The Writing Life: Please Stop Writing by Jennifer Hill, Guest Columnist

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You’re a writer, so you write. “Write” is your verb and your vibe. You sit at a desk, or in a cafe, or on the hall floor of the doctor’s office to avoid the blare of CNN so you can think. You keep notebooks in your glovebox, in your jacket pocket, and you have backup notebooks. You hold debates with fellow writers over the Pilot G2 pen versus the Uni-ball Signo. Your phone’s voice memos are snippets of ideas for essays, scraps of poetry, and some garbled nonsense that would probably make a good story if you could only figure out what you were trying to say at 2:12 a.m last Wednesday.

To stop writing means you are not a writer anymore. If you’re not a writer anymore, then who are you?

I took a workshop once where the instructor said, “If you stop writing, if you never write another word, I’d still like you.” I was startled by his ability to make us all feel at home, not as writers, but as people. It was my biggest takeaway from that day.

We spend a tremendous amount of time identifying ourselves with the persona of a capital-W Writer. We’ve turned it into a brand, a reason for coaching (Can’t write, Writer? You need help! Let me coach you out of it!), a reason to justify spending money on workshops or MFAs or to find an agent, a reason to conscript a cousin with social media and website design skills to spruce up our online presence. We keep our blogs fresh with content, even though writing the last entry was a chore and felt like a forced march. We take our writing on vacations to the beach, because, like sharks, we must swim or die. We must always write and share in order to retain the title of Writer. Or do we?

I’m going to make a scary suggestion here. One that may make you sweat a little, and get that gelatinous feeling in your gut:

For the next week, don’t write anything. Just experience. Allow yourself to just be. Look at the frost on a leaf, key in and listen to the conversation of people in the discount supermarket, make a soup of carrots and yams and savor it. Don’t write about any of it at all!

Shake up your routine by taking a morning walk, or have sex (it’s good for the brain too —it builds new neurons!) take a class in juggling or salsa, invite a friend over to have coffee and talk, make up a game with the kids next door. Do something different. Spend a week exploring what you like to do other than writing. While it may make you twitchy at first, you won’t perish because you weren’t there writing along with all the other writers. You’ll enrich your writing with your break from it, and return refreshed, with new ideas and perspectives. Give yourself permission to just be you, without the italicized title of Writer under your name, for one whole week.

I like you, even when you don’t write, you know that? Everyone else does too. They all understand the need for a break. What you share with them next will be who you really are. Genuine. The real you. That’s better than any title.

jennifer hill writerJennifer Hill is a poet, playwright, arts educator, and performer. She is the author of six books of poetry, and two books of prose, and is an interdisciplinary artist who explores the fascinating

connections between writing and movement. For the past 15 years she has worked in the Arts-in-Education program with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, where she shares creative writing
and movement residencies in schools, senior centers, andcommunity organizations. Jennifer is an editor and designer at Paper Kite Press, an independent press devoted to poetry. You can find her and her work online at,, and

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