My Inhale Year: How It Went


Now that we are nearing the end of the year, the one in which I took an enormous inhale —  twelve months without writing  — I wanted to let you know how the experiment went.

Back in March, I wrote that I was taking a year off from writing anything other than social media and blog posts for three reasons that I was aware of at the time:

  1. a much-needed break
  2. to concentrate on the writing students in my life
  3. to work on publishing and business aspects related to Thread.

Halfway through the year, in May, I posted an update reporting more available time, but that some essential part of me was missing. A few months later, in August, I noted I was reading more. Earlier this month, I indicated that my adventure in not writing had revealed some very surprising, writerly, results.

That should catch you up.

But in the spring, there was a strange and surprising turn of events.

A longtime writing project that I had released the year before, thinking that it was completed, done, fini, drifted over and hung overhead. It moved deftly, left, right, up and down, like a handful of colored balloons in a light wind. They hovered and I swatted at them, hoping to push them away, feeling as if I had carried and nurtured them long enough.  I didn’t want them in my life.

Ah, but they weren’t going anywhere. I felt their presence for many weeks and sometime in late spring, as if they were tired of keeping themselves airborne, they popped, their skins falling right into my lap, into what appeared to be an actual shape.

It knocked me over, this wild and weird gift from above.

In moments, a structure appeared. And then, a title introduced itself. I took dictation, figuring I should at least scribble some notes. But it was more than mere scribbles. The balloon skins moved from flimsy to solidified, and in very short order I had an outline of a book-length memoir containing most of the elements of personal narrative that I teach my students: detail-scene-language-pacing-structure-storyline-voice-theme.

I’m calling the book,  Seven Springs, and – you can’t make this stuff up – I am halfway through a first draft. The process has been extraordinary, like no other I have known, as if the words that hid themselves from me for decades are now available for the plucking.

So I’m feeling a bit sheepish. I went into this thinking I knew myself. I was taking the year off from writing and I now have enough material to get a book proposal into the works. That wasn’t supposed to happen. A memoir was the farthest thing from my mind.

I think giving myself permission not to write made space for my own thoughts and the words of other writers. I tip-toed out on a limb, far from my comfort zone, on my own. My chest expanded and I breathed it all in. My inhale.

Instead of feeling like the wind or the sea that moves my projects  – my life – along, I see this year as the one in which I allowed myself to become a vessel – a receiver – and was gifted with gold.

Which is, of course, currency designed to share.

Stay close for more.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.







On Not Writing. Part Three.

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 So I’m eight months into my year of not writing (see My Inhale Year and On Not Writing for the back story) and no surprise really: I’m reading more.

But what I didn’t expect is how much more deeply I’m taking writer’s words in. Without my own ongoing churning, there’s more space for concentration, as if I’ve put sound reduction headphones on and the voices, including my own, have been dialed down. There’s simply less noise.

Rather than freaking me out, I’m finding it rather liberating. I’m drinking the words in, swirling them around, allowing them to activate my tastebuds. Swallowing what tastes good and letting the rest go. I did, after all, designate this as my inhale year.

All of this ingesting has, however, made me more selective. It’s allowed me to take note of the writing I like best: work that stimulates my intellect, touches my heart or makes me laugh. I am identifying how my voice is similiar and different and what ingredients I might add or take away to access more of my own.

All in the hope that when I release them, my words will offer readers the tastiest version.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.

On Not Writing


I’m about halfway through my inhale year  – twelve months with no writing outside of periodic blog posts and social media updates – and I thought I would let you know how it’s going.

Quick recap:  In January, I made the bold – and perhaps bizarre – decision to take a year away from writing so that I could concentrate on my writing workshops, private writing clients, submissions to my literary publication Thread, and other aspects of my professional life. (You can read my EBB & Flow post on the subject here.)

I can’t say I am recommending it just yet, but these past six months have been interesting, to say the least.

Right from the get-go I noticed that I had more available time. It was a bittersweet reminder of how lost I can get in a writing project, to be so full of concentration so as not to sense the hours passing was a confirmation of how much I love working in the form.

I wondered about the frequency of thoughts-that-become-stories. Would they slow to part time? Vanish completely? Neither. They are as active as they’ve always been. Which is very. I’ve since started a long and colorful list of ideas on my cell phone to address in my exhale year. My writerly approach to the world, even when I’m not writing, seemingly has stayed intact.

Third, and by far the most challenging during this year without writing, was that something was missing. That some essential part of me, something that separated me from others and made me feel unique,  was either in a deep sleep or … gone. I didn’t feel like I was fully present. Now that I’ve identified myself as a writer – which in itself took many decades (see my essay on this subject here) – I seem to very attached to the label, making me feel a bit anchorless without it.

Which strikes me as not such a good thing.

So I’m looking at the rest of this strange, self-imposed experiment as an opportunity to mull on two profound questions of artistic identity:

Who am I if I’m not writing?


Do I feel like a writer even when I’m not getting my work published or telling a story on stage?

At the end of the year, I promise to let you know how it all turns out.

Maybe I can help save you from squandering a perfectly good year. Or perhaps this hiatus, in combination with some personal discovery, will be well worth sharing.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.





My Inhale Year

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“The average human being has about 55,000 thoughts a day: some of them are about injustice; some of them are about ketchup.”  Ada Limon


Since January, as friends and colleagues have asked what I’m working on, I’ve responded by telling them that I am taking the year off from creative nonfiction. I’m still blogging and posting on social media, but I’m taking a kind of breather, what musician and writer Henry Rollins coined as “an inhale year.”

Rollins writes: “I’ll have inhale years and exhale years. In an inhale year, like last year, I will travel and get information so I can have something to say on stage while I spend a whole year exhaling. So an exhale year, I’m on the road touring and the material is derived from all the crazy stuff I did last year.”

For someone who has been writing since the 1980s and publishing without a break, my response has lifted some eyebrows and roused some quizzical expressions. If one is a writer, shouldn’t one be writing?

I keep an ongoing index of my published pieces and that count is somewhere around 500. In thirty-some years of writing, that’s an average of one published piece a month. That’s a lot of words.

While I’m not in making mode right now, I am sticking close to the process. I don’t like to be too far from it. I’m focusing, quite happily, on the work of others. My workshop students. My private writing clients. Writers who submit to Thread. I’m nose-deep in writers and their process, and it is very gratifying indeed. Few things make me happier than seeing a writer’s work expand, contract, shape-shift and then transmute into artful, articulated expression.

So why am I doing this? Why decide what kind of year I should have, creatively speaking? Why not let the juices flow as they will?

I’m doing it, in part, for a much-needed break, so I can concentrate on the writers in my life and, also, to work on publishing and business aspects related to Thread.

But I knew there were others reasons that I just hadn’t identified until a writer friend, Rebecca Talbot, passed this gem of an essay by Ada Limon along to me. It beautifully articulates what I had not yet been able to: that there is pleasure and value in not writing.

Limon, who is a poet, writes, “What I mean is, there are times poems do not come and life is too heavy to be placed on the page, or life is so deliciously light and joyful you must suck it down before anyone notices. That is okay. You are still the writer watching that train, doing laundry, getting lost in this massive mess of minutes. There is value in this silent observing.”

We are still writers even when we aren’t writing. I know this. I’ve told my students this. But I needed reminding.

While I may not be writing in the traditional sense of the word, I am taking notes. A steadily increasing list of ideas which, because of my inhale year, will have the luxury of percolating. Marinating.

So watch out because next year – my exhale year – may bring along a very big wind.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.