The other night I had a realization that writing has become a chore for me.
More and more I find myself thinking, I really need to sit down and get in some writing time. And then I don’t. I find reasons not to. I sit in front of my Scrivener files (either the work-in-progress waiting to be finished or the one waiting to be revised) and chew my fingernails. I look at my phone. I set my Freedom app for 30 minutes, essentially kicking me off the internet with no recourse, and instead I find myself goofing around in my journal or cleaning my house while the minutes tick down.
I don’t count it in my “fun time” allocation anymore; it’s work time. And the problem with that? I already have plenty of work to go around! I have more work things that need doing than I know what to do with; I’ve already used up all those work hours for things that make me money.
Of course, the idea is that someday writing will fall into that category of “things that make me money”; but that’s not the way in which I want to think about it. That’s not the kind of writer that I want to become–the kind who grudgingly sits down at the desk at the behest of a publisher-provided assistant, who refuses to give me bathroom breaks until I manage to write a few sentences.
As always, the People of Twitter (note caps) came to my rescue when I brought this writer’s crisis to them. It started an interesting discussion and set a few thoughts to percolating that, I hope, will help other writers who do genuinely love their craft get back to the roots, and find the joy, like it did for me.
– Many people mentioned taking a break. This has certainly worked for me in the past. I once took an entire month away from writing when my personal and work life imploded, and it felt great to come back to it afterward. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder, amirite?) It was like reuniting with a kind of annoying family member after being apart for a long time, and you remember how much you really do love them, deep down inside. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s not like that at all.
– Maybe it’s the wrong manuscript? This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve found myself elbow-deep in a project and then decided to shelve it. But this time around, I definitely don’t believe either of my current projects are “the wrong manuscript.” They’re both great stories that need to be told. I believe in both of them whole-heartedly. Which, perhaps, is part of the problem.
– Have the rules of writing clouded the joy it once brought me? Instead of simply telling a story, a story that I’m passionate about with characters I love and know deeply, I’ve reached a point in my writing career where I consider more than just the story: now I weigh the marketability of the story, the craft, the plot, the character arcs, the voice. These are things I once simply did not think about. Things that happened naturally as I let the story flow out my fingers. But now–I think about them, and I think about them hard. I consider carefully if I’m treating a plot point or a character development appropriately, honestly, believably, at each step of the way.
When this last possibility as to why writing has become painful was suggested by the truly lovely Jessie Devine (@Jessie_Devine), the nail was hit so hard on the head that its metallic ring reverberated in my skull.
I do miss a time when it was easy. When stories wrote themselves, instead of having to be crafted, put together and assembled in painstaking order like a LEGO colosseum. At one time in my life, I wrote fan fiction like it was stream of consciousness. I never put any thought into the craft; it just formed on the page like some Harry Potter newspaper shit and slithered off into the archives for hungry fans to slop up and swallow and leave cute little reviews: “omg this is so great plz keep writing ok!”
“OK!” I said to them, and wrote more, and it was as easy as breathing.
So as I sat at my desk the next day, pondering why I felt so STUCK–why I even felt guilty sometimes when I worked on my middle-grade book, when I came away from it having really achieved nothing except chewing down my cuticles–I stumbled across something: I realized that I love the story so much that I feel like I don’t deserve it. I can’t write new words or chop old words because at some level, I keep thinking, I’m not a good enough writer for this. I can’t do this story justice, not even a little.
And that’s probably not really true. But what are we writers if not the most insecure bunch of people that ever did live?
Once upon a time, I wrote a really terrible book. At the time of writing I didn’t think it was terrible (welcome to my life), but as the months slipped by and I practiced more and got feedback from writer’s groups, the truth began to dawn on me. Luckily, by then, the book was under contract and I already had a developmental editor trying her best to tease apart the mess I’d made and help me put it back together again like some Frankenstein Humpty-Dumpty.
When that first batch of edits came back, I cried with joy. She told me exactly what I needed to do to make the book better. In her suggestions I saw what my book could be, the way I think parents watch a promising young child create something amateur and beautiful and imagine what wonderful person he’ll someday become.
As my dear friend Eddy pointed out on Twitter after my meltdown: “Sometimes it’s ok if it [writing] is not magical for a time. It is a job and sometimes we just got to get on that grind, bro.”
He’s right. Writing is work. And good writing is hard work. But the wonderful thing about that–the truly delightful thing about a good book being the result of long, invested hours–is that it’s possible. A fantastic final product is completely within reach if you can dedicate yourself to it, if you can make the time, if you can chip away at it like you would any other job, if you can pour yourself into draft after draft until it is good.
And that was when I realized: the reason I’m stuck is that I’m trying so, so hard to be perfect. I’m trying to craft a final product, instead of a second draft product–a product that an editor will take away from me, look over, tear apart, and give back to me with a bucket list of ways to make it perfect.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO MAKE IT PERFECT ON YOUR OWN. YOU JUST HAVE TO MAKE IT KIND OF GOOD ENOUGH.
I can’t tell you how much joy that thought has brought me. And suddenly, I’m writing again, and thinking–so what if this is duct tape? That’s all right. At least I have the gift of this great story to work with, and someday, I hope my writing–three or four or five drafts later–will do it perfect justice.
What have your experiences been with writing feeling like a chore? How do you adapt? I’d love to hear from you.