Part of the reason why I took on the recent enormous house painting job from hell was because I’d lost the joy of writing. Between my freelance writing day job and my novel writing, I was stressed and the joy was gone.
Even more disheartening, I knew it shouldn’t be the case. I was living my dream: Making a living from writing. Yet too many things were sapping my joy: Sales pressure, suddenly being in the business of being an “author” instead of a writer (and, frankly, kind of sucking at the job), a huge learning curve, some writing jobs that weren’t going well, and personal things outside of writing were all sucking my joy away. Instead of coming to the keyboard happily, I was approaching it with dread. Or not approaching it at all, come to that. (Of course, procrastination always makes things so much better. Not.)
I knew I’d reached a breaking point. I had to either rediscover the joy or, heaven forbid, find some other line of work. Since I’m not good at anything else (except maybe painting, now), I had to find my writing joy again. Turns out, it’s not as easy as you’d think. Here’s my unscientific method for finding joy in writing again.
Take a break.
For almost two months I did anything but write. Before we began painting, I finished off as much work as I could and then declared myself on vacation. I did a few things here and there that couldn’t wait or just to keep my hand in, but I stopped as much as I could. I reduced my blogging, and told clients they’d need to wait or find someone else. I didn’t work on any of my novel projects, not even making notes or doing research. Even as the break wore on and I found myself a little itchy to write again, I said, “No, let’s finish the painting and then see.”
Now that it’s over, I realize it was the best thing for me. Things are fresh again and I’m excited. My idea tank is full and I actually want to write. I need to remember this and take a week off every now and then to recharge. I can’t let it get to the point where I’m seriously considering taking a job at Target ever again.
The problem for me and many writers is this: When you work for yourself and you work from home, the work never shuts off unless you make it shut off. There’s always more you can do, always something that needs tending to. And I now know that too much of that can make you not want to work at all. So take a break, say no to some of the work, and recharge your batteries.
Look back at past work/achievements.
I was feeling pretty low about the status of my novels. It feels like I’m not as successful as I thought I’d be, or feel like I should be. And being a Negative Nancy, it’s easy to take that out on myself. Instead, I looked back at past work to show me how far I’ve come. When I look at my trunked novels I see why they were never accepted. I know that what I’m producing now is so much better than that. And what comes later will likely be better than today’s work. It reminds me that while my name might not be Nora Roberts, I’m learning and I’m progressing and I can’t ask for more than that.
Remember why you got into this business to begin with.
This is a big one. Most of us don’t go into writing for money for fame. (If you do, then get ready for a reality check.) Remembering why I wanted to write helped me to remember what I love about it. I got into writing to tell stories, to use my creativity, and because I simply enjoy stringing words together into something coherent. I love words and what they can do. Money, publication, bookstore sales… That’s all nice, but it’s not why I do what I do. Even if I was never published again I’d still write because I enjoy it. I wrote long before I became “an author” and I’ll write if that ever goes away. Remembering that puts everything else into perspective and reminds me that I love the art, even if the circus that surrounds it aggravates the hell out me at times.
Seek social support.
Talking to friends and family helped, as did talking to some of my fellow writers. Whether it’s hanging out in a formal writer’s group or getting together with friends, knowing people have your back is helpful. Of course, you don’t want to be that person who complains all the time, so take some time to talk about things other than your work. Turn it off for a while and talk about your friend’s lives, their kids, or trivial topics like the state of Dwane Johnson’s abs in Baywatch.
…But get off social media.
Look, social media has its uses but it’s also very good at making us feel like crap. Seeing other people’s successes (or whines) and the inevitable stress and inferiority complex does nothing for our own work. (Especially since most of it is unwarranted because, face it, people don’t always tell the truth on social media. There’s a lot of truth stretching to make themselves seem far more awesome than they are.) It makes us miserable and we feel like, “Why should I bother? I’ll never be as successful as Sally J. Author.” Take a break from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, get out in the real world, and stop comparing yourself and your work to heavily edited and idealized posts.
Write something completely different.
Now that I’m writing again, I take time a few times a week to write “stuff.” Maybe it’s flash fiction or something in a genre/form I’ve never tried (or know I’m not good at). Maybe it’s just nonsense to clear away the cobwebs and play with words. Whatever it is, it’s just for me. It’s not for publication or payment. It’s just for fun. Writing things with no pressure attached feels wonderful and allows me to play, something that was missing as I tried to stick to deadlines and demands.
Keep a “get happy” file.
I keep a file of things that have gone right in my writing career. Acceptances, letters of thanks from editors and clients, letters from fans, positive feedback from teachers and mentors, awards, etc. I don’t keep rejections because that just breeds bitterness. When I need to find a spark of joy, I pull out my file and look at all the positive things that have gone well in my career. That often puts whatever is sapping the joy in better perspective.
Remember that opinions are just that.
Whether negativity is coming from reviewers, agents, or editors, remember that opinions are just that: Opinions. Yes, if you’re working on a project with an editor then you need to listen. But if the book or project is on submission, it may not be that the work is bad. It may just not be right for that market/person. And reviewers are a different group entirely. Professional reviewers are one thing, but you definitely have to take Amazon and Goodreads reviews with a grain of salt. While many are accurate, there are people who live to beat others down and belittle work they haven’t even read. Don’t assume that you’re a terrible writer based on limited bad feedback. You may be an awesome writer who simply hasn’t connected with the right market or who, for whatever reason, has run afoul of internet trolls.
Take up a challenge.
Sometimes a writing challenge can spark joy. Something like NaNoWriMo or a local writing contest can get you humming again. However, if you find it’s just making you more stressed, drop it.
Read, but not for scouting purposes.
I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I read something just for fun. Not to see what the latest trends are, or what the competition is doing, but just for fun. Too often in the past couple of years my reading was tainted with, “What is this author doing that I’m not?” I missed that feeling of simply falling into a story and disappearing. To get past it, I began reading things far, far away from YA, romance, or fantasy. Things where I wasn’t tempted to evaluate and compare.
Gradually I’ve rediscovered the joy of reading and, in turn, remembered why I want to write. To tell stories. Period. Whether or not they’re commercial or successful isn’t for me to say and no amount of scouting and comparison is going to change that. All I can do is write the best story I can; the story I want to read and happily fall into.
Look at (and engage in) other forms of creativity.
There are lots of ways to tell stories. Poetry, theater, movies, comics, art, TV… the list goes on. Give your brain some different creative fodder to feast upon. A great movie or play may make you say, “That’s why I want to write! To tell a story like that.” Even if it doesn’t, engaging with other forms of creativity fills up your own creative tank for you to draw upon later. So get out there and play, make something, or do something you don’t normally do.
Cut yourself some slack.
You can’t be everything and do everything. You can’t be a carbon copy of someone else, either, so forget chasing a trend or trying to mimic someone else’s path or success. All you can do is what you can do and do it to the best of your ability. And you have to accept that that’s enough. Keep plugging along, doing what you can do, learning, improving, and working and things will be fine. It’s when you get all tied up in knots that things go to crap. So cut yourself some slack every now and then and enjoy where you are. It may not be the top of the mountain, but I bet it’s not the bottom, either.
What I learned during these months is that joy is something we take for granted. We don’t often appreciate it when we have it, but when it’s gone we know it because our whole world goes spectacularly to pot. And it isn’t something you can simply say, “I want it back,” and have it return to you with open arms. You have to earn it and then you have to coddle it in order to keep it. You can’t just ignore joy and assume it will stay by you because it won’t.