That time I decided to quit writing

image Over the weekend, I had the chance to work with some young writers, one of whom asked me the proverbial question, “Did you always want to be a writer?”

I smiled, nodded my head and replied, “Oh, hell no.”

After an awkward silence, I went on to explain that I had been writing stories since I could chew a pencil eraser. And while it has always been a part of me, it wasn’t until making the conscious decision to give it up for a while that I truly understood the importance of writing in my life — and how, without it, I wasn’t completely me. However, without that experience, I would still be thinking of writing as a pursuit rather than what it really is:

Something that finds you. 

I quit writing  back in 2006. For almost a year. It had nothing to do with the typical kind of frustrations every writer faces, such as not having a readership or being told it’s time to “get serious” with your life by family, friends or every publisher on the West coast. It wasn’t the result of drug addiction or alcohol abuse, although I did find myself addicted to watching Grey’s Anatomy, which made me WANT to drink. 

Things were going well with my writing. My readership was growing and I had an agent working to get me signed with a large publishing house.

The problem came on my 40th birthday, when I was given the ultimate surprise gift: divorce papers and single parenthood. Though I can look back on it now and see it for the gift it was, at the time it was like George Clooney showing up on Grey’s Anatomy: Unexpected and surreal, yet with the underlying knowledge that it was always a possibility, depending on how other opportunities panned out.

In the span of 24 hours I had gone from celebrating 40 years of life, to life as a single father with two young children. And let me just say right now, Thank God for them. Nothing funny here, just fact: They saved me and were my daily inspiration. But to make ends meet, I left the editorial department at our newspaper and went into sales for almost a year. I also put my column on hiatus by being honest with readers, letting them know what was going on in my life and, for the time being, that I was having a hard time finding my “funny.” I also needed to focus on this transition in my life and the lives of my children. Most newspapers and their readers were understanding. Even supportive. But not all of them were, and I lost about 20 spots in newspapers.

In addition, my first book deal also fell through. Probably because of the new intro I wrote, which began: I’m actually pretty funny, but let me tell you what I don’t like about my ex-wife…

Ok, not really. But the book deal was put on the back burner, where it eventually evaporated, much like my desire to write during that period. On the surface, it seemed like the perfect inspiration for a columnist — at least until I sat down to write about it. I didn’t want to become “the guy who writes about being divorced,” but my life completely evolved around that subject at that point in my life. At the same time, writing about superheated pickles and glow-in-the-dark mice seemed… trivial.

Silly, I know — but I wasn’t myself then.

Because of the importance of that last statement, I’m going to repeat it: I wasn’t myself then.

Even as I moved forward with my life, meeting and marrying the amazing woman I’ve been fortunate enough to call my wife for eight years now, something was still missing (and no, it has nothing to do with male pattern baldness):

It was me.

Not until the following summer did I find that piece of myself, when I returned to the newsroom and began writing my weekly column for the first time in nearly a year. A few weeks later, on my 41st birthday, I started this blog as part of a gradual return to what I love:

Writing about my editor behind her back.

Ha Ha! Just kidding! I do that on Twitter.

What I discovered between those two summers was how giving up my writing meant giving up that part of myself that makes me whole. For writers, the written word is how we process the world around us and, perhaps more importantly, how we define ourselves within it. While most people are content experiencing life with their five senses, writers have a sixth sense that has nothing to do with ghosts or M. Night Shamalon Shamellon Shahma The Sixth Sense guy. It’s about taking those other five senses and interpreting them for ourselves and, if we’re fortunate enough, sharing that with others in a meaningful way — either through serious reflection, humor, fiction or poetry.

In the same way that sharing this life with my wife makes it real and complete, writing makes me real and complete. It’s not that I couldn’t survive without either one.

I just don’t ever want to.

 

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(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications. You can write to him at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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55 thoughts on “That time I decided to quit writing

    • I truly appreciate knowing that, Lennard (if that’s your real name… ;)) We’ve been blog friends a long time, and I’m glad to see you have accepted that writing has chosen you!

      • Haha, that is indeed my real name. ‘Arend van Nerel’ was an anagram of Lennard van Ree. It was a mixture of shyness and pretentiousness I suppose, but I stopped using it precisely because I’ve come to embrace writing as part of who I am. I’ve only really been at it again since January, but more than ever before I can relate to your hiatus and unavoidable comeback.

        • Ah-HA! How did I not catch that? Oh, that’s right, I just started wearing glasses… In all seriousness, I’ve always enjoyed your stuff, particularly Kim Jong’s diary series. Hearing that you’ve come to embrace that part of yourself is terrific. Just don’t embrace that part of yourself too long or people will start to stare.

          Keep tapping those keys, Lennard 😉

  1. What a great post! I’m so glad you came back to writing…. and to love.

    I have frequently given up on writing. Unfortunately when that happens the first thing I do is write a Dear John letter explaining exactly why I’m breaking up with writing…

    • Thanks so much!
      And hey, it’s because you ARE a writer that you turn to writing to explain yourself in the first place. Face it, writing found you and won’t be letting go.

  2. interesting observations Ned. When I was young I used to do very well in the composition portion of English – oddly enough I sucked at literature. i can recall writing short stories in grade three that got a surprisingly positive reaction from the teacher. She would read them to the class and use me as an example. It confused me because i could never figure out , to this day, why they were good. My writing ability followed me through school and beyond – but I never took any courses because they inevitably involved literature, at which I suck – as mentioned.

    Along the way, I’d spontaneously burst into short stories. ha! I sent a number away to contests but never won anything. i took this as a sign that I really wasn’t very good. This just stopped my submissions but not my writing. Even my bosses came to fear my e-mails and responses to requests. One new boss told me to put it in writing when I told him there were a number of serious issues with his department, i took that literally (which I later discovered was not intended) and produced a 20 page report of problems that was structured as a day in my life – and I included potential solutions to the issues. I sent a copy to his boss and kept a copy. He never responded. Some years later that same boss had come to know my style and he sent me an e-mail containing serious allegations of incompetence on my part – and he sent it just before my yearly appraisal. He concluded his e-mail with exactly the wrong words “Do not respond to this e-mail.” I wrote a 10 page rebuttal that deliberately left out some important reasoning. I also requested that his boss be present at my appraisal – and I cc’ed all this to his boss.

    I came in on a day off to fit the appraisal into my boss’s and his boss’s schedule. My boss started in with the long list of my alleged transgressions and I replied to each. It helped a lot that under my tutelage department efficiencies had increased by 250%, absenteeism had all but disappeared, and accident/incident occurrences had dropped so low that we stood to received a 5 figure government rebate on our corporate Worker’s Comp payments. I produced all the paperwork and statistics to support these claims. The problem was that my boss had run the department before I arrived and so, without any intent, each of my successes was a sword in his side. Hence the unsuccessful attacks on my achievements. Part way through, my boss literally burst into tears and after a few moments, stood and ran from the room. His boss awkwardly took the file with my correspondence and reports and after flipping through them casually, closed the file , looked at me and said; “You will receive your full bonus. Have a good afternoon”: at which point he left me sitting alone in the boardroom.

    I attribute all of my professional success to my apparent ability to write well. And so i discovered Word Press and haven’t shut up since. 😀

    • And we’re all glad you didn’t shut up, Paul! You’re a natural storyteller — something your teachers recognized and, thankfully, encouraged. It was a similar story with me, with encouragement from teachers at a young age. My formal education ended after high school, but continued through trial and error, learning the craft by doing. You don’t learn to be a writer, only how to be a better one 😉

  3. I think there are times in our lives when we feel the need to step away from something or even someone, in order to work through or process what direction we need to take. It sounds like it was the right decision for you Ned, at least for that period of time. So glad you came back to writing & that I have had the opportunity to get to know you here at wordpress.

    Cheers my friend!

    • Without question, we sometimes need to press the “pause” button in our lives in order to process things — especially when we seem to spend a lot of it in the “fast-forward” mode.

      And by the way, the feeling’s mutual, Lynn. Yay for WordPress and getting to know each other in the blog-o-sphere 😉

  4. Thank you for going back to writing. I can understand how soemtimes life will make you stop and look around and put things back into order so you find your path again. The path that leads you back to writing about your new life that you created. Bravo. I enjoyed being inspiried by your words. So thanks for that.

    • I knew you’d understand what I was talking about, Christian. With you recent move back to the Pacific Northwest (where all the cool people are…) and refocus has been a great thing to see, my friend. Looking forward to meeting up some day at Pike’s Place in Seattle.

  5. There was a time when I quit writing as well, many years ago. And it lasted many years. I don’t regret it, because I think the long sabbatical reset a lot of things that needed resetting, but oh man, coming back to it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I didn’t realize I was incomplete without it until it completed me. So I can definitely relate to you on that. Thanks for sharing this personal look into your life, Ned!

    • You’re so right about how time away can reset things, and make you appreciate it even more when you come back, Shannon. I’m so glad to hear that you came back and have recognized its importance in your life.

      I almost tried that with bacon once, but didn’t need any time away to realize I wasn’t complete without it 😉

      Thanks for reading, Shannon!

  6. Writing is never as simple as applying words to paper or font to screen, it is visually seeing emotions by transferring them into a different shape and form. Removing the ability to write, means a delay in how a writer interprets the world around them; oftentimes, meaning that they fail to recognize connections and subtleties that are apparent and easily placed once we can write them down. It is the pouring out of information, that changes and connects ideas, between having them and producing it with our fingers; that life is breathed into what is written and it takes on a life of its own, as a piece of what we feel, as we’ve experienced it. I love writing. And I love yours. It gives me the feels in so many ways.

    • I’ve always marveled at the depth and versatility of your writing, capturing so many aspects of your life — always powerfully, in its sensitivity, passion and honesty. As you said, writers interpret their world with words, and your interpretations are always inspiring.

      So yeah, I feel you on the feels.

      • thank you for that – i’ve hidden my words for many, many years. my best friend gets frustrated with me for not producing anything for ‘public’ consumption. i hide from the spiteful and hateful reception i fear that what i write, would be met with. pouring your heart into something to then be told it is not good enough, is a fear i’ve not been able to overcome. i know it is bound in the complicated web of a mothers rejection of me, as a person, as an artist…and i am aware that the opinion is in its very nature, flawed. yet, there it remains…a wall against producing something i feel is worth of being read by people who would judge it, and therefore myself, by proxy. i wish i could write as eloquently as some others i have read. i barely stumble by, feeling blindly, with no method to follow, simply letting a tide of emotions flow through me and saturate what’s in front of me at the time. not so much creative, but a force at times, none the less.

        • Those root emotional experiences definitely run deep, but your emotional eloquence and natural gift run a lot deeper. I hope you’ll some day believe in that enough that concerns of rejection from a relative few will no longer outweigh the acceptance of the many.

  7. I bore easily said the boll wievel and therefore he tried the asparagus. Such is life, the pathways are in a strange pattern and never straight but in lines which weave back and forth.

  8. Timely. I’m in a lull right now. Feel like writing, but the inspiration is taking an unscheduled vacation. Gotta get out of my head and just let it fly. Thanks for this.

    • You’re more than welcome, Tara. Ironically, sometimes you have to do the exact opposite of writing to feel the freedom and inspiration to write. Weird, but it works like that sometimes 😉

  9. I’ve written here and there throughout my life. I have recently started my own blog and I’m pursuing a career in writing. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback so I must be doing something right. I’ve always felt that I could get my thoughts across better written down (or typed).

    I’m just discovering you but look forward to reading more from you.

  10. It’s always interesting to learn about other writer’s trials and tribulations with life and writing. Thanks for sharing your honest truth, it was enlightening. And oh, I am a Grey’s addict, it’s one show I’ve never missed an episode since day 1 . . . even though at times I’m very angry with Shonda Rhimes – killing off Derek rings a bell. 🙂

  11. Glad you picked up the pen, pencil or pixel again, my friend…world is a better place for it (or at least mine is).

    When people ask me why I write, I often say it’s because I don’t know how NOT to write. And then I smile, because the real reason is to quell all of those voices in my head.

    (Stop it…no…I won’t…he’s a nice man…would you be satisfied with the neighbour’s cat?)

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