Coming Back to Writing

September 25, 2014 | By | 24 Replies More

Gemma Corden image_1When I was a little girl I made a choice. At least I thought I did. I was nine years old. Mousey and a bit serious. I only cared about two things – reading teenage horror novels and Westlife.

My Aunt was allaying herself of some furniture – she had a beautiful house – and I was lucky enough to be offered a desk and piano. We did not have room for both.

I distinctly remember a strange emotional pull, un-ignorable. There was no doubt in my mind. I had to have the desk. A few weeks later a funny thing happened – I started writing letters, long ones, to unassuming friends and family members. I soon began to foist poems on them. Songs followed.

Over time that little girl grew up. Fortunately the horror novels didn’t endure, but a love of music and writing did, and as I stepped into my teens the experiments with writing developed into short stories.

The pursuit of writing continued into early adulthood, when I completed an English degree at university and became a freelance cultural journalist as I studied. After graduating I was snapped up by one of the companies I profiled – a non-profit arts educator. I was thrilled, and joining the small team as a Writer & Researcher I was able to play a key role in growing the young company’s profile.

But over time, as so often happens in a tiny organization, my role diversified and as I became more managerial and work became more pressured, the time and need for my writing gradually ebbed away.

Taking on ever increasing responsibilities, I helped to guide the company through some tough times in a landscape of cuts to public spending. My efforts were recognized when, after nine years, I was appointed Co-Director. Although finding myself quite far away from my original aspirations to grow as a writer I thought I was content. I’d progressed in a good job. Found a happy relationship. I was sorted.

Then a few months ago I found myself in Great Malvern Priory, an Anglican church in the heart of Worcestershire, England. The place was noisy with tourists but my ears pricked up immediately as I entered, deaf to all the extraneous noise.

Gemma Corden image_2 In a cool corner sat a straight-backed woman, her hair an elegant greying bob, playing a piano. I moved up behind her and in that moment I was taken right back to my aunt’s living room. In fact, she reminded me a little of her – all composure.

Music – the piano in particular – has always moved me and as I took as seat, unnoticed, I felt haunted. Haunted by all the choices I had made over my life. Haunted by the things I hadn’t done, the dreams I hadn’t realised. My eyes drifted up to the beautiful stained glass, and my mind with it – I thought of all my loved ones, my aunt, now passed. I’d sent them so many stories as a child. Where were my stories now?

I realised – a spiritual revelation of sorts – that I had stopped writing. I hadn’t seen it happen, but my stories had stopped. It had been years. Seven at least.

I felt very sad in that moment. And very alone. What had happened to my dreams of becoming a writer? Was it too late? Is this it?

These questions were not new to me. They had been increasing in number and building in rank – almost verging on attacks – as I aged. I had routinely brushed them off, telling myself it was just stress or perhaps regret. Regret at not learning to play the piano – the attacks are often triggered by music.

As I listened to the woman play, the music peppered with slips and trips, it was clear to me – she wasn’t playing for the tourists, but purely for herself. For the love of it.

And I knew then that it was not regret I experienced, but fear. Fear that I had left it too late. Neglected my passion – my calling – and would not be able to re-connect with it.

I never really chose that desk all those years ago – it chose me. Writing is part of my make up – my code – and without realizing I had let myself become detached from it. Hiding behind my work I had been blind to this reality. The further I got from writing, the closer the fear encroached.

As soon as I got home that evening I picked up a pen – and I’ve been writing every day since. Voraciously recording everything I do, consume, feel. It’s like I have woken up.

It hasn’t been the easy rediscovery I naively assumed it would be. I am out of practice. Writing this essay has been a huge personal challenge, a journey in itself. But I’m getting there.

I implore any sleeping writers who may be reading this – accept your code. You are a writer. Embrace it. And don’t forget to enjoy the journey, no matter how rocky.

My desk didn’t quite make it this far. It survived two moves and a battle with a heavyweight television set, but we went our separate ways during my sedated phase. Although I do regret casting it out on to the street (literally), I’ve realised that I don’t need it. My craft isn’t tied to furniture. Wherever I am, I’m writing. And it feels so good to say that.

Gemma is a freelance writer with a specialism in arts education, previously commissioned by a Channel 4 project to profile emerging cultural organisations and trends. She currently co-directs a successful non-profit Arts School.

Gemma writes a blog, Looking With My Eyes, alongside short and flash fiction.

Living in England’s second city, Birmingham, with her long-suffering boyfriend and incredibly dull neighbours, Gemma loves stationary and people watching (not the neighbours).

Follow her on twitter @gemma_corden and visit her blog

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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, On Writing

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Sites That Link to this Post

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  1. Sharon says:

    Really liked your post. Sometimes I feel that life gets in the way of getting my writing done. I put my writing and my dreams of publishing to the side until I picked it back up four years ago. Slowly but surely I am in the process of editing that first novel that I plan to publish soon. Writing in a process. Thanks for the words of reassurance.

    • Gemma Corden says:

      Thank you for your comments Sharon – it’s great to hear that my post provided some reassurance. I wish you all the best on your journey,

  2. Loved reading this post! A lot of things you mention are very relatable and inspiring. Heading over to your blog to read more of your stories…

    • Gemma Corden says:

      Wow, Miss Kim – thank you! Thrilled to think I can inspire others and hope the blog didn’t disappoint.
      All the very best

  3. Lyn Farrell says:

    What a fantastic, uplifting article. Only yesterday I posted on Facebook on my worries about a possible full time academic job – because it might take me away from my writing. I too gave up writing for many many years and I have that fear that it might ‘happen again’. Working part time gives me free days to write stories and songs – and all the things I dabble in (guitar and Tibetan and whatever takes my fancy).
    I think the message I take from this is make time for it. It’s the best decision you could make.

    • Gemma Corden says:

      Hi Lyn,
      Such a pleasure to read your kind comments – strangely they have come at a time when I suddenly find myself thrown sideways by career events. You’re right – it is so important to retain that commitment to your writing. Not only in terms of time but also keeping it alive in your heart.
      You have given me a much needed timely boost and I can say with more conviction than ever, keep writing! You clearly know how to stay true to yourself, and I wish you all the best in your decision making.

  4. Karen says:

    Wow. Thanks for writing this. I read it by chance (?) via a Twitter post. I’ve been writing since age 7 and have set it aside in the past three years. It calls to me daily but I’ve ignored it for a myriad of reasons. Your words reminded me that in order to be whole, I must write. Thank you very much! No more setting it aside now… I’m going back to my first love… writing.

    • Gemma Corden says:

      Karen – so thrilling to read your kind and honest comments, thank you. So touched that happening upon this piece has had a positive influence – I couldn’t be more proud. It’s always so good to hear from others who find themselves in a similar place and who understand. I wish you the best of times, Gemma

  5. Linda says:

    Thank you so much for your inspiring read. I am sitting here feeling as though I have no writing inside me. I need to look around at the possibilities and believe in myself.

  6. Thank you for this post. I’ve made my living as a writer for a number of years, as (what I call)a “production writer”: telling other peoples stories, providing analysis for white papers, annual reports, and the like.
    But I have not done “my” writing for most of that time. It is probably one of the most painful experiences I’ve known–to write for others, for a living, and not myself. Kind of like being a nanny who can’t have her own children, I suppose.
    It’s taken me some time to see that I’m afraid to write what it is I need to write. Fear of judgement, mainly.
    A good friend reminded me recently that I can learn from all of the work I do, no matter what it is. That said, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that replaces telling our own stories, saying how we see the world, bearing witness in the way only we can.
    Thanks again. After reading this, I’m a little closer.

    • Gemma Corden says:

      Wow Angela, your words have really struck a chord with me. I love your “production writer” label – I too am in those unsatisfying shoes, and it is so hard to get over the barrier, face those fears, write what you need to and embrace the response – whatever it may be. Because, well, what else have we got? Imagine if you never try…

      I also understand how challenging it can be making time to write for yourself when you exhaust so much of your energy writing for others. But once you’re in the throes it can be really rewarding.

      I wish you all the best, Angela – thank you so much for your comments. Best of luck


  7. Victoria Jones says:


    Thank you for your post. As I read, I was reminded of how I too, left me my passion for writing. Only recently have I started writing again, and I must admit that it is flowing out of me like a water fall! It took me being laid off and having to do some deep introspection that I ACCEPTED and EMBRACED that fact that I AM A WRITER!

    I appreciate your honesty and your transparency too! May we continue our journey as writers with a resolve of never giving up and never giving in because someone needs to hear our voices through the words we pen on paper!

    Thank you again,

    • Gemma Corden says:

      Dear Victoria – thanks so much for your comments. It rings so clear that you have great strength, able to turn such a horrible experience of losing your job into a constructive path. Sometimes it takes something traumatic to reveal what’s inside – so glad writing was waiting in the wings to get you back on track. You are an inspiration, Victoria.

      All the best,


  8. Gemma – “I was sad.” Me, too! Your post evokes a feeling of regret for time lost that I am experiencing as well. A wise friend told me if I start where I am now, and don’t waste any time looking back at how much time I missed, I can be quite prolific for the rest of my life. That cheered me a little. As always, it’s nice to know that we’re not alone in the joys and sorrows of life.

    Ultimately, your joy at coming back to the writing life, even with its difficulties, is encouraging. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    • Gemma Corden says:

      Hello Suzanne, thanks so much for sharing your similar experiences – it sounds like you have a brilliant friend there, and what spot on advice. It is true, you’ve got to try and shut out those doubts, channel that unavoidable regret we feel and use it to drive us on. I am so pleased to hear that you too are finding your way back to writing – you are made of strong stuff! All the best, Gemma

  9. Hi, Gemma! This is really a lovely post. I’m so glad that you have found your way back to writing.

    I especially like your point about sticking it out even though it’s difficult: “It hasn’t been the easy rediscovery I naively assumed it would be.” I think this is so true for most of us, and I truly believe what defines you as a writer is your ability to keep at it, even when it’s hard.

    Welcome back!

    • Gemma Corden says:

      Thank you for your kind comments, Mary.

      Yes it’s a real eye opener coming back to it – it’s so easy to get out of practice. But it is good to have a challenge to conquer.

      Warm wishes,


  10. Hi Gemma–
    I really enjoyed your post and I especially like your thoughts about your desk, “I’ve realized that I don’t need it. My craft isn’t tied to furniture.” It’s great that you found your way back to writing.

  11. Anita Belli says:

    Thanks Gemma. This chimes with my own story of spending my working life ‘in’ the arts and servicing the needs of artists without practicing my own. I never stopped writing; it is a kind of compulsion, but I had to support my family. It has taken me too many years to come back to where it all started for me, but I am now proud to say ‘I am a writer!’

    • Gemma Corden says:

      Hello Anita,

      Thank you for your comments – it is good to hear that my experience resonates with others. Yes I understand the challenges of making time for writing and making it fit around our daily lives. I am glad you are back on that horse!


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