When is a Writer Not a Writer?

When they don’t write.

Photo by Josh Boot via Unsplash

In 2020, I went from someone who wrote on Medium several times a week or month, to maybe once a month. The reasons were both personal and pandemical. OK, “pandemical” not a word, but maybe it should be.

My life was upended, and all my priorities for writing changed. Boston was one of the first cities to get hit hard. I was astonished when people asked, “Does anyone know someone who died of Covid-19?” By May, I could name a dozen.

Writing fell to the wayside. Even if I earned extra money, what was I going to do with it? No matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t eat in a restaurant. For awhile it was not allowed, and then it was just plain unsafe. Same for seeing a movie in a theater. I worked directly with patients; I couldn’t risk it.

When I went out, it was to browse the remarkably empty shelves of grocery stores. I tried to change things up by trying to conceive, but after six months, that didn’t happen either. I had never had insomnia in my life until 2020, and it hit me like a sack of bricks.

Instead of taking day trips this summer, I spent days off doomscrolling through news articles. I streamed TV shows a season at a time, because for once, I had the time. I couldn’t think of much to write about. My long-standing ideas of minimalism dried up; focusing on the environment was tough when disposable items were constantly needed for safety. (I couldn’t exactly get take-out with a reusable container.) Same with humor: I couldn’t find much to joke about.

Medium also changed, and not in changes I could keep up with at the time. My little pond of favorite writers was suddenly lost in an ocean of stories. An example: the #4 top story right now is by Susan Orlean. I don’t know how to compete with that sort of talent.

But then again, the wider the net, the more fish (AKA readers) there are. I have read popular stories on Medium and then, months later, had random people tell me the salient points. I say, “Oh, I saw that article on Medium too.” “What article?” they ask. It just becomes part of the public consciousness.

And I have always wanted to be a writer. Occasionally people will leave a comment and say that what I wrote is really meaningful to them, which makes me feel like I’m making a difference. I wrote an essay on migraines that has been called one of the best on the Internet. (If I knew I was in the running, I’d have worked harder on it.) I’ve been writing off and on for fifteen years now, longer than I’ve been doing anything else.

And while I may not have been writing as many articles, I did do some beta reading. Off and on, I worked on a novel. I don’t expect that to be super profitable — I know how writing a novel goes. I spend years working on it as a passion project, get it edited and release it, and a handful of people read it and like it. It’s like running in a race when you know you’ll probably come in last. But you still run it.

Last month I read Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, which tells you how to write a plot people will love, but it seems so bloodless to go from Point A to B to whatever. I once read that F. Scott Fitzgerald got burned out by writing because he figured out the formula, so it wasn’t exciting anymore. Article writing seems to be the same way. I could churn out articles that explain that you can make six figures writing if you just tell people to write articles saying to tell people to make six figures writing (“Just wake up at 5 a.m. and write every day”), but where’s the fun in that?

But I’ve made my way back to article writing, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Setting New Year’s resolutions this year seems pointless when we can all simply celebrate that we survived, but if I had to, I would say that I want to continue writing pieces that are truly honest and helpful. I want to resume promoting my work, and submit to some publications that I like.

Even though it may be a month or more in-between published articles, I’m still writing. I still look at my drafts and rearrange things and jot down interesting ideas. I’m here, just re-calibrating. When is a writer not a writer? When they don’t write. And I want to be a writer.

Article writer, aspiring YA novelist & health scientist.

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