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Finding the Joy

December 18, 2013 by Kiersi

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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.

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– 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.

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.


14 Comments »

  1. I loved this post! You went point by point through what so many of us writers experience when we find ourselves avoiding the work of writing because we’ve lost the sense of joy. And I think your conclusion, that it doesn’t have to be perfect YET, that it’s a progression on the way to perfection or something close enough to it to be enjoyed by readers. And that we are not alone! That our beta readers and editors and others who have trod this path will be our companions and champions as we keep striving toward our goal of publication. Thank you for all these reminders, or for the comforting reminder that others have shared the same doubts and dreads and concerns that I do as I pursue my writing goals.

    • Kiersi says:

      Yes! We writers don’t often realize it, but we need to rely on the people around us, the people who champion us to tell us when to stop and tell us when to keep going. It’s hard to make those analyses from the outside. It is comforting to know that almost all the writers I know have experienced the same doubts and fears. Thanks for stopping by and the great comment, Deborah!

  2. When I’m stressing about meeting a deadline, I can feel like this. But right now I’m dying to write. I’ve been editing for clients for two months straight and I’m booked through January. I miss writing. Maybe you need to miss writing. Just a thought. 😉

    • Kiersi says:

      Ha! You might be right, Kelly. I have so much work this month I might as well focus on it, get it done, and then be able to take off time in January to just write. Really could use some dedicated time… Stoked to hear you have so much editing work lined up. Congrats!

  3. Kit Dunsmore says:

    I have had my dark OMG-it’s-over moments with specific projects, and the thing that usually works best for me is a break. More than once, NaNoWriMo has pulled me out of the pit. I put down my serious project and work for a month on something that I tell myself will never see the light of publication (ala fan fiction) and when I get back to the abandoned project, I have my joy and interest back. It’s a busman’s holiday, to be sure, but it works like a charm. I love writing, as long as I allow myself to really write. Staying away from perfectionism is key. So is not getting too caught up in all the rules.

    Thanks for this great post. I’ll be bookmarking it for later, so I can read it again the next time I find myself wondering where the joy went.

    • Kiersi says:

      Hi Kit! Thanks so much for stopping in and the kind comments. NaNoWriMo has helped me before, too, though I don’t know if it did this time around. It’s really important to have a “fun” project, isn’t it? Even if it’s just for you. Good job knowing yourself that well. I’m jealous! 🙂

      • Kit Dunsmore says:

        I don’t know about “knowing myself”… I’ve definitely learned some lessons over the years, but I have a tendency to forget what they were and have to learn them all over again. LOL

  4. When writing starts to feel like a chore that’s when the drill sergeant in my head comes out. After a great amount of whining (and procrastinating) I tell myself, “If you don’t make it as a writer you have no one to blame but yourself. This book isn’t going to write itself!” And then I sulk, but I drag my behind to the computer and write. And I totally agree with you about the fun being sucked out because you’re so aware of all the mechanics. I wish I could just write without thinking anymore because now I feel like I over think things way too much, but maybe that’s just my mind’s sneaky way of procrastinating.

  5. Awesome post. I do think we do bet stuck trying to make the draft perfect. I get caught up in that all the time. And I have to tell myself to woos ah and just write.

  6. This dread usually hits when I’m about 20% in to the story, when I know in my gut that this story isn’t where it is supposed to be. Having a conversation with my protagonists helps. I ask them what exactly it is they are not telling me and write down whatever comes to mind. Or else I’d put that manuscript away until, like Kelly says, I miss it.

  7. Writerlious says:

    Good for you! A writing lull can be scary and make you questions yourself, your place in the world, everything you ever thought you wanted… LOL. I am glad you found the thing to get you back on the horse. I’ve been having an off month myself and I keep having mild freak outs–like “Have I lost it?” “Will I ever complete a publishable novel?” “What if I lose my heart for it?” Awful things we writers do to ourselves. 😉 Keep on writing, girl!

  8. Writerlious says:

    Oh…and have fun doing it. 🙂

  9. ashelyndrake says:

    Can’t wait to hear what you’ve been up to on your time away from writing. Thanks for dropping by my blog, Kiersi.

  10. Bill Olander says:

    At work, many years ago, a boss of mine put up a set of rules and goals for our office. Things like “Go Paperless” and such. The only one I really remember (besides the paperless one apparently) is “Perfection is the Enemy of the Good” which is just a rephrasing of what you said but since first hearing it I’ve seen it often in projects where you spend so much time trying to make it perfect that it just never gets finished. I recently switched the focus of my own writing to try and keep that in mind… and then promptly got distracted by baby. But it is a goal for this year.

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