Should I Stop Writing?

The one question no writer ever wants to ask themselves

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Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

What happens when language starts eluding you?

You haven’t run out of words but your ability to translate ideas into prose is askew and avoidant. As a result, your writing is tentative, hesitant, and unsure of what message it’s trying to convey, or if indeed it even has any.

At what point does the fuel that powers you run out and leave you stranded, in the dark, feeling your way across an unfamiliar blank page? And if thinking out loud is print is as essential to you as breathing then you have nothing to worry about.

Or do you?

Had I discovered I had grown another head overnight, I’d have been less surprised than I was when I heard myself ask the unthinkable out loud.

“Should I stop writing?”

Although I had never taken its arrival to be a bad omen before, my all-consuming curiosity surprised me. Even during the five years major depressive disorder stole my writing voice, wondering whether to stop writing would never have occurred to me. Being made to stop, alas, was my daily reality.

The question that keeps taunting me makes no sense whatsoever.

Not even when I write it down.

And yet, how this came about is the result of life getting a little too close and personal again.

Milestones like marriage, immigration, nervous breakdown, death, terminal illness, and poetry can and do knock you sideways. Because the latter shook me up with the same strength as every other thing on this list, I welcomed the new boss and set out to cheat on prose by writing… villanelles.

Welp. I didn’t even know how to spell the word a few months ago.

Because the poetry that happened to me wasn’t free verse but a form as cumbersome as it is evocative and can conjure up entire movie shorts, the perfect vehicle for visions of all sorts. As a human with an enthusiastic nature bordering on the obsessive, of course I espoused my newfound language with exultation and glee.

But throwing yourself into something so non-mainstream isn’t what you do when you have any reservations about your craft though, is it?

It is what you do when you’ve fallen head over heels in love with a new way of expressing yourself, as I did with Portuguese. Even when you’re stumbling you relish and cherish every wobbly minute, every moment you manage to capture with such a tricky tool as form poetry.

It takes you five times longer to write a villanelle than an essay, five times longer to edit, too, and yet you persist, word by word by word.

Soon poetry becomes a drug and you the junkie, you write lines anywhere you can, you go to sleep thinking of lines you try and commit to memory. And when they survive the night, you incorporate them into a poem.

So where does the question of whether you should stop writing even come from?

Icannot remember the last time I spent a day without writing.

To me, that’s the same as saying that I can’t remember the last time I had a day off because I simply don’t. I work every day, seven days a week, and often far more hours than is advisable so I can keep my head above water.

But no matter how many hours I spend writing or editing a day, I don’t seem to ever get ahead, to a point when I have cleared my work and can enjoy a rest.

And the reason for this is twofold: vocation and precariousness. Vocation means work never feels like a chore, so there’s no time you feel like you couldn’t do just a little extra. Precariousness, meanwhile, is endemic. The working poor are relentless in their quest to make ends meet and freelancers of all stripes are no exception.

When more work comes my way, I pile it on, unless that work pays enough to replace other work, which yet has to happen. This constant juggling is something employees aren’t familiar with unless they have to hold down two or more jobs to survive. For freelancers, it’s standard.

Do this for long enough without adequate rest and, sooner or later, you too will start questioning your life choices. Or perhaps your health will force you to.

Can exhaustion turn you against your vocation?

Could this be what is happening here or is it something more… nefarious?

Writing is how I’ve been pulling myself out of illness and hardship since the summer of 2018.

But since the kind of depression I have is a life partner and I haven’t been able to afford any help for it yet, I’ve basically been bootstrapping mental health for six years.

That’s a very long time to be playing MacGyver with a brain that keeps detonating landmines.

Even with the best will in the world, I could well be coming up against the limits of what I can do on my own. This may be why I’m staring down the abyss once again, as confused as I am intrigued by this strange state of affairs.

Only this time I don’t know what to do other than write about it and look, it doesn’t work!

Wondering how much longer my voice will hold is unhelpful, protecting it would work better but I have no idea how to. Instead, I push myself harder to try and buy more time. Meanwhile, exhaustion has started gnawing away at every part of my psyche, from my thought process to how I communicate and interact with others.

More and more frequently, everything I have been doing up to now and still do starts looking rather pointless.

Somewhere along the way, I seem to have gone and lost myself again but I’m not sure it’s the doing of illness this time or of something else I yet have to identify. And I’m not sure I want to so instead of dwelling on whether I should stop writing, I just keep doing it while I can, as long as I can.

Because there is no alternative, not when writing is like breathing.

Don’t push back, push forward; there’s always the possibility this is a temporary glitch rather than a sign of impending doom.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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