When the Writing Isn’t Fun
A commenter raised an interesting point when I talked about my October plan last week. (Short version – life has been more stressful than usual, and the new book is requiring a lot more work, so I’m buckling down and trying to finish this draft by November 2.)
I’m paraphrasing the comment, but he basically pointed out that if writing isn’t fun anymore, if it’s adding to my stress instead of helping me to relax, maybe that’s a sign that I should stop. (I’ll note that he said he didn’t want me to stop writing; but he was thinking about my mental/emotional well-being, which I appreciate.)
It’s a valid question. If writing had become nothing but a chore, I’d give serious consideration to quitting after I filled this contract. I’ve left jobs before when it got to the point where I pretty much dreaded going to work each day.
And for me, writing is a job. It’s a job I love, but it’s also a lot of work. There are good days and bad. If I spend my lunch hour stuck on a scene, making little progress and feeling like I’ve utterly lost control of the story, it can ruin my entire day. On the other hand, the days when I feel good about what I’ve written, well, that’s a high like nothing else.
But even on the good days, it’s still work.[1. Sure, a decade ago I would have killed to have this kind of work. That doesn’t change the fact that it eats up a lot of time and energy.] Not just the putting-words-on-paper part. There’s answering emails from fans, fellow writers, my editor, and my agent. There’s conventions and booksignings and other events. There’s poking around online for mention of my books. (You can laugh, but this is how I discovered The Legend of Jig Dragonslayer was going to be available through the Science Fiction Book Club.)
Oh … um … by the way, The Legend of Jig Dragonslayer is available through the Science Fiction Book Club!!!
Now, where was I?[2. If your first thought was Australia, you get five bonus points.]
Thinking about my life as a writer reminds me of something that came up in karate, talking about how some students quit when they decide it’s not fun anymore. That’s certainly a valid choice. But the thing is, whether it’s writing or karate, the path isn’t a smooth, steady climb. Sometimes you stumble. Sometimes you get stuck. There will come a time where if you want to get better, you’re going to have to fall down. You may get hurt. You may swear a lot and kick holes in the drywall.[3. I’ve only done that once, and it was a long time ago.] And at times, it may not much fun.
Sometimes it’s not worth it. Either the climb is too hard, or you just don’t have the energy. That’s okay. Nobody can do everything, and you’ll destroy yourself if you try.
But I love being a writer. I love creating stories. And I want to get better at it. Looking over the past 17 years, this journey has been one of the hardest, bumpiest things I’ve ever done. It has, at times, been incredibly depressing and frustrating. But it’s also been one of the most rewarding journeys, and while it may not always be fun, and it is at times a lot of work, it’s work I choose to do.
The fact that the writing is now a significant portion of our household income certainly doesn’t hurt matters, either.
In a lot of ways, life would be easier and less stressful if I stopped writing. It might even be more fun, as it would free up time and energy for other things.
But I love writing, and I love being a writer. And for me, it’s worth it.
October 10, 2012 @ 12:11 pm
I totally agree with you on this. There were times I thought about quitting, especially at the beginning of the Eli series when I was dealing with deadlines for the first time (not a fun wake up experience), but I never could. I’m just not happy if I’m not writing, even when the writing is making me miserable. Even with the peaks and valleys and stress, writing is a huge part of who I am, and with out it, I’m not me. Also, the good days totally make the bad days worth it, in my opinion.
I do find it good to stop when the writing isn’t working though, mostly because stopping lets me pause and examine why it isn’t working. If I just keep pushing ahead, I get REALLY depressed (and also my book is awful, double fail). I don’t know if this is the problem you’re having, but whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll work through it.
Also, Libromancer is rad. Got it a while ago, but I just started it this weekend and I really dig it so far!
October 10, 2012 @ 1:46 pm
Completely agree. When things aren’t working all that well, I imagine what my life would be like if I stopped writing — not what my weekend would be like, or next week, or next month, what MY LIFE would be like, and I realize that I don’t want to stop . . . Though as you say, that doesn’t mean there aren’t days that I wish was a bit easier, or even more fun.
October 11, 2012 @ 12:51 am
That was my comment you started with, so I’ll add a bit.
I used to say that if work was fun, they wouldn’t pay us so much to do it.
Michelle Sagara revealed that she’s just scrapped 50,000 words of her next novel twice.
Rachel: your first 3 books are sitting in my box of “to be reads” that I brought on this trip; I’m having trouble getting in any reading past the daily newspaper.
October 11, 2012 @ 1:04 am
I forget who said (or said it first): If you can do anything other than write, do that.
I think it applies to a few other professions, but the idea is valid. Once you discover what you’re meant to do, do it as long as you can – or you will be unhappier than necessary.
I’ll pass on to you a neat mental trick I pulled on myself when writing my only full-length book to date: the ^&*(^ thesis: I couldn’t quit, because I wasn’t in a suitable mental state to make so important a decision – and I wouldn’t be in a better mental state until it was finished. IOW, I was in no position to judge at that point.
Somehow that little commitment pulled me through. Maybe you can objectively quit once the current book is finished. When you are in a good place to make such a momentous decision. When it would be a sane and rational decision.
But not yet, not yet.
October 11, 2012 @ 11:16 am
I just wanted to say I love the fact you have footnotes in your blog. That is all.
Jim C. Hines
October 11, 2012 @ 7:42 pm
Thanks, Rachel! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it!
And I know what you mean. Sometimes the only thing more painful than writing is not writing 🙂
Jim C. Hines
October 11, 2012 @ 7:43 pm
It was, and I appreciate the comment. It’s a good question, and obviously something I have lots of thoughts about 🙂
And ouch! I’ve scrapped chunks of novel before, but I don’t think I’ve ever tossed out quite that much. Of course, for Michelle, 50K could just be the prologue 😉
Jim C. Hines
October 11, 2012 @ 7:44 pm
Nah. There’s no way I could quit. I haven’t finished telling ALL THE STORIES yet!!!
Jim C. Hines
October 11, 2012 @ 7:48 pm
Yes! In the short term, it might be nice to be able to bum out in the evening, or go goof off this weekend. But in the long term, there would be this gaping void of blah where the writing and the stories are supposed to go!
October 14, 2012 @ 4:13 pm
Congratulations on Jig making it to the Science Fiction Book Club, and congratulations on the Princesses making it to Audible.
Perseverance and Positive Attitude | M.H. Lee
October 15, 2012 @ 10:53 am
October 15, 2012 @ 6:02 pm
Sometimes I think it’s really simple: you just have to work through the stuff that isn’t fun if you want to get to the parts that are. Otherwise there would be no fun stuff.
Glad you’re working through the hard stuff to give us the fun stuff. 😉