I just couldn’t write.
I’d moved one project into the editing phase and, per usual, began brainstorming what my next rough draft would be. I knew which one I wanted it to be, and it had had more than enough time to sit in my brain and soak up creative juices. Everything looked to be a green light, full speed ahead.
But when I began outlining and rough drafting, nothing came. It was like pulling teeth to get a few words down. I was bored with my main character—and all the side characters, too, which is never a good sign. Whenever I opened up the notebook, I felt tired and mentally exhausted. I just didn’t want to write.
Which was scary.
I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write. Writing was my way of processing the world. It was something I couldn’t not do. I loved the magic of creating, of watching something I’d written come to life.
But none of that was coming.
So, of course, I obsessed over it. Worried about the writing I wasn’t getting done. What if I’d lost that creative spark I’d used to have? What if I’d lost my joy in writing?
Then I heard a training taught by Kara Swanson, author of Dust and Shadow. I’m not going to paraphrase what she taught here. Rather, I’m hoping to share my own unique discoveries I made off of the springboard of her training.
Are you staring at your notebook even now, knowing you should be writing, but just not feeling into it? Worrying your spark may be gone?
Good news: joy is the kind of thing that never disappears forever.
Why is joy in your writing important?
Writing is hard. And it’s time more people, more writers admitted it.
This is not just something we do as a hobby or for fun. (Even though it does admittedly bring much enjoyment.) We’re putting in loads of hard work daily towards a sustainable career, just like any other career out there.
We need something to get us through the hard. We humans avoid hard unless we have a very good reason to slog through it. (This is why character motivations are a thing. They will never submit to all the pain we put them through unless they have a good reason.)
That something is joy.
If we love what we do, believe what we do is important, can’t not do it—that will keep us coming back even when it gets hard. This leads me to my first point.
Expect it to be hard.
This is where Kara’s training started. She told all of us gathered there that writing is hard. And that it was okay that it was hard.
That freed me so much.
For so long, I’d thought it was unfair to say writing was hard. After all, here were all these people logging long hours at grocery stores and as truck drivers and all other sorts of jobs, and I got to curl up in a comfy chair and a blanket and make up stories. I was getting to do something I truly enjoyed and had fun doing. How dare I say I had it rough.
But the truth is, writing is hard. It may not be the same hard as other jobs, but it is hard. And it’s okay to admit that.
Admitting that does two things.
One, it gets our minds ready. If you know it’s going to be hard, you won’t freak out at every poor word choice in your rough draft. You’ll know rough drafts are meant to be hard, and simply fix it in the content edit. You’ll know content editing is hard, so it’s okay if it takes a little longer than you expected. You’ll know line editing is hard, so it will be okay if you take a day or two as a break.
This confession also frees our minds. When you don’t have to worry about everything you’re doing wrong, the words can flow. Even if the words aren’t flowing, you know it’s okay—because you know they will come, even if it’s a hard road there.
How do we know they will come? Because I don’t even have to trust myself to catch all those things that aren’t perfect. I can trust that God has a handle on them and that we’ll take care of them together later.
Write something you love.
Once I admitted writing was hard, I realized my second problem was that I was writing a story I didn’t care about.
That sounded bad. Let me back up.
I very much believed in that story. I loved the idea. I loved the main character. I’d had it in my head for so long. It had many very important themes that I was excited to tackle.
But there was one problem.
None of these things affected me.
The theme, while very important, had nothing to do with anything I experienced or felt. As a result, I naturally felt a disconnect from the story.
Does it sound selfish to say we write about our own experiences? Maybe at first. But it’s really not.
When we write from our own pain, the experience of our book is so much deeper, meaning the readers we want to come alongside are immersed in it and come out with something life-changing.
But it can also be a reason we no longer feel joy in our writing. If we’re writing a certain theme just because it’s what sells right now, then who cares? It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t draw me into it. It’s just a book.
So instead, I set aside my beloved story idea for another time. For the moment being, I chose a story idea that resonated with experiences of my own. This is called a “pain point,” and chances are, if your theme doesn’t push one of your pain points, it won’t push anyone else’s either.
God has given you the life, the story He has for a reason. So take every opportunity to use it.
Don’t follow the rules. Try everything.
The last problem I suffered from was a bad case of ISTJ rule-following. (Myers-Briggs. Look it up.)
Writers have myriad advice on even just one topic. Nadine Brandes may say this, while Story Embers says this, and Sara Ella says this other thing . . . Two writers may even contradict each other, and both of them swear that this is the only way to write a book.
(#what I wish I had known before my first writers’ conference)
For the book I was working on, I had written an extremely detailed outline, down to the minutiae of each scene. I was a plotter, so I thought it would be helpful. Plus, it was how I heard a lot of other serious writers say I needed to outline my book.
The problem was, it stifled my creativity. Turns out I am a plotter. Just not that much of a plotter. I needed something new to discover in the scene, or else it just felt like writing point a to point b, turning the page, writing point a to point b.
Boring. I wasn’t engaged.
Writing is entirely subjective. There are few to no set-in-stone rules. (Case in point: everyone hates adverbs, but there are still a few sentences that need them!) You have to do entirely what works for you, even if it breaks your favorite author’s ten commandments of writing.
So what did I do? I took the new story idea that I actually cared about. I outlined only the basics (which is probably still way more than most people need to start a draft). I didn’t freak out when my villain was the lamest thing to walk the earth (and he was) or my second act drooped a little (which it did), because I knew I’d have the ideas I needed when I got there. And even if I didn’t, what are content edits for, my friend?
Confession: Sometimes I get so worried about doing this writing thing “right,” that I stifle myself to get there.
Problem is, there is no one “right” way to do anything in writing.
So I abandoned any ideas of doing it “right.” If the story wanted to head in a different direction, I let it.
That lame villain I was worried about? Turns out another character I would have never dreamed of is going to be a twist villain. If it surprises me, hopefully it will surprise my audience.
If a side character wanted to hijack the story, I let him for a few scenes. I might just find out he’s a better fit for the story I’m telling.
I let myself try new writing styles and strategies and just examine every sparkly thing that came along.
That’s one of the great things about writing. You’re allowed to do that.
One of the reasons writing is so fun is because it is such a joy-saturated career. Even if your joy seems like a very unimpressive puddle right now, don’t worry. It will come back. Maybe one of these three ideas will get your pen back to the paper. It may not be fast. But it will be a whole lot of fun.
Rachel Leitch discovered the book of writing when she was seven. She’s been turning pages ever since! When she’s not hidden away penning young adult historical adventures, she’s trying to fit all her reads on her shelf in a somewhat organized manner, rambling through history, daydreaming at the piano, or teaching students to be just as bookish as she is. In all her adventures, she learns how to shine brighter for the Father of Lights.
For more lessons drawn from books and movies and other stories (and to receive a free digital short story about a magical violin), follow her adventure journal at https://racheljleitch.weebly.com!
How do you find joy in writing? Do you follow rules or are you a rule breaker? Do you know writing is hard or do you expect it to be easy?
5 thoughts on “Bringing Joy Back Into Your Writing | Guest Post”
I LOVE this post!!! Amen to all of it!! 😀
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes!! This was just what I needed to read, I’m so thankful for Rachel writing it! 💙
LikeLiked by 1 person
I am so thankful I had the chance to write it! Thank you for having me.
LikeLiked by 1 person
So glad it was helpful to you!
LikeLiked by 2 people