Lately, I’ve learned of several friends who are pulling back from things I love about them. Three are writers; two aren’t. I love each of them differently, and I miss them now that they are pulling back.
One writer-friend has set aside her writing for the time being. She’s buried under work, needing to have an income. I understand that. I worked until nearly five years ago when I retired, or to be more honest, traded in a very sizable paycheck to be a full-time writer. Never did I think I’d make a living as a writer, but when I could realistically retire, I did. I left my former company officially on December 30, and on December 31 took up life as a writer. I love the romantic image of a writer starving in a garret, but the truth is, if you quit your day job, you’d better have another source of income. My friends who truly make a living writing have a dozen or more books out, most of which have sold successfully. Starting out, you need to support your eating habit through other means. I get it that my friend is not yet retired. I get it that she needs that salary. I really get it, but I miss talking to her about her last book, because she’s set it aside for a while. We became friends through our writing. I know our friendship will survive, probably transformed.
Another writer-friend is spending more time with his family and less time with his writers’ group. He’s stepping down from his various boards in order to have more free time. He wants to be more spontaneous, not to be bound by meetings and deadlines. I understand him wanting to spend more times with the family. I hope that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop writing. He tells a good tale. I already miss him on two boards where I’m still active. I miss his council, his funny world view, his calm support. I miss him.
Yet another friend has retreated from writing altogether. He’s unwilling to continue publishing his stories when they don’t sell in the tens of thousands. He’s received critical reviews for his long-form works, as well as for his short fiction, but as he says, critical reviews don’t pay the rent. His is a voice I hope doesn’t silence itself.
On the flip side, a different friend took a break from writing and promoting her books, only to return with renewed focus. In six months, she’s written a fantastic literary novel. From genre fiction to literary fiction was a leap she’d never considered before. When she came back from her hiatus, her ideas were fresh, her voice strong, her writing style wholly different. Her agent was frankly blown away by the change. Her book sold in six weeks to a top publisher. I read the manuscript. I’m pea-green with envy, because I don’t think I’ll ever be able to craft sentences as beautifully and as sparsely as she does.
Why are so many people pulling back? Is it a factor of age, that as we approach or pass certain memorable birthdays we are called to re-evaluate what is now important. My two male writer buds may have reached creative burnout and may be seeking new life from spending time with children, grandchildren and one great-grand. I don’t think they know what they want or why they need a break.
When you think about life decisions, we have maybe three chances to make them. One, when we graduate from high school and enter college, we are filled with hope and excitement. The world awaits us. We know we are going to change it. Two, when we graduate college and enter the workforce. Whether we go on for advanced degrees or jump into work, it’s one chance to do what we want to do. We have to earn a living, or live with our parents in their basements, so we’d better hope we studied something that will have marketable skills. God knows, the world doesn’t necessarily need another philosopher, unless said philosopher applies his education in a way that can benefit his fellow man. Three, as we approach retirement, we have that chance again to do what we really want. Two of the three are heady times when we look outward and see endless horizons.
I hope my friends who are pulling back are doing so to regroup, rejuvenate, and refresh their creativity. I hope they won’t leave me behind. If they leave me behind, I will cherish our time together. If they take me with them, I’ll look forward to every day with it fresh challenges.
When was the last time you pulled back to reassess where you were in life?
Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I’m really excited that the trade paper edition of Uncharted Territory was released this week. Please follow me on my website, on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.