I will never write again. Every time I finish a project, I know this to be true. It scares me less than it used to. It’s a familiar friend now, this certainty that it’s gone.
I read once that Stephen King hadn’t started a new project before finishing another one, and that as a result of not having the momentum of said new project he didn’t write for several years. This, like a lot of writing advice I’ve taken in over the years, has been the flint of fear that’s sparked a rigid writing schedule in me that works some of the time and leaves me exhausted and with a lot of shitty pages of writing other times. Alas, the fear is still there, even as I’m writing, that the ability is evaporating from between my fingers as I type. What does it mean then, that I could leave a version of myself behind so quickly, and meet a new non-writer me on the other side of some project or another? Could I meet her with curiosity, or would I maintain the same mistrust I’d carried for the old writer-me? Oh, I’ll think, at the close of any and every task, what is it that we’ll give up next?
What if? What if I never write again, other than to sign my name on rent cheques and reply to emails from my boss? What if I become a viewer, sitting on the sidelines, reading the writing of others and feeling nothing of that old desire to become involved, to say something? What if I’m never again called away from a task—arms sunk in dish water, mid conversation with a student, face upturned to the clouds while I’m out walking my dog—by that burning seed of story. Would I suffer so much? What transmutation would have taken place? Where would my story go?
Someone else told me once that you don’t need to be anything to be a writer, other than self-motivated. No one cares if you don’t write. There’s a lot of people who don’t write, and the world continues to end in slow and unrelated ways.
There’s a poem by Mary Oliver, called “Benjamin, who came from who knows where”, about a rescue dog. One line runs through my head continuously: “I also know the way/the old life haunts the new.” In my new, non-writer life, will a phantom limb of story still exist? Will I wake up from a dream, hand poised in the air above me, scrawling notes in the dark? Will I make detailed outlines of what I’ll prepare for dinner that night, only to slash over them in red pen, and go of course by ordering take-out again? Will I sit in a darkened classroom with my students, mid-pandemic, looking at pictures of the surface of Mars, rolling our eyes at the choice of the name “Perseverance”, and think for a flash of second that there’s a story here, and then let the thought go? Will the perceived agony be worse in the anticipation of not writing, and the actual non-writing act itself harmless, peaceful even?
Or if not entirely gone, what if I continue to write but it just get worse and worse, dimmer and dimmer, like the dying light of a star?
I’d report back on this, but the problem is I’ll never write again after this.