I have told this before. And I think I will repeat it until the end of my life, until it stops haunting me. In grad school, I lost my writing. I felt it drain out of me one idea after another.
I wrote a story, something about police and cats, and I couldn’t feel the next one there behind it. It wasn’t writer’s block. I wasn’t stuck. I had loads of words floating around in my tank. But I had no more stories at all. For four years, I stopped being a writer.
I’m good at the butt-in-chair thing. Always have been. When my teen peers were going to Friday dances and listening to teeny-bopper boy bands, I was scrunched into my half of a shared bedroom, typing. When my college classmates were out dating and dancing, I was writing. I did a few activities, theater and volunteer stuff, but mostly, I wrote.
So when I say that I couldn’t feel the next story behind the one I’d just finished, I don’t mean that I ran out of words to type. I mean that I ran out of writing. Again and again, I dove into myself, and again and again, there was nothing to tell. Scott gave me a gem by accident, about a couple trying to save a dying marriage. And I lingered over that thing. I wrote it and rewrote it until I thought it was perfect, and then I started over and wrote it again from scratch. Because, my God. It was my only story.
And when that was done, I sat down at my computer, and I typed some more. I banged out letters to the editor; I drew up analytical papers; I composed tirades to the graduate school; and I complained to the apartment manager. And none of it amounted to telling stories. I sent the whole family detailed e-mails about weekly nothings. I furthered a friendship with a woman in Great Britain who shared a fondness for one of my favorite authors. And none of it counted for writing. I finished two master’s degrees, and Scott and I got married and had a baby. And I was not a writer.
The baby broke me. I cried because she cried; I cried because she ate; and I cried because she sometimes stank really badly. I cried because I lived surrounded by words that I owned, even though none of them were mine. I cried so much that the doctor gave me Zoloft.
A week after I took the first pill, I felt the stopper fall into that internal drain hole; I felt the ideas stop leaking out. At first, I just had images to describe, phrases whose sounds pleased me. Then one day, the baby burped me a story. And when I’d finished it, when I’d typed the last letter and printed the final page, I felt the next story easing into place behind it, waiting to be written.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.