At the time I was still living with my parents. My siblings had moved out and I was the only occupant of the second story, and so naturally I converted a spare room into a writing space.
Along one wall was a bookshelf packed with children’s chapter books, various classics and spliced with the occasional thriller. The desk that my grandfather crafted by hand was pushed against another wall. It was tall with a smooth finish and two stacked drawers on the right side. I positioned a lamp on the left, placed a candle on the right, and ran my charger cord up from behind and plugged it into my laptop, which sat right in the center. That’s where I wrote every morning.
My day started in the kitchen with a large pot of coffee and a granola bar, and then I’d retreat up into the room and light the candle and take a seat at the desk. Before me was a blank page, some days, and others there would already be thousands of words. I was working on my first novel, after all, and while I took breaks to write other stories that remained my main focus.
The characters were real. They had a story and it was my job to tell it — that’s what I signed up for when first starting out. Too late to turn back.
When I moved into the house, the book was halfway written — though in a much more real sense it was nowhere near complete. There were days where the words flowed. For hours at a time I would sit at my computer, only standing up for the occasional coffee refill or bathroom break. You get on these spurts where you become lost in the words and suddenly two hours have gone by, and when you pick up your still-full mug you discover the steaming liquid has turned cold and it will take a trip back into the kitchen to dump it and pour another, with plans to sip this one as soon as it cools to a suitable temperature. But that doesn’t happen, because the words have returned and you’ve transported, again, onto the page.
But not all days work that way. Some days are tough. Hell, many days are tough. You’ve emptied the creative well from the day before. You’re stuck. You try to peck at the keys but it’s rubbish and you know it. By lunchtime you’ll have highlighted the morning’s work and removed it from existence. Those are the discouraging days. Writing is supposed to be easy — maybe not the quality, but certainly the act. It’s a passion. It’s a motivation. But there are no words.
So you take a break. That’s what I did. Maybe an hour on social media, or watching some TV, or even reading a book will fix things. Your creativity will surely return, as it never departs for long. A few hours later than you’d planned, and now you’re sitting at your desk again and you have new expectations — but still no words.
All it takes are a few of these days. Discouragement turns to defeat. Failure, even. The curser blinks on an empty screen and you are powerless — more than an emotion, but a state of being. And then what? The book doesn’t get written? The tale you felt compelled to tell will be read by no other souls?
This is where I found myself. I was on a roll. Call it a hot streak, I guess, if those exist in the literary world. And then one day it was over. From penthouse to doghouse in what seemed like an instant.
What happened? That’s what I continually asked myself. I dwelled on it. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so ambitious, working on a novel before solidifying some short stories or novellas. Maybe I wasn’t ready. This is the doubt that many writers endure — and I mean endure, not experience or feel, because it’s a suffering.
I won’t quite say I was ready to give up. Thankfully I’ve never reached that point, and I pray I never will. (If you have, it’s not too late to pick it back up, either.) But there was very little progress being made.
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One evening I was watching TV. It was shortly after dinner and it had been dark outside for a couple hours already — a depressing time of year in the Midwest. That’s when I got to talking with my dad. I told him about my writing. About my aspirations. I probably exuded confidence, as if I’d written ten thousand words per day for the last week. If it had been two thousand I would have been satisfied. Hell, five hundred.
As he left the room at the conclusion of the conversation, he told me, in regards to the book I was writing, “The only way to do it, is to do it. No one else is going to write it for you.” Those were the simplest yet most motivating words he could have uttered.
That night I sat back at my computer with a new focus. And while the quantity of my writing has varied over the last several years, I’ve never lost sight of what it means to be a writer.