“I’m Not a Failure If I Stop Writing”

“You fail only if you stop writing.” —Ray Bradbury 

I’ve always known I was a good writer. Teachers complimented me on my writing and encouraged my creativity. A high school teacher once commented “Ever considered becoming a writer?” on one of my last essays senior year. My mom proofread my essays and papers throughout grade school and high school, pointing out every mistake; at the time, each red pen mark pricked me, but now I realize that I must have been a good writer even then, because the details she picked out were small.

With this praise came pressure: pressure to…write.

I knew that the one piece of writing advice that nearly all authors agree on is very simple: You must write every day.

You must write every day. It’s as simple as that—15 minutes when you wake up, or a page, or whatever you can spew out in a preordained number of minutes. But you see, that’s a must. I must write every day to be a writer.

What if I don’t write every day? Does that make me not a writer?

In high school, I mostly stopped writing creatively. Then in college, as I weaved in and out of the required writing classes, I tried to force myself to be a “writer.”

I tried. The summer between freshman and sophomore year, I tried to write every day, anticipating a fiction writing class in the fall. I tried to write at least a page or so, preferably in the morning. I tried to make myself write stories or short stories or even poetry. I tried to continue this habit into the fall semester, forcing myself to scrawl some nonsense on a notebook page from my bottom bunk before I even put in my contacts.

I felt like a failure. Not in the sense that anyone was expecting me to be a writer, but that I was trying to set an impossible standard for myself. College life isn’t exactly known for its set-in-stone routine, and writing every day just wasn’t working for me. For three more years, I struggled with the question “Am I a writer?” and often concluded, no, I was not. I graduated college optimistic about my career in editing, especially as it meant that I didn’t have to worry about trying to write daily.

I’d given up on the idea.

And then something strange happened.

I was supposed to be working on editing tens of thousands of words for a freelance book editing project. I didn’t want to, so naturally, I procrastinated. But interestingly, I procrastinated by…writing.

I had been writing blog posts once or twice a week on a volunteer basis the whole summer, but in August, I started writing more and more. I finally started writing book reviews. I wrote blog posts. I wrote articles to submit to online publications. I even dreamed up a pitch for a twice-monthly career advice column with my college newspaper.

And then I wrote every day for the entire month of September.

It was an accident, I swear.

It happened because I was having fun. I liked publishing stuff on my blog, somewhere where I had complete control over every aspect of it—style preferences, headline, cover image. But I also liked publishing an article with The Financial Diet and tapping into a bigger audience; I liked publishing a column with The Sower to give advice to students.

It happened because for some reason, writing for blogs and such didn’t feel like “real” writing to me. I didn’t feel like writing that sort of stuff made me a writer; it made me a marketer, a blogger, etc., but not a “writer.” And that allowed me to take the pressure off myself and enjoy writing.

That’s not to say that there’s a different pressure I put on myself to write book reviews and blogs and articles. That’s a very real—but distinct—pressure from feeling like I’m a failure for not writing creatively every day. By allowing myself to write stuff about books or my career or the blog I run for an elementary school, I allow myself to just write instead of worrying about being a “writer.”

It’s not like I wrote thousands of words each day. Some days I wrote a measly 68 words; one day, I wrote 2289. But I kept track of my words, and I did it every day. I didn’t set a time or a word count, but focused on the essence: take some time every day to practice the process of writing, whatever that looks like.

Of course, this streak quickly dissolved as I got serious about that editing project and then traveled in Europe for a few weeks. I went weeks without writing; I enjoyed my freelance projects, and I enjoyed letting myself just read on vacation instead of working or even writing blog posts. Even though I knew I could be writing every day, I didn’t get down on myself. Instead of feeling bad for “failing” by not writing, I remembered how good it felt to write. I also remembered how good it felt to take time off and not write.

Even now that I have the time again to write every day, I’m not putting pressure on myself to do it. I look forward to challenging myself to writing every day again, but for now, I’m focusing on other things that matter. I can still be a writer and have other priorities in my life; it doesn’t have to be my main focus every day of every month. I can still be a writer and not write every day—and not be a failure.

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About Carolina VonKampen

Carolina VonKampen graduated with a BA in English and history from Concordia University, Nebraska. She is an editor from nine to five and an editor, reader, and writer the rest of the time. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, Cold Creek Review’s The Shallows, FIVE:2:ONE’s #thesideshow, Moonchild Magazine, and Déraciné Magazine. She writes book reviews and blog posts at carolinavonkampen.com and tweets about editing at @carolinamarie_v.