This is a popular double-negative among the writerly set. We writers also say that writing is like breathing; we’d die if we didn’t do it. Every day we must write.
Especially early in my writing career I said each of these things. Often. But when I read or hear these words now, I cringe. Because not only do these sorts of things sound pretentious beyond belief, but because I suspect for most of us, they are lies.
Take me for instance, now. I’m not plunking this out because I can’t not; I’m doing it because I’m obligated. There’s nothing I would rather be doing less than sitting here writing. The sink is full of dishes. Weeds are inching closer to my tomatoes. Both weeding and washing sound better than writing. Then there’s the book. I can hear its loud whispers, Come back and read me. Aren’t you dying to know what happens next?
Yes, yes, I am.
But instead I sit here writing not because it’s like breathing, not because I’d die if I didn’t, and not because I “can’t not.” Right now, I write for one reason and one alone: a deadline.
Perhaps the Can’t Not Writer would tell me I’m lazy — and perhaps I am. But, I believe another thing is at work. I’m tired: I wrote three books and dozens of essays — nearly 200,000 words last year. I rewrote many of them this year. While I love to write (mostly) and for much of my life have been energized by the act, lately, it drains me. Exhausts me, actually. So I’m happy to not write.
That is to say, I can not write. Easily. And yet, I still claim the title of writer. Just as I have since age 7.
So how can one be something without doing something?
Easy, if we believe God made us right and also believe God calls us to stop doing every now and again (see Commandment #4).
To claim we always have to be doing the thing that we are is a bit of American ridiculousness. Just as farmers are still farmers when fields lay under feet of snow and people are sexual beings whether or not they’re having sex, so I am a writer whether I’m writing or in a fallow or celibate stage, you might say.
Because being a writer is more than punching keys on a keyboard or scribbling words in a Moleskine. Yes, being a “real” writer means mastering a craft and practicing an art and the required discipline of writing that goes along with that, but writing — as a calling and a gifting — is so much more. And it’s the “so much more” part of the calling that I can’t not do.
I can’t not be a writer. I can’t not think or view the world like a writer. I can’t stop reading. I can’t seem to shut off my skeptic nerve without a whole lot of work. I can’t stop noticing everything, the weirdest things, around me. I can’t stop playing devil’s advocate — even with myself. If I really need to figure out what I think about something (for example, this), indeed, I do need to click open a fresh Word doc and plunk away. And I can’t stop looking forward and backward on my day wondering what God is doing with the story of my life.
But I can — quite easily — not write about it.
In fact, often I think God tells me not to (again, Commandment #4). It’s the same for each of us. We all have callings and things we love to do. But we also all have “seasons” of life when we need to stop. And when that needs to be OK.
Especially if we serve the God of rhythm and rest, of timing and time-outs and if we seek to live as Jesus, the Messiah who spent less than one-tenth of his life Messiah-ing.
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Image credit: telegraph.co.uk and dlkoontz.com