Over a year ago, I stopped blogging on Gazmn when a fan of the site offered me my dream job as a full-time writer for a popular online magazine. This was a big mistake. I found myself devoting all of my energy and love for writing into my new job while neglecting my own platform. Then when the role turned out to be a huge disappointment, I resigned with hardly a penny to my name and a personal website that had languished for months.
The fury I felt about my discouraging first year as a professional writer living in New York was almost enough to turn me off from writing altogether—even from the publication that I’d worked so hard to build. Yet when my scars healed and my ego was restored, I realized that writing was what made me the best version of myself.
I couldn’t give up on this work because that would mean giving up on the person I was meant to be. It would mean letting down the loving and encouraging people who have supported my writing from the beginning. Worst of all, it would mean conceding to the adversarial forces (and people) that I fought relentlessly to resist so I could stay in the lane I started forging for myself.
I’ve learned that writing is not for the fragile or tenderhearted. It is for those who are equipped with the grit and self-worth needed to push back against those adversarial forces that make being a writer such a rigorous line of work. It is for those who have the self-awareness to be shamelessly honest with themselves and with the world around them. It is for people who don’t care about being liked, attacked or judged. Most importantly, it is for those who have the discipline and foresight to stay the course as a professional writer even when all logic defies doing so.
I tried to walk away from this blog. When I quit my job back in March, I reasoned that I should shut down Gazmn, too. Blogging for the other site showed me that it’s hard to get paid as a writer—regardless of who you’re doing business with and what’s on your contract—and the issue wrought havoc into my life in more ways than one.
I lost my home. I struggled to keep up with medical bills and stopped taking medication. I became alienated from my friends because I couldn’t afford to keep up with the hobbies we enjoyed together, and was too ashamed of my situation to share what was happening. I became bored with blogging about pop culture because I felt like writing for a commercial audience all the time was dumbing down my prose. I started getting slammed with assignments that I thought were dumb and that I didn’t want to attach my name to.
I also started to feel like the personal essays I’d written professionally (ones similar to the posts I’ve published here on Gazmn) only entitled some of my colleagues to patronize me when I needed to advocate for myself. All of the things that once constituted my life as an independent, well-adjusted and creative adult had miraculously slipped through my fingers like a lover I couldn’t keep.
As I left that job, the idea of writing for a public audience again seemed too painful. For four months, I stopped blogging completely. I planned to post a letter on Gazmn’s home page explaining that I was done with personal essays, that I felt over-exposed in musing on my sexual experiences, and that I needed to make a change if I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into Black feminist prose. I resented the idea of always being vulnerable in my work. Plus, I figured that shutting down the site would make it easier for me to finish the very book that inspired the site in the first place. Instead of admitting to myself that I was giving up, I told myself that it was time to finally move on.
I kept procrastinating on writing that letter. But I retreated within myself unlike ever before.
Weeks passed as I scrolled through my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds without commenting on anything or posting pictures of myself. I stopped checking my favorite newspapers and magazines every day and instead began incessantly checking my email for responses to job applications. My eyes glazed over whenever I saw my writer friends promoting their own posts. I wasn’t envious that they were still working while I wasn’t, but I didn’t have the grace to celebrate other people’s blogging that reminded me of my past prose, either.
When I didn’t know what to do with all of my newfound free time, I went west, deep into the woods to meditate on a small wooden bridge that sits above a shallow, rocky stream. Or I hid under white sheets and thick, dark blue curtains that shielded me from the sun. If my thoughts were still and my heart was calm, I sat behind the covers of a book strung together by another writer’s words. The displacement was comforting; getting lost in another person’s world relieved me from my own. When I got really inspired, I churned out a new chapter for my book.
But no matter how hard I tried to leave Gazmn in the past, my conscience and my community would never let me forget it. Offline, family and friends would ask me what became of the project and when I’d return to the site. The number of fans following Gazmn’s Facebook page somehow climbed upwards by 700 likes even though I hadn’t made a post or a campaign in over a year. I missed using my platform as a place that I could regularly go home to. I also feared being seen as a flighty dilettante who needn’t be taken seriously.
And then I ran into Baldwin (and his new girlfriend).