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Most Writers Write. Here's Why I Haven't - Again

Stop me if you've heard this one.

By Jonathan ApolloPublished 20 days ago 10 min read
AI illustration provided by Runway AI

I’ve been here before. More than once. More than twice, actually. More than … okay, who’s counting?

I know everyone and their mothers are tired of the “I’m ready to write again!” song and dance I’ve been doing for ages. To be fair, I’m pretty damn tired of it, too. After my big “here we go again” announcement in 2021 (2022 for Vocal readers), I thought I’d finally cleared out enough wreckage to keep this fire blazing and get these words flowing.

And to my credit, I did for a few months.

Granted, the post before my now-third retelling of how I became a Selena Quintanilla fan (and honestly, my best one – you should read it) was shared last October. Considering my usual break between blog posts – about three months or so – I was doing pretty well, but I hoped for more than that. I wanted to make a comeback.

To give myself a bit of grace, being able to write a bit more frequently is a great accomplishment, especially from someone who feared I’d come way too close to losing this piece of me forever. When the words returned to me, I became petrified that my proverbial ink bowl would dry out too quickly if I kept dipping into it while still healing from my once-empty state of mind.

I confess that fear still lingers. It’s smaller and less mighty today than a year ago, but I still fear it.

Additionally, acknowledging this fear has led me to another secret I’ve carried with me for far too long:

I don’t think I’m a good writer. I just think I’m pretty good at mimicking good writers.

Before anyone assumes otherwise, this is not a James Somerton kind of deal. Every word you have ever read from me, from 2012 to now, has come from this mind of mine. I would never steal someone’s thoughts and poorly rewrite them to sound more thoughtful or original.

On a semi-related note, screw you, James Somerton.

Full disclosure moment: I am not a trained writer, whatever that means.

While in learning institutions throughout my life – from elementary school to the single year of college I attended – I often looked forward to one thing, and one thing only: for the school day to be over. I know that may be surprising to some, especially as people in my life still remind me of the days they would see me on park benches reading newspapers at age 4.

Being referred to as a “genius” and “intelligent” that many times as a kid puts a fuck-ton of pressure on you not only maintain those honorary titles but to build upon them as well.

By the time I got to junior high and started having issues with math, I began to feel that I was letting everyone who had ever praised my intelligence down. I felt like an imposter (this will come around again) despite there being a name for what I was possibly experiencing: dyscalculia, a disorder that is occasionally related to ADHD. Nonetheless, every attempt to remind me of past or future greatness often made me feel worse.

Once I got to high school, I rebelled pretty damn hard. I dropped out at 18, got my GED in less than two months, and was just happy to be done with it. And then, my mom started pushing for me to go to college.

“No one in our family has ever graduated from college,” she would remind me growing up.

Imagine carrying that weight from a family you feel no connection to but still need to prove your worth toward. With this unwanted load of guilt, I signed up for a small college nearby.

Most courses went over my head, but I excelled at college-level English. At the end of the semester, my English professor pushed for me to be one of only four students to join an advanced English program the following year. I was somewhat interested to see where this path could lead, but Momma’s health took a turn not long after. Add to that looming tuition prices and a missing grant form that put me on the hook for thousands of dollars I did not have, and my college career was officially over before it truly began.

It would take about two years for me to, on a whim, compose a “memoir” of my life up to that point. Two years later, I found an ad for a guest writer on a popular celebrity gossip blog. My resume with no prior writer experience didn’t do me any favors, but with another hope and a prayer, I responded to the ad and sent a short sample post to display my skills.

And from there, I wrote professionally for the next six years.

If I could pinpoint where the doubt started to win, it would be toward the end of 2015. After moving to Southern California to work for a then-promising media company, I started hyper-noticing some of the other talent in our office.

Two of my colleagues had journalism degrees in digital media and had interviewed major celebs on multiple red carpets. Another was a lawyer who could translate her arguments into great opinion columns and lists. Our ersatz supervisor was a former teacher who excelled at evergreen content and California living.

And there I was – the loud, out-of-place Bronxite whose biggest claim to fame was the time I got punched in the arm by a soap opera starlet (it wasn’t a real punch). None of my coworkers ever made me feel undeserving of the opportunity, but occasional favoritism shown to some and not others didn’t help to put my mind at ease.

A photo of my former co-workers and I in 2015. (Image belongs to me)

It also didn’t help that we were all pulled into a mandatory “save the company” weekend meeting less than 60 days after I signed my contract.

Looking back, I realize this professional Hail Mary had nothing to do with me or my abilities. But at the time, I felt like a fraud who had made this dream job a nightmare for everyone.

The final nail in the coffin came in 2018. The media company had shut down permanently two years prior (CEOs using loans for pocket money will do that to a company), and I had been writing for another site remotely for more than a year.

Things were going well at first, but it went to shit pretty fast. Between declining pay scales, a flurry of inexperienced management changing regulations weekly, and multiple editors attempting to mold me into the writer they wanted me to be, I came to a point where I lost the writer I wanted to be almost entirely.

My blog, one of the few spaces where I could lay my words bare without apology or explanation, had gone dormant for months, then years. The last bits I shared were all based around a former relationship I still couldn’t let go of. I had gone from publishing 5-7 posts daily at work to just once a week. Eventually, I received my walking papers.

I had lost my “dream” job twice. And after that, I had nothing left.

I signed off my laptop, climbed into bed, and stayed there for almost two years.

What had slowly been dawning since that first seed of doubt planted itself three years prior had overgrown and swallowed up every bit of confidence I had. And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, I stumbled upon a social media post from the former teacher I worked with in California, where they thanked everyone, by name, for their hard work and the friendships they built – and my name was the only one not listed in their letter.

On a related note, that person can kick rocks.

While I’ve since made peace with these experiences, it wasn’t until recently – like, very recently – that I took an honest look back at the path I built to this point.

With nothing but my love of journaling and an interest in celebrity gossip, I was able to start a writing career without a degree or prior experience. I was hired in 2012 by a tough but fair editor (we still keep in touch!) who eventually trusted me enough to run their entire site – and I did it well.

AI illustration provided by Runway AI

In just three years and with just one additional writing job under my belt, I would have an emerging media conglomerate asking to take me on as a full-time staff writer in California. Even if the position was temporary (through no personal fault), I was just as good as anyone in that office. My seat at that table was just as valid and deserved as everyone else’s.

I have been able to:

  • interview up-and-coming musicians like Justin Thorne (now a music producer)
  • work with content creator Lamont Hicks (The Legends Panel, Keith) on a podcast where all of my eccentricities were welcomed
  • have pieces of my articles quoted in other publications, such as Yahoo! News
  • have an article I wrote plagiarized by another LGBTQ+ content creator (yes, I, too, have been Somerton-ed - and both of them can kiss my butt)
  • have an article noticed by Janet Jackson’s social media team (okay, so they reached out to my editors to correct the spelling of “No Sleeep” – but I’m counting that as a win!)

And perhaps, most importantly, I’ve touched people with my words. That includes Momma, who never failed to let me know how proud she was of me for going after what I wanted most in this world.

If you believe a freelance writer is never unemployed, I’ve been doing this for almost 12 years. It is the most consistent professional position I’ve ever held and the only one I can see myself doing for 12 years more, even when words occasionally escape me.

I often find myself thinking of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet – or rather, the scene in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit when Sister Mary Clarence (Whoopi Goldberg) mentions the book to Rita “Diva with a ‘Tude” Wilson (Lauryn Hill).

A young writer reaches out to Rilke and says, “I want to be a writer. Please read my stuff.”

Rilke responds, “Don’t ask me about being a writer. If when you wake up in the morning, you can’t think of anything but writing, then you’re a writer.”

Even when I was depressed, empty and felt as if I had nothing worth saying, all I could think about was writing. Writing has never been just a job or a hobby. It’s how I make sense of the world. It’s how I make sense of myself. Yes, sometimes I’m wordy, my thoughts run too long, or I revisit something I’ve said previously (and probably stated better). However, I write the very same way I communicate. It’s just who I am. It's an extension of me, not a separate entity.

Writing displays the purest reflection of who I am and what I want to give the world. It doesn’t matter who reads my words, who may be better at this craft than I am, or even how I got my foot in the door. I write because it’s what I love. I write because it’s all I think about. I write because I think of nothing else from the time I wake to the time I lay my head down at night.

I’m a writer. And I’ve always been a writer. And I will always be a writer. I just have to write more.

And I will.


About the Creator

Jonathan Apollo

I bang my keyboard and words come out. Sometimes, they're worth reading. Sometimes, they're even good.

40-something, M, NYC. He/Him/His. #TPWK

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