If it’s Not Fun

Writing is weird. All hobbies are, I think, once you start doing them with the intent to improve your skills. After all, trying to improve means trying new things, and of coruse a keen awareness of your imperfections. Since writing is a creative, solitary and very personal pursuit, there are very few universal yardsticks for progress (perhaps the only one is “I gave this to other people, and the flaws they pointed out weren’t the same ones they pointed out last time”). So writers often end up with a litany of ‘Is this hobby for me?’ ‘Do I have a chance to get good enough at this to meet personal goals (or, if you’re that way inclined, to get published)?’ ‘Am I allowed to consider myself a “real writer”?’

To the third question, yes, of course. To the second, yes, of course, though it will take a lot of work. To the first, well, that’s up to you. If you want to write, write. But I think our community places too much emphasis on the obsession. Real writers, we say, take notebooks everywhere just in case. They stay up late nights, they start to get itchy when they haven’t written for 24 hours. Some of this is survivorship bias – we hear most writing advice from those who have been successful at writing, and those who are interested in it – mostly famous writers. Those who pursue writing to the exclusion of other things tend to talk about and give advice on writing more than those who aren’t, and tend to have the patience and dedication to stick through the rejection and failure of the publishing process. Plus, they tend to spend the time honing their craft, so they do make progress faster. Therefore, when they talk about writing and their own experiences and processes, they can give the impression that all-consuming dedication to the exclusion of social activities, schoolwork, and other important commitments is necessary to have any measure of success in writing.

This isn’t true, of course, and in this case, the writing equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses causes burnouts, and often insecurity over the fact that the budding writer has a life and other hobbies outside writing, and can’t or don’t want to devote that level of emotional and physical energy to writing. At the moment, the middle ground, according to the Internet, seems to be “You started because you love writing. If you aren’t loving writing anymore, slow down or take a break.”

In other words, if it’s not fun and exhilarating, it’s not worth it.

On one level, I agree. You do need to be enjoying yourself, otherwise what’s the point? Why sink hours of your free time into a task that you find boring, or unrewarding? You’ll just end up resenting it.

On the other hand, writing has a reputation for producing the type of emotional rollercoaster usually reserved for movies where the dog dies in the end. Writing isn’t, and will never be, fun the whole time.

I’m a proponent of the idea that writers should try to write even if it’s hard or you’re not feeling into it that day, which sometimes means you have to write when it feels like pulling teeth.

However, I don’t think the two ideas are incompatible. I just think we need to stop talking about having fun, and we need to define what we mean by love.

When I write despite not feeling up to it, I write because it’s easier to write if I write every day – it keeps the story fresh and stops me forgetting my plans and plot points. I do it because often I know I can get into the swing and have a very productive writing session that I honestly enjoy provided I get over the initial hurdle of starting. And I do it because I feel better if I have made progress, even if it is less than usual.

I’ll also get frustrated sometimes – I’m currently staring down the barrel of one 40,000-word rewrite and one entire-novel rewrite that could end up clocking in over 200,000 words. I am not thrilled about this process, I don’t find it fun or exhilarating. Though I am looking forward to getting to play in those worlds again, the idea of throwing away that much content is a little daunting.

But the effort is still worth it. I am fixing errors that I know I won’t make again (or at least, that I’ll be able to pick up quicker and fix before they become massive rewrites – my NaNovel tells me that I avoided making at least two of the mistakes that caused the huge rewrites last time, so I can’t bring myself to be too disappointed).

That’s the key – worth it. The amount I get out of the writing I do, either in the satisfaction that comes with fixing that plot hole while editing, or the enjoyment of writing that cool scene, or the sense of accomplishment that comes when someone else reads and compliments your work, has to exceed the amount of energy I spend forcing myself to write on days when I don’t want to, the amount of things I don’t get to do because I’m writing instead, and the amount of frustration I have over difficult sections.

I love writing. I honestly do. Even when I’m complaining to friends that a particular section is making me want to do violence unto my Word document. But I love it because I find it satisfying and rewarding. I find it more rewarding than I find it fun.

And that’s a more important question to ask when deciding if you want to devote your energy to writing. Don’t ask if it’s fun, because nothing is fun all the time, especially if you’re doing it while being aware of the flaws in your efforts. But the process of problem solving, meeting your goals for progress (even if, especially with writing, you have to whittle your own yardsticks) is rewarding. Having other people read and validate your efforts is rewarding.

If you don’t find that that is the case, that solving those writing problems is not rewarding, or you’re giving up too much of your free time and opportunity to do other things in order to write, then there is no obligation for you to give up those things for writing. It’s your life, and it’s your choice what you do with your time.

But if writing is still rewarding and satisfying, even if right now whatever you’re doing is making you wish your document was in hard copy so you could throw it at something, then keep going and push through, or take a break and come back if you think that will help. Sometimes the frustration is temporary, sometimes it’s permanent. You can always come back to writing if you change your mind later.

In the meantime, I’m going to reread this post to try and motivate myself for these rewrites.

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