It was late February, 2013 when I quit writing. I didn't write an entry into my writing journal about it. I didn't announce it. I didn't tell my friends. I told my husband. He seemed to either take it well or know more about me than I do.
February for me means a deadline. February is the month when I have to get a finished draft of a novel to my editor. I'd delivered in February 2013. I sent in GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE and I breathed my small sigh of relief that it was gone from my desk and I probably had a drink that night in celebration.
If we're keeping count, that was novel #18. If you don't know much about me or my work, then you should know that 8 of those 18 novels live in my attic in a box. Three of them live in a strange limbo where they are written, not published, but there's something about them that keeps me from dooming them to the attic.
If you know me, then you know I'm not a particularly dramatic person. I'm human though I claim I'm Vulcan, but still, I approach things with logic more regularly than I panic or cry about things. I don't usually quit things or make grand statements. I consider myself very lucky to be a published author--very lucky--and though I've won awards and stuff like that, I still struggle to make ends meet. I see this as normal. I know a lot of writers. Most of us can't afford a nanny or a chef and that's okay. I know a lot of other lucky people in other professions and they can't afford nannies or chefs, either.
So what drove me to quit writing in late February 2013?
I have no idea, but I did.
I said, "I'm done. I quit. I don't want to do this anymore."
I decided I'd go work in a library and maybe go back to school at night.
I decided I'd do anything but write another novel.
Eighteen was enough.
I lasted two days.
Two days after I'd quit, I started writing another novel. #19. No title. No form. Just this chunky bare prose on the page that came slowly--not at all in tune with my deadline schedules. I didn't care if it ever turned into anything. I didn't care if it was delivered on time the following February. I didn't care about the business--if it would sell, what people might think of it. I just wrote it when it came. This is probably why my husband didn't falter when I'd told him I'd quit, I guess. He's known me a long time. Maybe he knows better than I do that I'm a writer and it's not just something you quit doing.
Back on the farm in the mid-1990's when I wrote for no one and had no deadlines except for planting and harvesting the year's food, I hit the same wall. The quitting wall. Whatever you want to call it. I stopped writing novels. But since I was a writer, I kept writing. In this case, I wrote poetry. For two years, I wrote poems whenever they came to me. I read a lot. I took more walks. I painted more. I didn't "quit" because there wasn't anything to quit. Writing wasn't my job. It wasn't a hobby either. It was my--I don't know. I don't know what it was. All the words that go here seem too dramatic a fit for me. Passion, vocation, calling all seem like the wrong words. Writing was what I did. Period. I'd written about 5 novels by then. But I wanted to write poetry, so I wrote poetry.
This was a good thing because eventually, my first published work was poetry. I wrote some good poems. I think they suck now and they're in that box in the attic. But some great university journals here in the States thought they were good enough to publish, and that was nice.
The point of me boring you with the poetry story was more to show the way of life for me when I was an unpublished writer. I could paint a still life one day in acrylics or take a whole fortnight and paint it in oils instead. I could go out back on the farm and smash things with sledgehammer. I did that sometimes. I could do farm chores. I could build a birdhouse. I could build a guest cottage. I could do whatever I wanted because no one was waiting on me to produce. Not poems, not novels, not anything. The only person demanding anything from me was me. I had to grow food. That was it. I had to grow food. So when I didn't feel like writing, I didn't. If I felt like writing poetry, I wrote poetry. Ta-da. If I was mad at the world, I'd write what I called fuck-the-world poems. I wrote them for myself. I thought fuck-the-world poems were best kept to one's self. Funny, because of my published poems, all were fuck-the-world poems.
In late February 2013, things were different. Very different. Not only did I now buy my food from a grocery store, but I was a lucky published novelist. I was also the person in charge of making money in my house. I traveled a lot and had kids and a husband in college. So when I didn't have it in me anymore, I didn't think about writing poetry or painting. I just thought about a kind friend's offer of an entry-level job at her library. But I never pursued the job.
Of course, I already told you that this....thing...only lasted two days.
Call it a crisis and I'll disagree. I was tired, yes. I may have been cranky. Sure. But I was dead serious. I quit. I was done. I'd never been so done before in my writing life. In those 48 hours, I was free. And then the world opened up and the words started flowing again with no warning or thought on my part at all.
The book that came out of me after those two days was a fuck-the-world book. No holding back. No censoring (though this book has less cursing than all of my books, so I don't mean censoring in the profanity way--I mean it in the brainwave way.) I didn't care about fitting into a box or onto a shelf. I just wrote in the same way I wrote that poetry back on the farm. I painted it like I painted those old canvases (which also live in my attic, but that's because I don't have any other place to put them.)
#19 sold nine months later. My agent and editor loved it. I delivered the finished manuscript in February 2014. This week, it was announced to the world and I'm busy writing novel #20, which started late after many months beating novel #supposed-to-be-20 which was really a dead book. Nothing like beating a dead book to remind one of one's place.
Last weekend, I painted a still life. This week, I wrote a poem. This weekend, I cleared out my garden and harvested peppers. For six years, I felt like a book machine. Now I feel more human. Human before writer. One must be human to write. One must know what ripe peppers look like and know the rule of fat over lean in oil painting.
Quitting writing was human. That's all.
Now I get to push another paper boat out onto the water and see if it sails.
The wind isn't under my control. Nothing, really, is under my control. I'm just a lady who makes paper boats. This one has I CRAWL THROUGH IT painted on the bow.
A fitting title, I think.
It will be in your local bookstore in fall 2015. There is an invisible helicopter and a walking digestive system in it. There is a man in it named Kenneth who Bill Murray would play if it were a movie. Kenneth is free, just like me. But he can't quit either.
Disclaimer: I was joking about the nannies and the chefs. I don't want either. I just want a future where I don't eat soup once a week for dinner.