Recently, I started playing violin after twenty-two years. I quit at the end of ninth grade after playing since third grade. It wasn’t that I didn’t love playing music—I did. But my interests had changed, and it was already apparent that they were starting to relate more to writing and communications.
I wanted to be on the school newspaper staff, take acting and public speaking classes, and be on the speech and debate team, and those things took time. When you say yes to something, it means saying no to something else—even things that are good.
So, on the last day of ninth grade, I packed up my violin, which went into a closet at my parents’ house, where it stayed until I got married. I brought it with me at my husband’s request because he wanted to try to play it.
There was a moment when he did try, and when I saw that he was holding the violin all wrong, I stepped in to correct him. At that moment, a floating snatch of a recital piece from years ago came through my fingers, then vanished.
“Why’d you stop?” he asked me.
“I don’t remember anymore,” I said.
Still, that brief moment where I was transported back to a time when playing music meant something greater stayed with me. Earlier this year, I had my violin refurbished, bought the same books I used when I learned to play at age nine, and started over.
I’m not going to lie. It’s been a little messy. Very screechy. Plus, learning to play was WAY easier when my hands were smaller and I didn’t have carpel tunnel. But slowly but surely, things are coming back to me.
Muscle memory is a weird thing. I was playing a piece that required me to quickly move from one string to another and keep my first finger in position the whole time to simplify the shift, and my hand did it without me having to read the instructions in the book.
I also have bizarre flashbacks to practicing in the living room at my parents’ house or playing along with my teacher at the music school downtown.
Why am I telling you this?
Because even if you have to say no to writing for a while, you can always come back.
If You Don’t Use It, You’re Not Gonna Lose It
Several years ago, I went through a tough patch with my writing. The last thing I’d finished that I thought was genuinely good was from my MFA three years ago. I was screwing around in a few different genres, including YA and an utterly hideous attempt at Left Behind-esque Christian speculative fiction. These projects train-wrecked. I did NaNoWriMo, and the manuscript ended up as an uneven mess of true crime and Bruce Springsteen fan fiction.
Out of frustration, I wrote to a former professor and asked for help. This person told me, “Don’t let it slip. You’re too talented to let it slip.”
I’m sure this individual meant for this to be a charge to keep going and persevere, but that wasn’t how I took it. I saw it as a rebuke that my creative struggles were signs of weakness and the result of a lack of commitment on my part.
I have a really unhealthy habit of taking the blame for everything, even stuff that isn’t my fault, so it makes sense that I would respond that way. However, I’m willing to bet that other people reading this would have done this, too.
So now, I wasn’t just frustrated that my writing wasn’t going anywhere. I was burdened by the perceived idea that it was all my fault and I was blowing it. And that wasn’t exactly helping me with my original problem.
I wish someone had told me I didn’t have to try so hard, which is why I’m writing about this now.
Your Writing Will Still Be There When You’re Ready
I wrote in a past post about the myth of “writing every day.” I encourage you to go back and read that post if you experience inappropriate guilt about “not writing enough.”
But let me be very clear on this:
There are going to be times when you have to step away from writing.
As I said, saying yes to things means saying no to others, even the best things.
You may have to move away from a project to focus on something else.
You may need to prioritize your family or other work.
You may also need to prioritize yourself by focusing on your mental health. “But doesn’t writing help with that?” some people say.
No. The answer is no. Whoever said that has never experienced major depressive disorder. Forget about forming a coherent thought with words. Sometimes just getting out of bed is a major achievement because the physical pain and emotional vacuity are just too overwhelming.
Bottom line . . .
It’s okay to take a break.
You are NOT going to lose it if you don’t use it.
Your project will still be there waiting for you.
When people criticize you for not doing enough, you don’t have to listen or allow shameful thoughts into your mind.
You’re still a writer even if you aren’t writing every day or constantly working on a project or doing NaNoWriMo or posting self-gratifying reels on Instagram as some kind of proof of life of how productive you’re being.
You can take a break to focus on other things that will make you and the people you love healthier and happier.
When you’re ready, you can come back.
I mean, if I can come back to playing my violin after twenty-two years, you can pick up your work again.
In the meantime . . . do you want a stress-free way to enjoy being creative?
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