Loving What You Do

Several years ago, I went a long period of no writing. I had a book I was working on–something I was sure my publisher would love, something I knew I’d get good reviews on, but I couldn’t make myself work on the book. I could never drag myself into the story for long enough to reach “the end.”

It was during this time that I found myself on the phone with Jeff Savage. I was whining (I know, hard to believe), and he asked what I was working on.

“Nothing.”  Short replies from writers are significant. Short replies from me in particular are usually indicative of being ill, depressed, or ticked off. At the moment of this conversation, I was severely depressed–hence the whining.

“Nothing? C’mon. I know you. You have tons of stuff.”

And he was right. I ALWAYS have tons of stuff churning through my head, but I wasn’t actively writing any of it, which means I was working on ‘nothing.’ “Oh there’s lots of things I could be working on. I just don’t know where to put my focus.” This flippant comment was followed by the thought, Idiot! You’re working on nothing. You’re a failure! Do you hear me–FAILURE!!!!

Jeff then asked, “Which one do you most WANT to write?”

And I didn’t know. None of them? All of them? Perhaps what I wanted was to be locked in a padded room where I could rock back and forth and sing karaoke to myself. On non karaoke nights, I could chant, Nothing nothing nothing . . . .

“You’re not having fun anymore, are you?” he asked. He pegged it. I wasn’t. Writing had become work. For the first time ever, I couldn’t summon anything just for the joy of it. I was worried about audience, and publishers, and market. I’d become so obsessed with carving out my own place in the literary world, instead I carved my little scribbler’s heart right out and threw it away.

And the thing is, writing affects every aspect of my life. I know it doesn’t for everyone, but it does for me. I’m a better wife when I am writing. I am a better mother when I am writing. I am a better person when I am writing. So imagine a year going by with no novel to show for it. What kind of wife, mother, person did I become in that year?  I won’t answer that. You don’t really want to know.

I’d lost my way when it came to fun and writing. I was working too hard to please publishers and critics. I’d forgotten the joy there is creating something that is awesome to ME. Jeff was right.

I re-evaluated my goals, shelved the work going nowhere, and started something new. I decided to not think or dwell on marketing, or who might publish this story, or what this story might mean for my career as an author. I wrote because it was fun. And rediscovered myself in the process.

There are a lot of people out there in the literary world to please. There are people who won’t like what you like, people who hate your genre, your character, your method.

And while I think it’s important to please YOUR audience of readers, I don’t think it’s important to please EVERY audience of readers. It’s been years since Jeff reminded me to have fun, and I haven’t ever forgotten to keep that fun in my heart.

Love what you do. Love what you write. If you are loving it, then you’ve succeeded–no matter what else happens.

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6 Responses to Loving What You Do

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. The first audience we have to make happy as writers is ourselves. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Mary Walling says:

      I think we have to be happy at whatever we do whether it is writing, a church calling, being a mother, wife, true friend or the work we are employed at. Thanks for reminding us of that.

  2. C. M. Malm says:

    This was very timely for me. Since I’m no longer working (for a paycheck), I’ve been struggling to write a novel that’s been kicking around in my head for a very long time, but that I’ve never successfully put on the page before. But now that I have time to do this very thing, suddenly I feel pressure to do it, to finish it, to send it out so I might possibly be able to replace some of my paycheck with it. And that makes it not so fun.

  3. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    “If you are loving it, then you’ve succeeded–no matter what else happens.”

    That sentence, as a belief statement, could, in the wrong writer’s hands, become an editor’s nightmare. :) But on the other hand, as a fiction editor, I’ve worked with writers who tried to please me instead of pleasing themselves. That’s a whole ‘nother problem. There’s something to be said for self-publishing and removing the gatekeepers altogether I suppose. My writing group reminds me editors are stoopid.

    A nice reminder, Julie, that life, and the work we choose to pursue, should leave us feeling happy, satisfied. Thanks.

  4. Ann Best says:

    I’m so glad I found your post today, Julie, because at the moment I’m at a crossroad. The book I just finished that’s releasing May 17th has taken me years to write, and now I’m thinking: what now. What is it worth if we’re not enjoying the process? In the eternal scheme of things, I think nothing

    Thanks for a thoughtful and most welcome reminder that we should enjoy the journey. I’m now going to work on the story that I really want to write!

  5. Jules! You are ABSOLUTELY right! I go in strange bursts (when I write for fun and when I write for the audience). My first draft is for me and my next drafts are for the audience…but I’m beginning to wonder more and more if I’m so concentrated on word count, marketing, how to ‘break into the business’ that I’m not writing because I love anymore, I’m writing because I want to be successful at what I love to do. But what happens when you stop loving what you do because you’re trying so hard to be successful at it?–haha, this is very thought provoking. Thanks for writing this!

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