I’m changing. Or, perhaps more accurately, my perception of myself is changing. I’ve given you my background more than once, and I believe I’ve mentioned it on my About: The Author page, about how I first started writing back in the very late 80’s.
That was actually part of my problem. Maybe I hadn’t started writing until my high early high school years, but the habit quickly became ingrained. Back then, when I first started writing, my only initial aspirations to be published related to breaking into the Star Trek: The Next Generation franchise, which I pretty much gave up when I moved into writing my own original work. But by then, I already strongly identified as a writer. It honestly didn’t matter to me through my high school years if I ever got published. Sure, it would have been nice if I’d been able to write that one glorious book that broke me into the publishing world sometime soon after high school, but I was much too content with just jotting my stories down to worry much about doing much more than sending the odd short I managed to complete to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies. I think I sent two. Maybe three. All were rejected. Far from broken, I just shrugged, filed the rejections, and went on writing my daydreams down.
And thus was my writing life up until I was forced to give up writing by homelessness in Denver, Colorado. I still daydreamed, even though I didn’t get back to my writing until 2002, when I returned to North Carolina after being discharged from the Navy. Restless, at the top end of a slow slide into insanity, I had difficulty holding down a job and tried to make it on my own again. And almost ended up homeless again.
But I was still a writer. My first years here in Utah were hell for my writing. I was insane, which was not at all helped by my search for a spiritual home, and I killed my writing by trying to force it into a mold it didn’t fit.
And yet, I was a writer. Even when I finally shelved my writing to focus on getting mental health care and an at least semi-decent job. So, for a few years, I didn’t write. Not until my mom came out here to help me. First, she shipped the old Kitchen Imp computer we’d had in our trailer for years, since sometime around 1988 or ’89—the computer I found Forward Motion on with my first search for “writers’ websites.”
Because I was still a writer I promptly turned to my writing. Mostly healed from my torturous experience with trying to reshape my writing into something it could never be, I dove into the fantasy stories I’d once loved to work on. I had one real-world job after another, rebounded into one I’d had previously when a “better” job fell through, and wrote.
Through it all, I identified as a writer. So strongly, in fact, that I’ve struggled the past few years since my return to writing speculative fiction. Because I’d developed the habit of writing daily prior to losing my mind, I was still stupidly focused on that aspect of my writing. Yes, I was happy when I wrote, no matter how few days I wrote out of any given week or month, but I suffered depression and fear whenever I didn’t write. I mean, real, paralyzing terror that one lone day of not writing was the herald to never writing again. Ever. I was a writer, after all, and I’d once been able to write almost every single day. This shouldn’t be impossible for me now, right?
Yet, it was. What I had failed to see was that with the change in my mental health, a natural consequence was a change in other aspects of my life, including my writing habit. Those days on which I wrote I judged as good, great, fantastic, wonderful. And the days on which I didn’t write were bad, okay, pathetic, or dud days.
And this year has, up until quite recently, such bad days. This year, I have spent more time days not writing than I have in typing new words to stories. And that was the only progress I counted, because I was “preset” to think of only new-word days as good writing days.
So it was quite a surprise to review my goals posts from last week on FM’s forum and see how I’d declared pretty much every day of the week—during which I wrote not a single new word on any fiction project—as a good day. These days I did other things. I practiced and learned Spanish. Playing with my new cat was a fixture of each day, as was tending to his care. For the first time ever, I considered merely getting out to a psych therapy group and my volunteer shift on Thursday as a good day. Not a single new word that day, yet it was a good day.
I honestly don’t know just what to attribute this change in perspective to, but I’m glad I’ve had it. This new view of my life was very much needed, because I was tearing myself up over not writing. See, I’ve expected, all these years, to be able to just leap back into the writing habits I had back before I went to Colorado, and I foolishly pinned my entire self-identity on that ability alone, so when I couldn’t for some reason write on any given day, it killed me. I became, in my mind, a failure, if only for a day or two, because I hadn’t written on those particular days.
And it has been wonderful to realize this change in perspective. I am not merely a writer. I am so many other things, I can do so many other things and consider myself a productive person. This, I think, is a very important step in my mental health recovery. With this development, I can accept that I may never write daily again and not feel despair or fear. I have faith that, no matter how long my fiction is away from me, it will return. Maybe it’ll be absent only a day. But now, if it’s gone a week, I know I can survive without it and be happy. And I know I can now go a month or longer without being terrified that it’ll never return. It just cycles, like my bipolar, and I can accept that each day, week, month, year is going to be different for my writing side, than the one preceding. And that’s okay.