Mountain is the author of the collection High Ground Coward (University of Iowa Press), which won the Iowa Poetry Prize, and the chapbook Thin Fire (BOAAT Press). She is a lesbian poet, critic, and educator based in Denver and New York. Keep up with her at aliciamountain.com and @HiGroundCoward.
I know that doesn’t sound like your name right now. It did for a while. When people would ask what you do or what you’re studying you’d say, “well, I write! I’m a writer.” But now that the words aren’t coming, you might feel like you aren’t entitled to your name, like you aren’t earning it. I’m writing to tell you that’s not the case.
So you haven’t written much of anything at all lately. Sometimes a little scrap of an image or a phrase comes along. Sometimes you press it into the pages of your notebook like a foreign leaf. Most days you’re stuck, or busy with the logistics and practicalities of living. Guilt tugs at your sleeve and it’s hard to shake.
Of course, this isn’t the first time you’ve hit a dry spell, but it hasn’t gone on this long before. You’re wondering when the rain will come, if it ever will.
I’m writing to tell you that this is the rain.
Writer, you are living a life, even if it is humble or meager in ways. Writing comes out of this life lived, the sensory details, the doubt, the microwaved dinner, the weight of your jacket, the joy, the car payment, the lonely shower, the movement of your body. Everything you do away from your notebook or keyboard is writing. Even if it fills months or years, you can make use of it—this can all end up on the page. You know this.
But Writer, that’s not the point. The point is that your life doesn’t have to end up on the page. You are more than the work you make, inherently worthy if you never draft another piece before you die. You never had to write in the first place to be worthy.
A filmmaker told me that there are times they won’t turn on the camera, even if they’re working on documentary. There are moments that can, and maybe should, exist only in experience, not to be rewound, not to serve any other purpose.
You can let yourself be exactly where you are—with your writing, with your world. The old tricks and prompts might not be working because you’ve outgrown them. Allow yourself this growth, Writer.
Let’s strip away the idea that production has anything to do with identity. Let’s refute the pervasive notion of earning that makes you doubt your name.
Beating yourself up can be a full-time job. Quit that job. Walk out the front door and don’t look back. When guilt keeps tugging at your sleeve, when it won’t let go, take that shirt off and put on a clean one.
Writer, move through your days in the way that best suits who you are right now. Do not compare yourself to anyone else, not even to other versions of yourself. There is no comparison to you, to this one you. Do not speak unkindly of what you do with your time. Do not scoff at the fragments of language that come to you. (They are there, you know, even when they sound like silence. The silence is there for you.) Do not follow blindly the advice of others. Do not imagine that anyone could know you better than you know yourself, you who always keeps yourself company. Have patience. Trust yourself.
Writer, know that you will write when it’s right for you. Know that if you aren’t writing now, you might be doing the better thing—living.