A long time ago, I read. I read books I paid for that I wouldn’t need to review, to interview the author, or to underline because I was studying the plot structure.
A long time ago, I wrote. I journaled, sent newsletters, started blogs (five and counting), and submitted articles.
A long time ago, I photographed the world with a DSLR. I took pictures of the kids and mountains and flowers and tediously edited them before choosing which ones to enlarge for my 16×20 frames.
A long time ago, I was a social justice activist. I cared about it all. And you knew.
And then it became a job. I was paid to write a book, I made money on family pictures, and I got a paycheck to care about human trafficking. Somewhere between passion and payment my interest waned. My heart withered. It seems creativity that is consumed can be corrupted.
Writing has been the hardest, the greatest loss. And it started with a dream come true. That I went from journaling to blogging to magazine writing to a book deal is a normal journey; that it happened fairly quickly is not. After years of working on writing craft, it was rather a crash course on the business of writing—two very different industries entirely. An idea. A proposal. An agent. A deal. And suddenly, the big leagues: A marketing call. A recording studio. A New York editor. A bookstore book. Signings.
I signed a book I wrote!
And then…quiet. Low sales. Few interviews. Few reviews. Much ado about nothing. In the book publishing industry, the author is to fill such voids with much ado about everything—more podcasts, more followers, more hustle. The latter is not really the thing anyone leads with when talking about the business of writing. As it turns out, it’s the very thing that crushes most writers. It’s what sends us home to curl up with Netflix, existential questions about calling, and a heavy dose of writer’s block.
Mine lasted three years. No matter that I did all the right things, I couldn’t seem to climb out of the underbelly of the industry. You see things differently down there, and I was sinking fast. I started the process: idea, proposal, agent. But my heart had withered. The love of writing had been supplanted by the strategy of it all.
In a parallel world, I have an 18-year-old daughter who started writing a dystopian novel six years ago. It’s been through multiple versions, but the storyline and characters are consistent. At the onset of the pandemic, she queried fifteen literary agents with her manuscript. Rejected by all, she went about graduating and taking a gap semester and, you know, life. But in these months before leaving for college, she has pulled it out again. Time for the 333rd version of this story. She loves this world she has created with her entire being, whether any of us ever read it or not. Unlike her mother, she can write thousands of words a day with pure delight and abandon, not editing a single word. Just writing.
And so, over the course of winter, an idea took root. Might I write with that sort of abandon?
Would I have the courage to try?
Could I write fiction just for fun? Create something that has no purpose other than to unlock the part of me that feels bolted shut and betrayed?
I stew over it for months, too afraid to try. Until one day, I bring a notebook to the mall, just in case. In case today I am brave. I see a group of older men with canes and books and tweed hats and it is over. I am smitten. I open the notebook and put the pencil down and suddenly, I am lost. Words fly. A story unfolds. I had no idea that could happen, that entire lives could come up out of blank pages so quickly, so unexpectedly—that this is how worlds are birthed.
For weeks, I make myself open the notebook everyday and get 600 words on paper. Such an odd thing occurs. I am writing for no one and the feeling approximates delight. It seems creativity with abandon can be renewed.
Beth Bruno lives in Colorado where she and her husband lead a team of ReStory™ experts at Restoration Counseling Center. Additionally, as a podcaster, author, and content strategist, Beth guides women to raise fierce and lovely teen girls. When she’s not creating something new, she and her family enjoy the mountains, traveling, and good food.