You Can’t Rush Enjoyment

The #1 reason why I decided to pursue a writing career was because writing made me happy. Even when I was stuck re-plotting chapters or re-working entire character POVs, I was enjoying myself. I still had my eye on the prize of being published–because it has always been a lifelong dream of mine to see my name on a book jacket–but I wasn’t rushing to get there. I had just as much fun putting in the work that moved me closer to my goal as I did daydreaming about how good I was going to feel when I’d finally achieved that goal.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I lost my ability to truly enjoy my writing. Trying to turn a hobby into a career is obviously a guarantee that said hobby will lose some of its appeal. You have to work a lot harder to be a professional than the people who are just focused on having fun. You have to hold yourself and your work to higher standards. Sooner or later, you realize how much you still have to learn.

I know I’m making more progress on my writing now than I was a year ago. All of my projects are moving forward, and I’ve started dreaming up new ones. My word counts are higher than they’ve been in a long time. My passion, my motivation, and my enthusiasm are the things that have dwindled, and it has taken me most of the last six months to figure out why that is.

I’m not an arrogant person, or even a particularly confident one. I’ve always been good at keeping my eyes on my own paper, so to speak, and not setting arbitrary deadlines for the sake of “keeping up” with anyone else.

But during the year that I lost to a mental health maelstrom and a whole bunch of personal issues, a year where I hardly wrote at all, I also lost my ability to write without  a ticking clock in my head. I stopped focusing as intently on my stories, and started focusing on all of the things I hadn’t yet managed to accomplish.

For me, good writing days are all about perspective. When I was younger and less experienced and more focused on imagining the kind of career I would have, instead of trying to make a career happen, I could be happy even on days when I didn’t write very much. Only in trying to jump-start my writing has my focus shifted from having fun to having a career. Good writing days are exciting not because of the progress I’ve made on the story, but because of the progress my brain feels like I’ve made toward getting published. And that is pretty freaking screwed up.

One of my favorite publishing (life) aphorisms, is that getting a book published is a marathon, not a sprint. I repeat those words to myself all the time, in all sorts of situations.

But as far as I’m concerned, writing a book shouldn’t be compared to a marathon because marathon running is no fun at all. People train for marathons because they want to challenge themselves, or raise money, or compete on a professional level. Not because they enjoy straining through 26.3 miles with their muscles screaming at them every step of the way.

Publishing can stay a marathon, because publishing takes time and preparation and sweat and tears. Just writing the actual book, where there’s nothing but you and the words on the page and whoever you happen to gush to about the awesome plot twist you came up with, should be more like a leisurely hike.  You may develop blisters or stumble when the terrain gets steep, but you should still be enjoying the scenery.

I doubt I’ll be able to stop setting deadlines for myself altogether, or quit kicking my own butt about missed writing days, but from here on in, I’m going to make it a priority to enjoy the work I do. Whether I accomplish a lot or a little, I want to stay focused on my characters and their stories in the present, instead of stressing about what may or may not happen in the future.

After all, there’s not much of a point in working toward a goal if you’re not having any fun doing the actual work.