Confessions of a Stalled Writer

I’m feeling like a bit of a fraud.

I am a member of this group of women who write in spite of the unyielding demands of daily life—the jobs and kids and partners and hobbies and chores. All of it. I am working on my first book, a memoir about loss and grief and cultivating resilience. It’s about navigating the death of my mom and the subsequent loss of the daughter I thought I had, and what I’m learning along the way. But for the past few months I’ve had a secret: I haven’t been writing. Reading? Yes. Writing emails, Facebook posts, and text messages? Absolutely. But not much real writing.

Spring was rough in our house. My teenager has serious health issues that are unpredictable and shape our time and space in ways that can be hard to articulate. They* experienced a flare-up of sorts a few months ago and I’ve been worried, tense, and irritable since. I have written through uncertainty and darkness before. In the past couple years I’ve written at my kid’s bedside in the emergency room, scribbling in the margins of the discharge summary. I’ve written at home on high alert while waiting for a spot to open up at the adolescent psychiatric unit. I even kept a detailed journal through my own episode of depression nearly 10 years ago. Reading and writing are typically my go-to, my refuge. Lately, though, I’ve been sleeping in, spending too much time on social media, and taking care of stuff that could probably wait, even as the chaos has waned and we’ve reclaimed some normalcy.

I thought I’d write more once summer started, but I forgot what summer is like when you have a kid. They’re around the house. A lot. And even though my kid is a teen, they don’t have a job right now, there’s a pause on driver’s ed, and they are in summer school—floundering in two online courses that they’re currently at risk of failing, not because they aren’t smart but because they aren’t doing the work.

Shit.

They aren’t doing the work….and neither am I. I’ve been nagging, asking, prodding, nudging, in an effort to be supportive, to be helpful. But also because I just don’t understand. I want to shout, “Why don’t you just do it?” fists shaking at the sky. And I genuinely want the answer because I figure if I could understand their reasoning, then I would know how to get them back on track. As if it were that simple.

I’ve been trying to remind myself how to write. Or maybe it’s why to write. Here’s the thing, though: I have the time. I’m the outlier in our group in that I do not currently have a traditional job. In my last position I taught for six years in a clinical program at the UW-Madison, but I left a couple years ago. Primarily, I left to focus on writing, to take classes and learn the craft. So while my family situation is at times more demanding and less predictable than some, I’m not currently fitting writing in around paid employment. I’m sheepish about that and fall into the trap of comparing myself to all the folks who write or pursue other creative endeavors in addition to paid employment. That’s a no-win game, though.

Earlier today I texted my kid: “listen, i’m not trying to nag you. i am trying to encourage and support, though ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what’s important to you and to take regular actions that lead you in that direction.”

I want to heed my own advice.

Will my kid choose to get get back to work? Will I? I’m finally old enough to understand I only have control over one of those outcomes. I’m not going to beat myself up for getting off track, at least not any more than I already have. Maybe I really needed a break? Besides, as I’ve learned in the practice of Mindfulness, you can just keep starting over, again and again.

So here I go, starting over again. I’m recommitting to my writing practice in the best way I know how. For the month of July I am writing a minimum of 1,000 words a day, every day. Shitty words, repetitive words, useless words, with, I hope, a few gems mixed in. Care to join me?

"You are exactly where you need to be." message in entryway of gather in san francisco

*My teen is gender non-binary and uses ‘they/them/theirs’ pronouns.

23 thoughts on “Confessions of a Stalled Writer”

  1. Hi Jessica
    I have also made this re-commitment for July – so, yes, I’m with you!!
    How do we want to connect ..?
    XO Sue

    1. Hi, Sue.
      That’s fantastic! So glad to have good company in this.
      We can connect via Facebook, or email (jegilkison@gmail.com), or any other way you prefer.
      xo Jessica

  2. Great article, Jess! You have done a lot for your family. Reward yourself with feeling great about being a writer, because you *are* a writer and a great mom. I’m going to try to do this with you, maybe via my blog. Keep going! This is all just the life of a writer. I guarantee those women in your group have had times like these 🙂

    1. Kat, Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Just started following your blog. I’m thrilled you’ll try to do this with me. Let’s touch base from time to time to see how we’re doing. And thanks most of all for your kindness and support.

    1. You’re writing, Dianna? That’s fantastic! Looking forward to seeing your words on the page soon.

  3. So wonderful to read, Jessica! Can’t tell you the number of times that my requests/advice/judgements of my daughters were just what I needed to work on, too. I’m with you in that, and in recommitting over and over again to the craft. You are a wonderful writer. Can’t wait to read more!

    1. Maria,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I so appreciate the validation of how we struggle as moms and stalled writers and humans. And your kind, encouraging words are ones I’ll keep close to heart.

    1. Woohoo, Laura! So glad you’re in. And it seems we inspire each other. Would love to read the most recent version of your book. Keep me in mind, please.

  4. Jess, you are the bravest and toughest woman I know and there is no doubt in my mind that this pause will resolve. I remember my first memory of you from law school , talking to Prof. Schacter as we both lingered after our first class. You are amazing. I love this writing about how you aren’t writing…I am sure those shitty words aren’t shitty at all.

    Love,
    Michelle

    1. Michelle, oh my gosh. You are so kind. And wow, the days of law school, and Prof. Schacter. Doesn’t it seem like 100 years ago? Thank you for reading this and for commenting. Trust me, there are lots of shitty words, but it’s all part of the process. And in another 100 years, I might finish my first book. I’m really looking forward to catching up in person soon. xoxo Jess

  5. It always sucks when someone else’s actions seem to be holding up a mirror to our own, doesn’t it?
    I’m glad to finally get a taste of your writing, though, even if it took frustration to get you there.

    1. Yes, Katie, it does! And yet, I also really appreciate it.
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I really appreciate it.

    1. Hi, Amy. Thank you! And re: your journaling, you’ve been a little busy with the half-marathons, kickboxing, and general awesomeness you’ve been serving up. We’ll have lots to talk about at lunch.

    1. Ah, Karen, thanks for reading and sharing that you can relate. I want to hear how your writing is going these days.

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