Monday, January 18, 2021

A Lifeline for When Writing is No Longer Fun

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy 

Losing the fun of writing is more than just writer’s block. And it takes a different path to fix it.

Talk to a group of writers and you’ll hear a common theme—we write because we can’t not write. It’s our passion, our love, what we enjoy doing.

But what happens when we lose the joy of writing?

Years ago, I started a novel I couldn’t wait to write. I loved the idea, the world, the characters. I was excited about the theme and how this novel would stretch my creativity. The first draft went well and I submitted it to my critique group.

And they hated it.

It clearly wasn’t working. I went through their comments, made my revision plan, and wrote another draft.

Which still didn’t work, for totally different reasons. So I revised again. And again. And again.

Jump ahead two years and who-knows-how-many-drafts later, and I finally had a draft I felt was getting somewhere. I turned it into my agent who—you guessed it—had issues with it.

Despite my hard work, the novel just wasn’t coming together like I wanted it to.

At that point, even I hated this novel, but I still didn’t want to let go of it. I loved the idea and wanted to write the book my heart said I could.

However, writing was no longer enjoyable. It was an effort to sit at the keyboard every morning and each word was a struggle.

The fun was gone and writing now felt like—gasp—work.

The last thing I wanted to do at that point was write fiction. For someone who has written with joy my entire life, this was unfamiliar—and scary—ground.

Luckily, I found my way back and rekindled my joy of writing.

Hitting a rocky patch in your writing doesn’t mean your writing journey is over.

No matter what the job is, everyone has times where they hate what they do. Some ideas run us ragged, some books need a lot of work, and some just refuse to be written no matter what we do. That isn’t a reflection on our skills or abilities—it’s just the way the creative process is sometimes.

If you’re facing a nightmare draft right now, here are some things you can try to get through it, and rekindle the fun of writing:

1. Set a deadline and stick to it

Sometimes, even when we know the draft is no good for us, we can’t just let it go and move on.

I knew I didn’t want to spend another two years working on the same book and feeling the joy of writing leaking away with every page, but I’d spent too much time on this manuscript to simply walk away. I gave myself sixty days to get it right or get rid of it. To make it easier, I decided to write just the first 100 pages.

Giving yourself a hard deadline is like giving yourself an out.

You have permission to stop doing what is no longer fun, because you gave it your best shot, and no one (not even you) can blame you for setting it aside. Having a hard deadline also gives you an end to take the pressure off. You know it’ll be over soon, so you don’t have to stress about it anymore. Sometimes, this can help you focus and actually find the problem.

(Here’s more on How The 12-Week Year Can Help You Write Your Novel) 

2. Change focus and work on something else

At the end of my sixty days, I had 100 solid pages, and some very positive feedback from beta readers and my agent—but I also dreaded the work it would take to finish the novel. It was clear it was time to move on, but the thought of starting a new novel filled me with equal dread. What if that novel didn’t work? What if writing was still painful?

Instead, I changed focus and worked on a nonfiction project I’d wanted to do for years.

Changing focus is like spring cleaning for the brain.

Sometimes we just need a break to let our creative juices refill. Do you have a project you’ve been meaning to get to? A hobby you’ve neglected or always wanted to try? A stack of books you’ve been meaning to read? All are good options to get your mind onto something you enjoy doing.

If you still want to write, try working on a format or genre you’ve always wanted to try instead. Do something different and flex some unused writing muscles.

(Here’s more on How to Write When the Last Thing You Want to Do is Write)

3. Take a break from your genre or market and read other things

I struggled too long with a YA fantasy, so the last thing I wanted to do was read more YA or fantasy. I set aside my stack of To-Read books and picked up novels I didn’t usually read.

My husband recommended a military science fiction series and I read every one. I tried some erotica, some literary novels, some thrillers—anything that seemed interesting and wasn’t related to what I usually read or wrote.

Reading novels removed from what you write hits the reset button and allows you to read for the pure fun of it—which reminds you why you love to write

When writing is no fun or a manuscript isn’t going well, it’s easy to read novels like it and compare. Why is this one working and mine isn’t? How did this get published when mine probably won’t? How did this author make this plot work when mine is a mess?

It also lets you see the vast variety of styles and plots out there, and a trope from a different genre might just spark an idea that gets you excited about writing again.

(Here’s more on Why Writers Should Read)

4. Write something just for the fun of it, but in a way you’ve never tried before

After a few years away from fiction, I decided to do NaNoWriMo one November. I felt ready to get back to a novel, but I wanted an idea I could write for fun and not worry about all the things that had kept writing from being fun.

I didn’t want to write a novel to publish, but write a story for me. It wasn’t about the craft. I didn’t even care if I hit the 50K-words goal, as long as I got lost in the story itself.

Switching up your process—even for a month—can change the way you look at your writing.

You’re not as caught up on how you do it because you’ve never done it this way before. It’s okay to be messy, write out of order, skip whole scenes if you’re not feeling it. You’re not writing to produce anything; you’re just having a good time discovering a story.

(Here’s more on Unrequited Writing Love: When You Can't Write What You Love to Read)

5. Remember why you write in the first place

My husband was wonderful during my rough patch, and one thing he kept reminding me was to write the stories that I loved, not what anyone else thought I should write. I had the most fun when I was caught up in a story that excited me.

It’s all too easy to forget what draws us to writing.

We focus on the end goal and forget the joy of the journey. But if the passion isn’t in the writing, the odds of us being successful plummet.

(Here’s more on Write Happy! The 4 Little Letters That Will Transform Your Writing Process)

It took me a long time to get back to my writing happy place, but I learned a lot on the way.

At the end of NaNo I had a rough draft of a new novel that I had a blast writing. It made me laugh, and I once again looked forward to sitting down at the keyboard every morning. I even revised it, and eventually published it under my alter-ego, J.T. Hardy.

If writing is hard, or no fun, or you run into a manuscript that makes you want to quit, take a step back and a deep breath. You can change directions and rediscover what you love about writing.

The joy will return if you give yourself time to recover from the burnout. 

EXERCISE FOR YOU: Take some time and have an honest discussion with yourself, or a good writing friend. Is it writing that’s no longer fun, or is it just your current WIP? Or maybe you’re just burnt and need a break. Take just one step toward improving the situation and see how you feel. Then keep taking a step at a time until you feel better.

Have you ever lost your writing mojo? How did you rediscover the fun?

*Originally published on PubCrawl January 2014.    Updated January 2021.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011). She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structureand the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series. 
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  1. Thanks for the good ideas and for being so real.

    1. Most welcome. We all go through these things, so it's good to talk about them so other writers know they're not alone.

  2. Thank you! This article is not just inspirational, there are solid steps I can apply to help kick me out of the writing slump I am in.

    1. I'm so glad it helped! Hope you get out of your slump soon. Sending good writing vibes your way.

  3. Changing projects was just what I needed to get my groove back!

    1. Yay! And you've been grooving hard from the sound of it. Looking forward to the update this week :)

  4. Great article. I appreciated all the good pointers. I've been coming through and out of a period when I just couldn't work on either of two novels I was fired up about originally. In my case, the political situation just scattered my energy. What I did do was accidentally drift into a couple of your solutions: reading books I really enjoyed and rewriting a poetry collection based on feedback from my poetry group that had eard one poem at a time. I rewrote them that way - one at a time. They were short, they were manageable, and they didn't call for plot and all the elements of fiction writing, even though they tell a story of sorts.

    1. Thanks! It had that affect on a lot of people, so you're certainly not alone there. I had issues focusing myself.

      What a great shift in focus. Poetry would be a wonderful way to write, but from a totally different perspective.

      Glad you're coming out of that bad patch now. Here's to good things for 2021.

  5. The only time writing isn't fun for me is when I start worring about RULES. At the moment I'm taking a break from my WIP to tighten up some stories I wrote years ago. I don't intend to publish them, and I think that's why I'm enjoying it so much - because it doesn't have to please anyone else! Hopefully I'll be able to go back to my WIP with fresh eyes.

    1. That would certainly take the pressure off. I bet the break will be good for you :) You'll be having fun again, and the WIP will have faded from your mind so you'll see what's on the page, not what you remember you wrote.

  6. Lots of useful thoughts there. Thanks :)