Writing is almost always a labour of love, but sometimes that love falters. When you begin to forget what you ever enjoyed about writing in the first place, it’s still possible to restore a sense of joy to your work.
With the long solitary hours required, writing can be lonely. In addition, it may look strange to people who are not writers. It isn’t very dynamic, so people you live with may just see you vanishing into a room from time to time and staggering out looking exhilarated or discouraged or simply lost in your own thoughts. It’s hard to keep family and friends updated on your progress; even if your listener is especially interested, you don’t necessarily want to recount the details of your plot while the work is in progress, and it can be difficult for people to understand the struggles that are peculiar to writers.
Then there’s the frequent lack of external rewards. If you are working on a long novel, you may be getting little encouragement. If you have also been writing and submitting things like fiction, poetry or articles, you may be discouraged by rejections. If you are sending work out that is getting published, you might be discouraged that it is not getting as much recognition as you think it should.
You might be starting to approach your writing with dread. You might even find yourself growing bitter and resentful of others’ successes while you feel you aren’t getting anywhere.
The problem with this is that while writing offers some external validation, that validation can be little or long in coming. There are many reasons to write, but writing does require sacrifices of time and energy. For many writers, if the joy in writing dissipates, there is little point in continuing.
At the same time, losing your joy in writing does not mean that writing is over for you. More likely, it simply means that you need to recalibrate your relationship to writing. There are a number of things you can do to find the joy in your work again.
Write about writing
Try a freewriting exercise. Write about your feelings and frustrations about your writing. This is only for yourself, and you can destroy it as soon as you are finished if you like.
Many an artist has worked through a creative block using Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way and her freewriting concept of morning pages. You might find Cameron’s book and techniques useful in restoring your sense of joy.
Consume stories again
Reminding yourself why you wanted to become a writer again in the first place
by reading books you love may reawaken your joy. Keep in mind there are other ways to enjoy stories again as well. Films and TV shows may also put you back in touch with your passion for storytelling.
Find other writers
You may find some comfort in discussing your difficulties with other writers either online or in person. Most writers have dealt with something similar at one time or another.
Avoid other writers
On the other hand, sometimes it can be the company of other writers that contributes to your lack of enthusiasm for your writing. You might be tired of talking shop, or you might have fallen in with a group of writers who you find discouraging. Most of your fellow writers are good company, but because they are human, some may also be jealous or exhibit other unpleasant qualities. It’s possible that you haven’t lost your joy in writing so much as you need to find a different set of fellow writers to spend your time with. A break might give you a fresh perspective.
Manage your envy
Because we are all human, we might sometimes feel envious of other writers from time to time. That doesn’t mean that we wish them ill or that they were not having success; it simply means that we may have a tendency to compare ourselves to other writers and feel that we fall short, and this can profoundly affect our sense of joy in writing.
This might manifest itself in feeling discouraged on reading something by a favourite writer and wondering how you’ll ever harness the same amount of skill, or it might rear its head on seeing an acquaintance celebrate their three-book deal on social media. Wherever it originates, there are a few important points to keep in mind.
- Nobody starts out as a great writer. That one writer who you envy above all others still had to learn the craft just as you are learning it.
- The success of others does not hinder or say anything about your own success. In fact, the successes of writers who are roughly at your level can fill you with hope. It demonstrates to you that success is accessible, and you could be next. It’s okay to have a bad day or two when you feel as though you aren’t getting anywhere while other writers you know are having all the luck, but if it becomes more than an occasional sentiment, you may need to take a step back from social media.
- Particularly when it comes to social media, no one is actually living the charmed life they might appear to be living. People who don’t share their struggles are not necessarily doing so because they are trying to trick you; plenty of people are just private and prefer to set boundaries around what they are willing to talk about publicly on and offline. Writing is not effortless for anyone.
Try a different form
Working in a different way can give you a new perspective and new energy. Rather than writing prose, try poetry, a screenplay or a stage play. Work on a script for your favourite TV show. Try to restore a sense of play and fun to your writing.
An alternative might be to try to move away from the written word entirely. Try sketching, painting or taking photographs. It doesn’t matter whether you are any good at it or not; the idea is to keep the creativity flowing in a new way. Experimenting with visual arts will give you a different way of looking at the world you may find inspiring, and you can carry that inspiration back to your writing.
In most cases, no one makes us write. There’s nothing keeping us from stopping at any time. Sometimes, stopping is exactly what you need. This doesn’t mean stopping forever. Just as professors sometimes get a sabbatical from teaching, you may need a sabbatical from writing.
You can even model your break from writing on a sabbatical, and do a few other things to help make it a successful time.
- Set a limit on your break. Mark it on your calendar, and plan to return to writing on that date. However, don’t limit yourself in terms of writing.
- Choose a project to take on during your sabbatical. Learn how to do something new, take up a sport, or sign up for a cooking course. Accomplishing something gives a shape to your sabbatical and gives you the opportunity to set and reach non-writing goals.
- Refill the well. Sometimes, you lose your joy in writing because you’re burned out. While writing does require hard work and dedication, it’s also important that you don’t permanently sever yourself from other aspects of life. Reconnect with friends, or do something you haven’t had time to do due to your focus on writing.
- Do nothing. You might also find yourself recapturing your love of writing by letting yourself daydream. It doesn’t have to be about fiction, but you might find the storytelling urge creeping in.
- Make a plan. You might want to make some notes about what you’ll work on when you return to writing. This doesn’t have to be detailed; maybe you’ll just pick back up on your novel, or write a short story, or begin a revision. Having an idea of what you will begin working on when you do return to writing will help lend some shape to your first session and make it easier to get back into your routine.
It’s normal for your enthusiasm for writing to wax and wane. At times it may just seem as though you have lost your sense of joy about writing, but there are ways to get it back. Reminding yourself of your love of stories, putting your frustration and envy into perspective, trying different writing forms and even stepping away from your writing desk for a time can raise your flagging spirits. Above all, keep in mind that writing can be a lifelong endeavour. It has no upper age limit, and you do not have to reach any particular milestone by the age of 30, 40 or even 50. Pace yourself, and you will have an activity that can bring you joy throughout every stage of your life.
What are some things that you have done that help you rediscover your love of writing?