What Happens When I Don’t Write

A personal account featuring Cornish hens, doing the splits, and an embarrassing amount of trashy TV

Finishing up a slew of back-to-back freelance assignments, I am literally wiped out. My heart waved good riddance to my motivation long ago, and at this point I am merely going through the motions to meet my deadlines. Plan, research, interview, write. Plan, research, interview, write. Monotony is not a good place to be, and over coffee one Saturday morning I come clean about my lackluster attitude to an editor friend of mine. I confess that although I’m not turning in poor work, I know I’m not submitting my best work either. My friend doesn’t verbally berate me. She’s too nice. However, the look she gives me does do a number on my conscience.

That night I decide a writing sabbatical is in order. Granted, I’ve never gone on a writing sabbatical before. But as of next Friday, I don’t have another deadline for 45 days. Normally such a light workload would send me into a querying frenzy, but this time around I consciously decide not to go into a freelancing tailspin. I vow to leave my assignment-seeking persona behind for exactly one month. I’ll use the respite to relax, scratch some things off my to-do list and, hopefully, return to my assignments feeling refreshed. I tell my friend about my plan. She seems pleased, which further convinces me a hiatus is the smart thing to do. I decide, however, to keep a journal of my experiment. It’s writing, yes. But it’s not writing for pay, which I rationalize is acceptable. And so…

Day 1: Unaccustomed to having so much free time, I throw a dozen break-and-bake cookies into the oven and plop down in front of the television. I proceed to watch three hours of bad TV on the CW network. I go to bed early, feeling simultaneously liberated and sick to my stomach.

Day 2: Before running mundane errands, I go to a cycling class to burn off the two trillion calories I consumed the night before. In the afternoon, I surf the Internet and end up spending an embarrassing amount of time on People.com.

Day 3: I rearrange the kitchen cupboards, paint my toenails and check out four books from the library.

Day 4: I start the first library book.

Day 5: The book sucks. I return it and begin to wonder why I’m not writing.

Day 6: By 10:00 a.m., I’m bored. I force myself to watch the clock until 2:00 p.m., then open a bottle of wine. I pour a glass and contemplate life. By 5:00 p.m., I determine what I really want is to become a photographer.

Day 7: I sign up for a photography class.

Day 8: One by one, I call all my friends seeking a lunch date. Most of them are busy – working. I end up driving 45 minutes (each way) to meet a friend for a 35-minute lunch before she has to get back to her office for a meeting.

Day 9: During the first session of my photography class, I recall that I took a similar photography class three years ago. I never followed through with anything I learned. I tell myself that this time will be different.

Day 10: I start a blog. I immediately write two poems and post them to the blogosphere. I am now a published poet.

Day 11: While watching a news story about Chinese gymnasts on television, I remember that I’ve always wanted to be able to do the splits. I vow to stretch for 15 minutes every day until I can splay my legs like the 70-lb., 14-year-old girl from Shanghai.

Day 12: I stretch. After 14 minutes, I only manage to maneuver my legs into a 35º angle. My inner thighs feel like taut slingshots waiting to be released. I sit there grimacing for a minute, waiting for the muscles to relax. They do not.

Day 13: My legs feel like Jell-O so I skip my morning stretch. I go to the grocery store hungry and bored. I come home with two Cornish hens. When I brag about my purchase to my husband, he reminds me I have an aversion to meat on the bone. I pawn the Cornish hens off on my neighbor. 

Day 14: I decide to redecorate my office. I go to the paint store and spend the afternoon applying test coats of various colors to my walls.

Day 15: After my second-ever stretching routine, I buy two gallons of paint called Misty Merlot. By day’s end there is so much red paint on me I look like an extra in a slasher movie. However, there’s an equal amount of paint on the walls. I call it a win-win.

Day 16: I rearrange my bathroom cupboards, repaint my toenails and check out two more books from the library.

Day 17: I miss writing. I jot down all the article ideas I have and ridicule myself for taking a writing sabbatical during a month with 31 days.

Day 18: I remember my blog and post some pictures from last summer’s vacation.

Days 19, 20 & 21: I discover TMZ.com and Gawker.com. The next three days are a blur. 

Day 22: At the suggestion of my photography instructor, I treat myself to a photo field trip. I drive to a nearby hiking trail to take some pictures. I come home with 112 pictures of trees. Four of them are actually decent. I post them to my blog.

Day 23: Eight days to go. I spend the day at the bookstore, buying an armload of magazines. That night I dream my house catches on fire while I’m querying magazine editors.

Day 24: After reading one of my new magazines, I consider starting a vegetable garden. And a compost pile to fertilize it. I think my efforts would make for an interesting essay.

Day 25: My husband vetoes the compost pile.

Day 26: A friends calls to tell me she’s just landed an assignment in one of her dream publications. I don’t feign happiness for her. I’m too busy fuming with jealousy.

Day 27: I research which breeds of dogs make the best companions. When my husband comes home from work, I suggest we purchase a Shiba Inu from a breeder I found in Kansas. He stares at me and asks when my 31 days are up.

Day 28: I bake pumpkin-cranberry muffins. Fifty-two of them.

Day 29: I re-organize my closet and, afterward, haul a shameful number of sweaters with sewn-in shoulder pads to the nearest Good Will. 

Day 30: I give up on ever being able to do the splits.

Day 31: I go through my files in preparation for my return to writing tomorrow. I make a new to-do list and organize my publishing contacts. I can’t say it feels good to have not written for 31 days. But I am excited to get back to work. My husband tells me he and the checking account feel the same.  While sorting my query spreadsheet, I consider the possibility of selling a story about my writing sabbatical. Not a mundane, boring, lackluster tale, but a piece with truth to it. And passion. And pay.

[I actually wrote this essay nearly 10 years ago. But finding it on my computer this week made me realize how much I used to live for writing. How much I missed it when I didn’t put my fingers on a keyboard on a regular basis. How, when it comes right down to it, I still miss it. A bunch. So here’s to writing again… and not letting another hiatus take center stage for so long.]