
Despite what everybody is telling you….. You are more than a GPA. You are more than your productivity. Your identity is more than just your ‘quantifiable labor’ to society.
— LeighAnn (@LeighAnn21) December 17, 2019
I think it’s inherently gendered, too. Part of the “woman who has it all” ideal is that she can keep giving, keep contributing to every part of her life, seemingly without tiring. Her output is unparalleled. She organises her family, cleans her house, catches up with friends and makes sure they know she’s always there. She even betters herself, because what is self-care if not another type of labour (albeit one we can actually reap the benefits of)?
“I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I am not an endless font of ideas.”
And for creatives, too, our output is quite literally everything. Who are we if we aren’t making? There’s so much pressure to turn every experience into a piece, our lives into commodities that can quite literally be bought and sold. That obviously leads to the kind of creative burnout I’ve diagnosed myself with.
I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I am not an endless font of ideas. Sometimes there are things I just can’t – or don’t want to – write about, even if they’d make a great story. Even if they’d get me the commission I so desperately need. I don’t have to sell myself out just to prove to that voice in my head that I am what I already know: A Writer. Because whether it’s a state or a job or something in between, there has to be space. For the quiet racking-your-brain-for-SOMETHING to write times, as well as those where stories feel like they flow from your fingertips.
Sometimes, as women, we look around and find ourselves pretty much doing it all. Sometimes it happens, and we can be proud of having whatever the parts of our life look like together. As long as we don’t turn that into punishment if we don’t.
I hope that it’s soon, but I truly don’t know when I will write freely and without that jury on my shoulder again.
But I do know two things. One: that I am a writer, regardless of how regular my routine. And two: that we truly are more than what we are, do and make – we just need to believe it.
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