On Not Writing

You guys, I used to be a writer. I used to have thoughtful thoughts all day long and scribble them in notes on my phone to reference later in a blog post or article, sometimes three or four a month plus writing projects and essays in which I thought more thoughtful thoughts and then sent them out to be published and read in small literary-sized pockets in the world.

I used to write things.

When blog posts dry up on other writers’ blogs they’ll chime in sometimes and say, “Oh, sorry I haven’t been active here lately; I’ve been so busy working on my soon-to-be-published-by-a-New-York-Publishing-House-guaranteed-best-selling-memoir. It’s coming soon! Pre-order on Amazon!”

That isn’t happening here. Other than one poem I wrote last week because the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire on the Monday of Holy Week and how can you not write a poem about that, all I’ve been doing with my writing is feeling guilty about not doing it.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Dinty posted a quote from Mary Oliver, “The most regretful people on earth, are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” I’ve thought of that quote several times since, wondering if I will ever feel the call to creative work again, or if I’m neglecting the creative call, straight up ignoring it, not giving it the time of day, starving it, backing my car over top of it ’til it’s good and dead, etc. etc. etc.

Maybe the part of me that used to be a thoughtful, reflective human committed to processing out loud for all the world to read hasn’t shriveled up and died but just retreated for a time. Life is very full these days. The children rise and sleep on schedules far more similar to my sleep requirements than ever before, and they require so much more attention these days, now that they aren’t alien preschoolers but real, actual thoughtful people. They want to talk about things. I need to listen longer. There aren’t as many windows for me to space out and let the miniature meditator wander around in reflections.

Also, the husband who used to travel all the time has a normal job now. I don’t have as much time to reflect on how sad and lonely I am with him gone because he isn’t gone anymore, and I’m not sad and lonely nearly as often. And there are so many episodes of Parks and Recreation to watch! We have so many series to catch up on!

Also, the weather is getting nicer and I’ve gained, like, 20 pounds in the last three years, and it’s always been true that when I set my mind on exercise, there’s no time for writing. The reverse is true, too – when I am writing, I tend to not exercise. I want to prune trees and plant a garden and take a hike and pack the camper for the weekend and walk the dog and ride a bike and shoot some hoops and play catch and there’s walls to paint in the house and groceries to unpack and meals to prepare and laundry to fold (ohhhh shoooooot. The laundry.)

Sing it with me, folks – there’s only so much time.

My children are almost 13, almost 12, and almost 8. We are swirling in the busiest days of our family’s life, working full days, busing children to afternoon activities, aiming to live full lives with friends and family. I put together a lamp the other day and bought house plants.

And I didn’t make time to write.

I love to write. I love to play with language and make connections and think thoughtful thoughts and share them. But before the life can be reflected upon it has to be lived. It has to be inhabited. This current habitat is tender and full, green and lush. I have spent seasons of my life observing the moment, listening for the memory or soundbite so that I could reflect and write about it later, instead of just being.

Just be for a minute.

That is what is happening these days. I’m being a wife. I’m being a mom. I’m being a daughter. I’m being a director of content marketing. I’m being a friend. Or at least I’m trying to be. I’m trying to be here, active in this quite real world.

And this is probably all the writing I’m going to be doing about it.

Looking Back… When I Used to Write:

2018: Birth Stories – Three Clerihews
2017: Earthiness
2016: This Week in Books and Words and Legos
2015: April in Books and Birds
2014: April Showers
2013: Tragedy and Faith
2012: Books 4 & 5, 2012: A Double Life and Bring Down the Little Birds
2011: Explaining Easter
2010: Nada. The whole month. Because I was pregnant in April, and then not pregnant in May. This is the post before our fourth miscarriage: Elasticity Is Heaven
2009: Easter Saturdays and Thunder

What I’m Reading:

It’s been a great start to 2019 for books – I’m currently reading Between Midnight and Dawn, a devotional for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide compiled by Sarah Arthur. It’s a beautiful collection of poetry and Scripture readings that have brought new light and inspiration into this season for me.

Before that I read Peter Drucker’s Effective Executivea practical and in-depth look at what it means to be a leader of professionals. I’ve thought of the content in Drucker’s book many times since reading it. I highly recommend it for anyone who finds themselves in a position of leadership with a bunch of other really smart people.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Look at all of the writing I just did about not writing!


Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

5 thoughts on “On Not Writing

  1. Sarah, I understand and feel your ambivalence. We are so much more than writers! When I feel like this I try to remember that Flannery O ‘Connor’s small volume of work has had untold impact.—wisdom shared by one of my mentors. Keep the faith! Joanne


  2. Love it. Thank you for this, and for giving yourself permission to be! I actually discovered you recently when I was researching literary agents. It feels like if I should harbor any hope of getting published, I have to aggressively get on the business end of things, “grow my platform”, blahbity blah… but I feel like focusing on all that stuff siphons my joy and diverts me from what I actually love doing, which is not PR or marketing or self-promo but writing as an art form. Anyway, I feel like it’s somewhat analogous because there’s all this perverse pressure to keep up with the world and be consistently productive and constantly pushing out “content” which is why a fallow season makes us feel guilt. But I think consistency is a wildly overrated virtue and further not in our design as humans. Anyway, thank you for this, and bless you as you allow yourself to luxuriate in all your other roles!


  3. I have missed you but completley understand your absence. My creative juices aren’t allowed to flow due to “real” life either. Anything you want to write about I will be happy to read.


  4. Think about all the material you’re storing up for when your kids grow up and move out, you retire to Florida, and all you have to do it reflect, do yoga on the beach, and pretend to paint at wine and paint parties.


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