The Other Side of Persevering

The Other Side of Persevering

November 05, 2013

Since I live on the East Coast and am therefore physically separated from most of the Ruminate editors and local Ruminate activities, I love reading other Ruminate blog posts—it's such a great way to stay in tune with what other staff members are up to, to get to know our contributors better, and to discover new books, music, and inspiration.

I was especially delighted recently to read Nicole Rollender's piece on perseverance. I love her writing (and loved reading it for the 2012 Poetry Prize in Issue 25!), and her blog post is insightful about both writing and life. It echoes much of my own experience, from the poetry professors' admonitions to the labor of forcing oneself to submit submit submit. I have worked hard since college (where I studied creative writing, among other things) to persevere in my work of being a writer. I have formed or joined writing groups in every place I've lived, creating a community of people to whom I could feel responsible (forcing me to meet deadlines and goals that I set for myself) and also supported (through workshops and encouragement and sometimes just a couple glasses of wine). I have tried to only rarely have a point where I have no work under consideration somewhere, and though revisions may sometimes get put on hold for a year or more, they're always churning somewhere in my mind's (endless) to-do list.

But Rollender's piece struck me especially now because I find myself currently in almost the opposite spot. Rather than persevering, I have recently made a deal with myself to not persevere, to not continually fight the good writerly fight—instead, to let go.

My love of writing is such that I worry it would be sapped if it ever became something I had to do, and so, although working in publishing keeps me rooted in words, I have never wanted to make my living as "a writer." Writing is something I do because I love it and that's it. Revising, submitting, all that is stuff I do because I want to and not because I have to and I'm glad for that luxury. I know it will always be a part of my life, in some form. As Rollender says, “if you really are a writer, the desire to create is seared into you so deep you have no choice but to write relentlessly.”

But. As I write this I am eight and a half months pregnant with my first baby and steeling myself for what lies ahead. In all the craziness of HR forms, doctor visits, daycare visits, maternity leave preparation at work, nursery setup, and birthing classes, I have found myself making peace with a break from my writing. I still plan/hope to write as and when I am moved to and have the time, but for now, I have chosen to step back, to give myself a free pass to not write, to not submit, to not workshop. . .and to be okay with that. I find myself facing the period in my life that Rollender herself describes: “I’d go through spurts, where I’d work on poems every night after everyone else had gone to bed. But then, life would happen and writing would go on the back burner.”

As an extremely Type-A individual, I know that without this allowance to myself to not write, I will be nagged by the guilt of failing to persevere, of becoming one of the ones Rollender’s poetry professor warns about, who stops. I want to fully open myself to this new aspect of my life, and though I know that I will need exactly the perseverance Rollender references when I decide to “hunker back down,” as she says, there's an odd sort of peace right now in allowing myself some distance from this part of my life that has always been half-love half-perseverance—pushing myself constantly against stagnancy. To allow myself to do nothing and not feel guilty. To have that last rejection come back and not immediately resubmit. To make notes for a poem and just leave them in the notebook for now—as notes and nothing more—and know that they'll be there waiting for me when I decide it's time to return.

Writing is such a personal act—self-driven and done in solitude—and so our successes and failures as writers are difficult to separate from ourselves as people. And yet, though I have no doubt that writing will always be a part of my life, for this moment in time, I’m finding that a step back feels more liberating than a step forward.

May your next step in your writing take you just where you need to be.


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