When a Writer Stops Writing

What causes a writer to stop writing? Stop. Not quit. Quitting is different. Quitting is walking away with the intention of not going back. Quitting is a decision that something has served its purpose, is futile, is no longer viable or desirable. Quitting is giving up, giving away, giving yourself a better option.

Most writers never quit. Most writers can’t quit. There is always some element–a thought, observation, a scrap of dialogue–that suggests a character, a line of poetry, a sentence, or a paragraph. Writers are like musicians who hear music everywhere (the sound of water flowing over rocks; the beat tires make hitting the pavement on a particular stretch of road).

Writers often wake up with an idea for a poem, story, essay, or book before they’ve had their first cup of morning coffee. Sometimes, a remembered dream gives birth to an idea for a great narrative. Do they bound out of bed and develop their idea, write while the concept is fresh in their memory?

Some do, but not all, and not all the time.

Days, weeks, and months can go by without one word being written–by people who like to write. I don’t think it has much to do with that old catchall, “writer’s block.” I suspect many writers aren’t blocked; they just aren’t writing.

If we identify ourselves as writers, we are frequently asked, “What are you working on now?” Often, we murmur something like, “Oh, I’m in the editing stage.” “Too soon to go public.” “Just finishing my novel, (chapbook, essay collections, etc.).” Rarely do we tell the truth, “I have a lot of half-finished stuff on my computer, but I just haven’t felt like working on it.”

It’s difficult (often guilt inducing) to admit this when we are constantly admonished to climb out of a warm bed at 4 a.m. and write for several hours–before putting in a full day’s work at the job that really pays, or attending to personal or family needs.  We are told to stare at a blank computer page until an idea comes, even if it takes several hours. Why would we want to do that? And why assume we are blocked, heads as empty as a gourds? If there is no desire to write at a particular moment, staring at a computer screen or a blank piece of paper isn’t going to be an attitude changer. Neither is putting in a prescribed number of hours per day at the keyboard (regardless of output) going to make a difference.

Most writers I know, when they are motivated and excited about what they are working on, will spend every available moment writing, forgoing activities, pleasures, and frequently the necessary breaks–barely stopping for lunch or dinner. For them, it’s about being “in the zone,” not enforced writing practices.

I haven’t been writing much lately (this blog site attests to that neglect). No excuses. I just haven’t been in the mood. I’m thinking that isn’t a bad thing, because I’ve gained a new perspective on several projects, thought of some new twists on old projects, and will probably welcome time at the keyboard soon.