But the reality is, if you want to be a writer, then you are always going to want to be a writer. And no amount of logic, or common-sense decisions is going to change that. I should know. I tried.
It was 2005 and I was a month away from finishing my creative writing degree. Sometimes you hear stories about crotchety professors that like to kill their students’ dreams by reminding them repeatedly they will never, ever make a liveable wage from their writing (which is true most of the time, but hardly inspiring).
Not my professors.
They told me repeatedly that I had a gift. That I had a future in writing. That my work tapped into rare levels of emotion that was rare. And in the full knowledge that this sounds arrogant as hell, it did.
But here’s the catch—I was well and truly crazy.
Four months earlier I had been released from my second psychiatric hospital committal. And these aren’t short visits I’m talking about. These were committals that were months-long. I was, according to my psychiatrist, a danger to myself.
I have bipolar disorder, and for most of my creative writing degree I was quickly swinging from extreme lows to manic highs. The emotion that my professors were so proud of? It came from sitting at my keyboard bleeding or typing with the frantic gunfire beat of someone whose thoughts were too fast, too chaotic, to tumultuous to catch.
I was unwell, to put it mildly, and if something didn’t change, I wasn’t going to make it.
But during the second hospital stay, we tried a new medication. It worked. My mental health improved. I was no longer thinking suicidal thoughts or engaging in totally crazy ideas. I was happy. My family was relieved.
But my writing? I’d lost access to that part of my brain that made my writing unique. I had a decision to make. Be brilliant and die before I was 30, or be sane and live a normal, average life.
At least I thought I had a decision to make—and I made it. Once my final assessment was in (with an average grade to match my new, average life), I put away my keyboard. I focused on building a career. I moved cities. I dated. I lived a normal life. And if at times I felt a pang of regret at leaving behind my dream? Well I tucked that away with memories of deep emotional pain.
Three years later, I was moving house and found the folder with all of my uni assignments. I read through them. They were so full of extreme feeling that I put them away. I didn’t want to feel like that again. It was validation. I’d made the right decision.
But here’s the thing.
If you want to be a writer, then you are always going to want to be a writer. And no amount of logic, or common-sense decisions is going to change that.
Almost ten years later, I was living a perfectly happy life, with a job I loved, a boyfriend I adored, two cats and a dog. But that nagging need to write that had never quite left started gnawing at me more and more.
I started to wonder. Could I do it? Could I be a writer and be happy and healthy at the same time? Was my writing inextricably linked to my illness? Could I have one but not the other?
After months of back and forth, I leapt. And I wrote. And I didn’t go crazy. Instead I learned that my writing as mentally well adult was more consistent, was technically stronger and just as good as my early writing. And if it didn’t have the same emotional pull that my earlier work had? I was okay with that.
My only regret is that I lost more than a decade thinking I could sensibly put aside the dream. But I couldn’t. You can’t. So if you want to be a writer, just write. Because you won’t ever get away from the dream.
This post is part of the Writers Persevere event that authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are running for the next few days to celebrate their newest book, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma. This book looks at the difficult experiences embedded in our character’s backstory which will shape their motivation and behavior afterward.
To help them celebrate this release, many of us are posting stories about some of the obstacles we’ve overcome as writers. As we all know, this isn’t an easy path. Writing is hard and as writers we tend to struggle with doubt. Sometimes too, we don’t always get the support we need to follow our passion, or we have added challenges that make writing more difficult.
Do you have a story to share, or some advice for others? Tell us about a challenge or struggle your faced, or if you like, write a post on your own blog and share it using the hashtag #writerspersevere. Let’s fill social media with your strength and let other writers know that it’s okay to question and have doubts but we shouldn’t let that stop us.