The Day I Quit Writing.
A year ago, today, I decided that I no longer wanted to write. For those unaware of this decision, it may come as a bit of a surprise if you’ve paid attention to the year I’ve had. Let’s go back to December 28th, 2015.
It was the early hours where I found myself catching up with my favourite family member, my uncle (mum’s elder brother). The constant male figure in my life. A constant in comparison to the traditional male figure who was on a scale of inconsistent and absent during the decade that included the temperamental teens. And here I was, being honest with him and myself. I was tired.
Tired of this period of my life. 2015 couldn’t have started any better; in New York City with a cluster of my closest friends having the time of our lives on a trip I’d taken the reins of and successfully planned throughout 2014. I entered the year with confidence, excitement, purpose. I would be completing my Creative Writing degree this year. For my final year projects I was writing a feature film and a full-length play — not the first I’ve written for either — but there was something about these stories. I could feel it. I also had a short film in the works. Like all of my endeavours, I stood confident that it would open a door for me. The next step wouldn’t be to go and get a job. Relentlessly pursuing my writing, as I had always done, made far more sense. I’d be making use of the resources around me, my network, my aptitude and the blessing I’d identified: whenever I had work on, people always came to see it. In an age where it feels increasingly difficult to obtain traditional opportunity, I’d be combining all of these with a D.I.Y. attitude to get Creative Blue Balls off the ground, starting with staging that full-length play that I wrote for my final year project.
But here I was, December 28th, broken by the events of the latter half of 2015. The most recent of a chain of catastrophic differences with my mother that had left me homeless. Couch-surfing. Trying to keep my head above water but, frequently, swallowing and spluttering. Applying for jobs that I made myself want, because I needed to get myself out of this situation, I needed to survive. Regularly firefighting internally; trying to extinguish the fast-spreading fire of my brain’s numbness as the smoke rose and tried to take over my whole being, appearing to be absolutely fine on the outside to my colleague’s sitting there at my desk. Little did they know that, often, I was doing nothing, the numbness victorious. It wasn’t long before the inevitable occurred: I lost my job.
And, through all of this, neglecting the thing that mattered the most to me: writing.
Here I was before my uncle, an emotional wreck but he couldn’t tell because I was hiding it so well that it is only the gift of hindsight that allows me to identify how toxic the space I was in was. But I felt defeated. I couldn’t see the wood for the trees and I was seeking solace from my uncle-cum-part-time therapist on how to fix my life. The pieces of the puzzle weren’t working anymore. Living in my mother’s house (a privilege for anybody past the age of sixteen) had afforded me the luxury of sacrificing money for time. Now I had to figure out how I would keep a roof over my head and still have the time to write, freelance, produce, work on Creative Blue Balls, maintain my network within the industry (a very poignant, time-consuming aspect that I feel is often glazed over) and all the other components that came with pursuing my writing. Talk less of having a life.
Needless to say, this wasn’t how I’d planned it all.
“Something has to give.”
My uncle was right. The reality of it was that I couldn’t continue living as I was. It was unsustainable. And, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, the very thing I loved so much, wanted more than anything, was traipsing through my life like a wrecking ball, destroying every single aspect of it. So that was it.
Not because I questioned my ability. Not because I suddenly no longer believed this was my purpose. But because no longer could I withstand the pain. I had reached my breaking point. No longer was this desire to write going to hold such dominion over my life, my state of mind, my emotional being. It was a nice run, fun, but circumstances meant that I would need to find something more structured to do with my life. This wasn’t what God wanted me to do with my life and it was about time I listened and disconnect myself from this path of self-destruction.
Spoiler Alert: It didn’t last long.
December 29th, 2015, about thirty-six hours into quitting writing and I was on my way to meet a friend (at the time, an acquaintance at best). We’d met at my best friend’s birthday a few months earlier and she wanted to talk to me/hear about my writing journey, due to her own writing interests.
L O L.
I’m a man of my word and, as I’d committed to meeting up with her, I would honour that but what use would I be? I wasn’t a writer anymore.
God has a strange way of communicating, sometimes. As the tropical green tea which I’d wrapped my hands around warmed them, I asked her what she wanted to know. She said she wanted to know my journey. Where better to start than from the beginning?
A tale of stability with great promise (grammar school education, corporate life ahead), unsettled by a burning desire to follow one’s heart to explore a path untrod (writing) and the sacrifice of the former. A tale that made little sense to most (family, friends, educators) but one which the protagonist could not allow to be written. A tale of courage or stupidity, dependent on the perception of the reader. A tale of frustrations, triumphs and frustrations again.
But, above all, a tale of undeniable passion that could not be extinguished.
As I narrated my own journey in far more detail and a lot less eloquently than above but, above all, truthfully, it was there that it became clear to me why God had sent this angel to me. For you see, it may take a day, a week, a month or maybe years… But, one day, I would wake up and realise that this was the biggest mistake of my life. That, at best, I could suppress but never eradicate my love and my passion for writing. Quit? Who was I kidding.
Sidenote: a complete coincidence, but as I’m writing this a beautiful cover of Michael Jackson’s Music & Me by Trintje Oosterhuis. Poignant because if you replace ‘music’ with ‘writing’, this song perfectly explains the moment in this story we’re in. I’d also recommend the whole album, a tribute to Michael Jackson. I don’t think I’ve ever heard better covers.
I’d be lying if I said things changed overnight. I’ve never been one to subscribe to the idea of changing oneself at the start of a new year a la new year’s resolution, but it’s a great time to evoke change. A great time to reflect (as are birthdays). But this year, more than ever, a new calendar year couldn’t have come at a better time.
My uncle was right, something did have to give. That something was me. I had to give to myself. Give myself time to heal. Give myself patience. Give myself love. I accept this new chapter, this new season of my life, different to the one that I was living in prior. If I wanted to do this writing thing, really wanted to do it, then I would have to adapt and make it work. More sacrifices at a time where I felt I could make no more. Keep the ball rolling. The sacrifices thus far could not be in vain.
A year has come and gone. I’ve been writing. I’d go as far as saying I’ve written the best things of my entire life (so far) in Dionysus’ Smile: a short play about a struggling artist losing his mind in pursuit of his passion (sound familiar?) and staged it as part of the launch of Creative Blue Balls, where we showcased three short plays I wrote to a sold out audience of 300 across three nights.
- My short film Closure was accepted into festivals, including a BAFTA Cymru-qualifying festival.
- That feature film I wrote for my final year project that I really believed in, Hiraeth, was optioned by an independent producer.
- And the play I wrote for my other final year project, Seeking Serenity, will hopefully be staged in 2017.
- I was long-listed for the Papatango New Writing Prize and The Old Vic 12 for two different plays.
- Creative Blue Balls is now a team of three, with huge plans for 2017.
- Through all of the above, more doors have opened, the network has grown and relationships continue to be maintained and nurtured.
- And then there’s the other stuff I’ve been writing, as well as the positive stuff that I can’t talk about.
- And the bits that I’ve forgotten but will remember moments after I inevitably publish this.
Most importantly, I feel well. Mentally and emotionally. Physically… We’ll work more on that in 2017. But I can’t take credit for all of this; whilst this post only mentions the part that three people played specifically as well as a supreme being, they are a part of a wider support network I have around me. A support network in the form of incredible friends and an unshakeable spine I feel so blessed to have found, all of whom I can only dream of repaying in how much I am indebted to them. We all know my favourite line “When I sell that script, yeah…” but, for now, ‘thank you’ must suffice.
In 2017, I’m going to try and write on here once a month. Now I’ve said it, I guess I have to do it, right? Have a happy new year, everybody.
If you enjoy reading my blogs, I’d recommend you come and see one of my films or plays. They’re even better than the blogs, or so I’ve been told. To find out when next my writing will be on show, join the Creative Blue Balls mailing list, and follow us on Twitter/like us on Facebook.
You can follow me on Twitter, too: @abeislegend