Why Does a Writer Stop Writing?

The reason is something much more primitive and visceral: fear.

Posted Sep 17, 2020

What happens when a writer stops writing for a period of time? Her world becomes off-kilter and if the world is already out of balance, then it’s just a terribly tormenting place for her.

The important question is: Why have I stopped writing?  Despite attending my weekly writing class, I am well aware of what prevents me from picking up the proverbial pen. I write during the class but not outside the class. Ironically, before I enrolled, I wrote daily, but there is really no cause and effect relationship. It’s not the class that is making me stay away from my computer, my art, my passion. It is something much more primitive and visceral: fear. Fear of putting my thoughts down and the pain and anguish that they will cause me, for writing has a permanence that my thoughts do not. 

Writing gives my life meaning, makes me whole and complete, yet I am tormented. My current thoughts and feelings are too painful to contain within, yet equally heartbreaking to release onto the page. No writing will erase my sister-in-law and best friend Marilyn’s July 2019 diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer. The diagnosis came seven months before we learned of the world’s pandemic, before life would seismically shift and I would never be able to fully exhale in the same way ever again.

In the past, whenever Marilyn or I experienced significant events in our lives—joyful milestone celebrations, such as graduations, weddings, or new babies, we came together. Equally, if there were hardships and sadness—surgeries, illnesses, funerals—we were at each other’s side. And, throughout the year, when we could be together, "just because," we were! We even went on our annual weekend getaway, just the two of us.

I used to visit and stay with my parents, always spending as much time as possible with Steve and Marilyn. When my parents passed away and my childhood home was sold, I stayed with Marilyn and Steve, always with a beautiful rhythm to our days. In the mornings, we would go to a coffee house and talk non-stop while sipping our drinks. Then, we would do errands, for even going to the market was joyful as long as we were together. Then, perhaps brunch or lunch. Marilyn always knew I wanted to see my dear niece, her daughter Jill, so together we visited Jill and her young family. Each day ended with one of Marilyn’s delicious home-cooked dinners with everyone together or at a restaurant, again, always together.

 Barbara Jaffe, blogger-owned photo
The author, her husband Paul and Steve and Marilyn, in healthier times
Source: Barbara Jaffe, blogger-owned photo

If I go back farther in time, Marilyn was the only one who "volunteered" to watch our three little boys (11, 8 ½ and 5 ½) so we could celebrate our 15th anniversary in Hawaii. That was the first time we ventured far away since we had become parents and Marilyn generously offered to fly down from Northern California to stay with our energetic sons for the week. This was no easy feat due to school, carpools, meals, and everything else in terms of taking care of three active boys.  Auntie Marilyn was joyfully excited to spend time with each of them and planned many fun activities, from carnivals to baking to city adventures.

Regardless of not living logistically close, we have continually and joyfully shared each other’s lives.  Despite Marilyn not attending the university, she cheered me on and celebrated my degrees. When I wrote my first book, she immediately orchestrated a book signing in her community, inviting many of her friends while making sure to serve her delicious baked goods. Her friends all came, as they would do anything to support Marilyn. If Marilyn endorsed something, then, yes, they were in. As simple as that. And, that really sums up Marilyn. Marilyn is a dear friend to so many. Countless people are wearing Team Marilyn purple bracelets to support her in her cancer fight. I sometimes marvel at the fact that despite her many friends, I get to be her bestie and I know I am one of the luckiest women in the world.

Normally, I would be at Marilyn’s side to lend support, shop, cook meals, just lie on her bed with her, but due to COVID, I can’t be with her and my brother. Today, as she suffers through treatment and scans, bad news and blood tests, I am in Los Angeles and she is in Northern California. 

Over the course of 52 years, we have shared and talked about everything imaginable. When I was 14, Marilyn taught me how to wear make-up; what type of bra to buy; and how to improve my hair’s frizzy texture (to no avail). By the next year, she was helping me with my driving, and after I flunked the driver’s test for the third time and my mother washed her hands of my driving challenges, Marilyn lovingly intervened. She took me to the streets to practice, even retracing the exact route that the driving test followed so I could prepare for the test yet again (this time passing!). 

Marilyn helped me through high school boyfriends and college loves and my newlywed life and early days of motherhood. She was on the other end of the phone when I cried in exasperation over my seeming failures as a mom, never judging and never giving unwarranted advice. Her patience for me has always been filled with love and tolerance and understanding even when I showed her my first tattoo—something she didn’t really understand yet that had nothing to do with our friendship or love (and of course five tattoos later, she just ignores them all and we laugh about them).

Now that I am a writer who has actually written this piece, am I still fearful of the words I have strung together? I feared so much that if I wrote about her recent journey, which is entwined with my own, that my intense pain would be magnified and everything would feel "more real." But everything is real and I cannot deny reality by putting down my pen. However, the joys we have shared and even the heartaches we have experienced together remind me of the beauty that Marilyn continues to add to my life every day. I am a writer, so I will continue to make meaning by writing despite the pain and the fear of tomorrow, for writing also provides me with hope and a way in which to pray for my dear, dear Marilyn.