Six years is a long time. Long enough to land a job, get promoted two or three times, meet friends, lose friends, move houses, move cities, move countries, and either give your personality an overhaul or completely come to terms with who you are and what you can offer the world. But when you’re single, six years would most likely feel even longer, time stretching out like your delicate patience, weighed down by your earnest, hopeful waiting.
To me, six years of being single meant six years of making mistakes, sending and receiving mixed signals, navigating rejection, giving the benefit of the doubt only to be proven right, overthinking, forgiving and being forgiven, and learning and unlearning and relearning how to be alone. It was also six years of honest, heartbreaking writing flowing freely from my soul.
In those six years, I wrote all six of the novels and short story collections Summit Books agreed to publish, and while coping with a particularly devastating heartbreak in 2011, I churned out my favorite book, From This Day Forward, which I still can’t revisit today without shaking my head in disbelief at how all of that had actually come from me. I was lonely, of course, but I figured I had my words, and I had people who were willing to read them, and perhaps that was always going to be enough.
Then in the final weeks of 2012, I fell in love—spontaneously at first, then carefully and deliberately—and everything changed. I thought my newfound romantic happiness would inspire glorious, romantic pieces on soul mates and destiny and puzzle pieces finally fitting together, but most of the time I was left staring at blank screens and empty pages, frustrated, wondering where the girl who used to spend her Saturday evenings cradling a soy latte and writing poetry in bed had disappeared to. (No, actually I knew where she was: out on movie nights and dinner dates, busy soaking up some seriously addictive relationship bliss.)
“I think we should break up so I can start writing again,” I told my boyfriend. I was kidding, obviously, but secretly I thought, what if that was the answer?
Spoiler alert: There is no concrete happy ending to this story yet, at least not as far as my writing is concerned. But there are promising little flags leading toward that happy ending, and I am picking them up as I go along. This summer my friends and I worked on a short story collaboration, Sola Musica: Love Notes from a Festival (which you can download on Amazon right now), and while I am not proud of the fact that it took me months to write a 10,000-word story, I did finish it, and I do like how it turned out.
During the last few weeks before the deadline, my boyfriend would sit quietly beside me while I typed furiously on my laptop, patiently answering questions and giving me honest feedback on whether or not a paragraph made sense, or if a sentence sounded awkward, or if the characters were being weird, or if a plot twist felt like a copout. When I was finally done, he was the first person I asked to read it, the only person I trusted to be truthful but gentle with me. (P.S. He loved it.)
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned from this is that you won’t derive inspiration from the exact same source all your life. You can’t. If I was deeply inspired by my solitude and longing and sadness when I was single, maybe now it’s time to be inspired by things outside of myself: bigger, happier things. Things that are better when shared. Things that spread out easily like smiles across faces. Things like traveling. Or making new friends. Or building a profound, genuine, comfortable companionship. Or sincerely supporting each other’s dreams. Or collecting memories and experiences and, yes, stories together. Or all the times you look at each other and just know you’re both thinking, “I get you. I really do. We can do this.”
The well of loneliness may have run dry, but in its place there are pools of possibilities, lakes we have yet to dive into, oceans we can allow ourselves to drown in. Most of the time it still feels like the current is against me—there are still a lot of blank screens and empty pages—but on some days, good days, I can float on the assurance that my words are still safely within me, only swimming in a way that’s different and exciting and daunting and new.