Giving Myself Permission to Not Write

globe-book.jpg (2771 bytes)I have decided over the last couple of months to give up on being a writer, and on being published. Writing was always one of my talents, I was told. I remember back in grade three that while the teacher wrote "good work" on everyone's stories, I received verbal praise. One time in particular, I wrote a story, I cannot remember what, and the teacher went on and on telling me how good it was. It was so good that she had me go next door and read it to another teacher. Then she had me read it to the vice principal.

In my last years of public school, the teachers stopped assigning stories to write. It was around that time that I began reading J. R. R. Tolkien and other great authors. I saw that, compared to them, my writing was nothing, and I knew I could never be a writer.

Later, a friend had me read a teenage romance novel she loved: while I was busy reading great works of fantasy, she was reading cheap teenage romance novels. Reading the book she had lent to me, I realized that you did not have to be a great author like Tolkien to get published. I began writing again.

Taking an O.A.C. Writer's Craft course encouraged my writing, and I continued to write throughout university. I kept entering contests and sending manuscripts to editors, spending my time preparing the manuscripts and my money on postage and entry fees. I never won any contests and was never published, but still I continued to send my manuscripts.

I created an internet page in my first year of university. Partly, it allowed me to "publish" my writing for others to see if they wished, without an editor deciding whether the public should read my writing or not. Partly, it was my way of storing my precious writing somewhere safe from fire, so it would not be lost forever like the scrolls of Greek philosophers.

Writing courses are meant to improve writing and to encourage writing. The one I took in university had, in a way, the opposite effect. I realized during it that I was not a better writer than everyone else: I was removed from my pedestal of arrogance and placed on the humble tiles of the floor. I realized that I was not going to be published tomorrow and make my million by the age of twenty-five. Finding out that I was no better than anyone else was not necessarily a negative thing. It was a disappointment, yes, but in the knowledge I found peace. Suddenly, I could stop wasting my energy and money on mailing manuscripts. I could finally remove my internet page: I spent too much of my time working on it, and always felt guilty when I did not, like I was letting others down. If my writing was not something others needed to see, would it matter if it was someday destroyed in a fire? It would still be in my mind, at least until I reached a senile old age.

Knowing that I did not need to write for others also brought some peace to the concept of death. Death is not an immediate concern, but it is a distant possibility. I knew that if I died without transferring my ideas to paper, and they were lost to the rest of the world, it did not matter. I would still have my ideas in my head for my own enjoyment: they are better that way, anyway. In my mind, my stories unfold themselves like movies. I watch images that I would never be able to describe in words. As a child, I remember wishing that someone could read my mind and write down my ideas for me, because I was aware that what I put down on paper paled in comparison to what I saw in my imagination.

I wondered at first how I would deal with the need to get things out of my head and onto paper: my reason for writing. Just like in the movie "Aliens," something inside me had to get out before it burst it's way out, even if it was three in the morning. However, I found that the need to get my thoughts onto paper subsided with the knowledge that I did not have to share them with others. Now, I can write things down if I wish, and I still do, but I do not need to write down everything for fear of losing it. I can let go of the thought, and let it float away into oblivion.

Now that I do not feel the need to write, I can relax. There is no pressure for me to write, except essays and reports for my science classes. I still wonder if I could someday write scientific articles as a career: maybe the desire to write nonfiction is merely replacing my desire to write fiction. I only hope I can remain aware of my abilities and limitations, and not become arrogant and filled with false hope. For now, I can let go of my fiction, my thoughts, and stop spending so much of my time trying to get recognition from others. I can write if I choose, but I can also allow myself to choose not to write. I know my strengths. I know my weaknesses. There is peace in knowing where you stand.

July 1998



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Property of Suzanne P. Currie. Updated July 03, 2007 11:45 PM -0400.