Can I Still Call Myself a Writer?

PicMonkey CollageI’ve had plans to be a writer for the past 28 years. And for the past 28 years, I’ve done a pretty good job of achieving success in that endeavor.

It started with published poetry and both lit mag and school newspaper involvement when I was a young twerp. Later on, I was an editor and writer for my college paper, and also landed a part-time editorial assistant / copy editing gig at a local weekly. I went on to intern at alternative weeklies, online mags, and small presses before landing a full-time job for an academic book publisher. And though I moved steadily up the ladder while there, I eventually left to go full-time freelance, during which time I was an editor at an online mag, a sex columnist (twice), a blog manager (twice), a ghostwriter, etc.  I even landed myself a literary agent on the strength of my book proposal.

I also spent a couple years coaching beginning freelance writers but, during that time, found myself becoming disillusioned by the whole damn game, and burnt out on the things I was writing. Rates were dropping everywhere. Quality writing was being devalued. And I’d been asked to write so many lowest-common-denominator listicles that I began to lose my taste for the hustle. I mean, what was the point? Why write crap content for crap rates? Why continue hustling for work that didn’t even make me proud?

So I fell into a malaise this year. I stopped hustling. I stopped pitching. I stopped brainstorming new story ideas. I stopped all forms of self-promotion. I brought in the bare minimum in terms of income and just threw myself into yoga.

I mean, there were the small wins. Lit mag publications. Getting into an anthology.

But yoga was my everything this year. It made me less depressed. It made me more sane. And for the first time in awhile, I felt I found something I was good at.

I earned my teaching certification in late May and, only six months later, I have four weekly classes of my own and a shit-ton of sub requests coming in. I also developed a workshop that has proven to be quite popular. I’m doing well for myself and, once again, I feel as if I’ve found an outlet in which I can use humor and openness and honesty to connect with people. To help them.

But what about my writing?

What about that one thing that has been such an integral part of my identity for so long?

I’m still doing ghost-blogging and social media management for a regular client of mine. I’m going to be a regular blogger for the Ploughshares website in 2014. I recently signed a one-year contract (with an opportunity for automatic renewal) to manage editorial operations (mostly blog and newsletter content) for a non-profit professional organization. (I can’t say more until the organization officially makes the announcement to its own members.) This — plus my yoga — will bring in enough regular income to make me feel secure. It will allow me the time to write what I want.

But I’ve lost the taste for writing lately. I need to make a third pass at my book manuscript so my agent can re-submit to publishers but, every time I think about it, I just feel guilt and stress and overwhelm and a decided lack of passion. What’s that all about?

I’m still making a freelance life for myself, though one that looks very different from the one I was leading six years ago.

But how do I find my way back to writing? Has anyone else gone through a period like this?


  1. Even if you’re focusing more on yoga these days (and I think it’s awesome – I’ve enjoyed watching your yoga career blossom) you can still call yourself a writer because you have the soul of a writer. It’s part of you even as you evolve and grow (how’s that for cheesy?).

    I’ve had my own ebbs and flows, trying to do more personal essay writing and deciding it’s not really for me, earning a little money here and there from music and theater since that’s my other love, etc. The great thing about freelancing is that we can choose to go in a new direction without having to get your boss on board, apply for a job transfer, etc.

  2. You have to persevere. You know, Stephen King, the world’s best-selling author, used to write at a desk in an attic with a nail in the wall above his typewriter. When he got rejection slips, he stuck them on the nail, one after another after another after another after another … Soon he had quite an impressive collection of slips from editors who didn’t think he could be a successful writer. At one point, he grew so discouraged with the whole writing gig that he threw the manuscript of Carrie into the trash. If his wife hadn’t retrieved it, history would be quite… well, you know.

    The publications you have had in literary magazines prove you have talent and discipline. The thing now is to have the resolve to press on.

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