On Not Writing by Bill Hayes

“I started writing this essay five years ago, and then I stopped. That I was not able to finish the piece did not strike me at the time as ironic but as further proof that whatever I once had in me — juice, talent, will — was gone. In any case, completing it would have made moot the very point I was attempting to make: Not writing can be good for one’s writing; indeed, it can make one a better writer.

I hadn’t given up writing deliberately, and I cannot pinpoint a particular day when my not-writing period started, any more than one can say the moment when one is overtaken by sleep: It’s only after you wake that you realize how long you were out. Nor did I feel blocked at first. Lines would come to me then slip away, like a dog that loses interest in how you are petting it and seeks another hand. This goes both ways. When I lost interest in them, the lines gradually stopped coming. Before I knew it, two years had passed with scarcely a word.

I didn’t miss it, yet at the same time I felt something missing: A phantom voice, one might say. I had been pursuing writing since I was a kid, had published pieces in many places, and written three books back to back. I was nearing 50. To have silence and neither deadlines nor expectations for the first time in decades was sort of nice — and sort of troubling. Can one call oneself a writer when not-writing is what one actually does, day after day after day?”

To read the rest of Bill Hayes’s article in The New York Times, click here: On Not Writing.

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