Sometimes a novelist needs not to write fiction (or 3 reasons I got out of the habit of writing)

987763_man_thinkingMy fellow fiction writers, don’t ever let people make you feel guilty for taking a break from writing if taking a break from writing is for the right reasons. If it is what you need to pursue greater ends. If writing and pursuing a writing career was controlling you rather than serving you.

That is the point of this post.

On another level this post is somewhat selfish, in that is centered on myself and is an attempt to get to the root of the personal reasons that I let writing fiction slip.

I wanted to reflect upon where I have been the past two years, and why I stopped writing fiction, because I want to start writing again. At the very least, I want to start preparing (or get back to preparing) a second edition of my Herezoth trilogy.

Sure, I could name the obvious, external matters, but the fact is, I chose to stop writing. No matter how hectic life gets, if something is important to you and matters to you, you make it a priority and you create time for it. I didn’t do that. Why?

Here are 3 reasons I stopped writing for about a year and a half. The first is bad. The others are more defensible.

  1. I GREW DISCOURAGED BY HOW FLAWED MY WRITING WAS. I am a melancholic (well, melancholic-phlegmatic) by temperament, which means among other things that perfectionism is a big demon in my life. And perfectionism became an easy reason to dismiss what urge or nudge I felt to continue working on my fiction. The fact is, my writing does not have to be perfect to make people reflect on the big questions, or to challenge them and myself to rise to better standards of judgment and of living. It does not have to be perfect to speak to their souls. I love the statement that “God can write straight with crooked lines.” I should have believed that He can use me and my work as an instrument to touch others, and that He can use my work to speak to me as well and to push me outside my comfort zone.
  2. I STOPPED FEELING THAT FICTION WAS HELPING ME GROW AS A PERSON. That isn’t necessarily true, and feelings are not the end-all and be-all. They certainly are not reliable guides for our choices. The right thing does not always “feel” pleasant or give us a sense of emotional contentment. Still, let me explain what I mean by saying “I stopped feeling that writing was helping me grow.” I think I mean “I knew I needed growth and change of a depth and type that writing fiction could not sustain.” Because of that, I don’t think my decision to withdraw from writing based on emotional, gut inclination was misguided. Life is full of periods of retreat and reflection, and periods of action and doing. For me, writing is part of the “action” sphere. In whatever sense crafting fiction helps me grow and develop, that growth and development is an indirect consequence of writing. Over the last year or so, I made personal reflection (in order to sort out my priorities) a direct priority. Because of that, considering the indirect manner in which writing serves those ends for me, writing fiction took a backseat.
  3. I WAS TOO UNSTABLE TO WRITE FICTION. Now, by that I don’t mean that “I was on the verge of an emotional breakdown” or something. I wasn’t. I mean this: I was experiencing too much and asking too many questions about too many different things for fiction to be able to help me process them. It was the equivalent of a growth spurt like children experience, except on the interior and spiritual level. I was learning a lot and many things in my life were changing rapidly. I was asking questions like, “What does God mean for to do with my life? Is He calling me to serve Him as a Dominican or Carmelite sister?” “How should I use the gift of being bilingual in Spanish? If I’m not going to teach Spanish anymore, how can I maintain my knowledge of Spanish and use that knowledge to the benefit of others?” “I used to put far too much influence on writing, to the point that I gave it preference over my prayer life, so should I even be writing at all if I’m not sure what part in my life God means my fiction to play from here on out?” “I need a new job because the café where I’m working is closing, so where can I find work?” “I have this newfound understanding of the power and importance of prayer, so how can I balance a healthy prayer life with an active life in the world?””What steps can I take to grow more comfortable relinquishing control of my life to God, and developing a greater trust in Him?”

In short, I have always written for me, and I reached a place where I judged that journaling and poetry were more appropriate genres to serve my needs than fiction or blogging. That is not something to feel guilty about or to apologize for, and if you have ever found yourself in a similar situation, or ever find yourself there, I encourage you not to feel guilty about it either.

Writing is an outlet and a mode of self-expression that exists for our benefit. If it ceases to benefit us, or bigger things need to take priority, then it is only proper to give up writing fiction to some degree. If writing fiction would delay our paying attention to issues we need to address, rather than prepare and challenge us to address them, it is time to cut back on writing time. I was in that place.

And I’m glad to have reached (I hope) a place where I have answered enough questions that writing fiction makes sense again.




9 responses to “Sometimes a novelist needs not to write fiction (or 3 reasons I got out of the habit of writing)

  1. Well said! Writing is an outlet for me and I don’t write everyday. Sometimes a story cooks in my heads for days before I put it on paper. Finally, I stopped caring about what people think. Perfectionism is indeed the enemy of good!

    • Sometimes its very necessary to let a story cook. I definitely do that too. My first real novel cooked for years because I couldn’t figure a major aspect out relating to the protagonist. Three years after my first ideas for the novel and my first attempt to start it that fell flat, the solution came and I was able to go.

  2. For many years I was into writing poetry, because I just couldn’t focus on a long-term fiction project for as long as it would take me to write it. However, last November, I picked up NaNoWriMo again, which I first competed in and won when I was twelve. I wrote half a story in November, then wrote the second half in April, for Camp NaNoWriMo. Currently, two very good friends of mine are editing it for me. In July, I again competed in Camp NaNoWriMo, and wrote half a story.
    I was feeling a bit discouraged, because I wasn’t writing as much poetry as I had been, but maybe now it’s just time for me to take my writing in a different direction.
    So it’s pretty much reverse of what you had – you going from novels to poetry, and me going from poetry to novels, but this post helped me not feel so guilty about pursuing a different mode of writing. Thank you!

    • How fun that our paths have flip-flopped, so to speak, over each other! I am enjoying poetry. I love the way it allows me to play with language and I also find that I am less inhibited and less fearful of expressing my true self in poetry, more so than in fiction.

  3. Really interesting post, Victoria, and I so hear you! I’ve had a long relationship with writing, and something I came to at some point was that my writing needed to be in support of my growth as a whole person, not the other way around. I think writers can feel a lot of pressure to “write no matter what”, but it’s so important to ask the questions you’ve been asking — it’s how we come to know and understand ourselves more deeply, and ultimately live the life that feels best and most right to us. Thanks for this thought-provoking post! 🙂

  4. Glad to see you are looking at coming back to fiction writing! I know it is difficult sometimes, and I agree that sometime the best thing to do is take a break. That being said, I have always enjoyed your articles and look forward to hearing more from you!

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