What Do You Do When Writing is No Longer Fun?

Talk to a group of writers and you’ll hear a common theme—we write because we can’t not write. It’s our passion, our love, what we enjoy doing.

But what happens when we lose the joy of writing?

I once started a novel I couldn’t wait to write. I loved the idea, the world, the characters. I was excited about the theme and how this novel would stretch my creatively. The first draft went well and I submitted it to my critique group.

And they hated it.

Well, they didn’t hate it, but it certainly wasn’t working. I went through their comments, made my revision plan, and wrote another draft.

Which still didn’t work, for totally different reasons. So I revised again. And again. And again.

Jump ahead two years and who-knows-how-many-drafts later, and I finally had a draft that I felt was getting somewhere. I turned it into my agent who—you guessed it—had issues. Despite my hard work, the novel still wasn’t working.

At that point I hated this novel myself, even though I didn’t want to let go of it. I still loved the idea and wanted to write the book my heart said I could. However, writing was no longer enjoyable. It was an effort to sit at the keyboard every morning and each word was a struggle.

The fun was gone and writing now felt like –gasp– work.

The last thing I wanted to do at that point was write fiction. For someone who has written with such joy my entire life, this was unfamiliar—and scary—ground.

Luckily, I found my way back and writing is once again fun. If you’re facing a nightmare draft right now, here are some things you can try to re-find the fun of writing.

1. Set a deadline and stick to it

I knew I didn’t want to spend another two years working on the same book and feeling the joy of writing leaking away with every page. I gave myself sixty days to get it right or get rid of it. To make it easier, I decide to do just the first 100 pages.

Giving yourself a hard deadline is like giving yourself an out. You have permission to stop doing what is no longer fun, because you gave it your best shot, and no one (not even you) can blame you for setting it aside.

2. Change focus and work on something else

At the end of my sixty days I had 100 solid pages, and some very positive feedback from beta readers—but I also dreaded the work it would take to finish the novel. It was clear it was time to move on, but the thought of starting a new novel filled me with equal dread. What if that novel didn’t work? What if writing was still no fun?

So I changed focus and worked on a nonfiction project I’d wanted to do for years.

Changing focus is like spring cleaning for the brain. Sometimes we just need a break to let our creative juices refill. Have a project around the house you’ve been meaning to get to? A hobby you’ve neglected or always wanted to try? A stack of books you’ve been meaning to read? All are good options to get your mind onto something you enjoy doing.

If you still want to write, try working on a format or genre you’ve always wanted to try instead. Do something different and flex unused writing muscles.

3. Take a break from your genre or market and read other things

I struggled too long with a YA fantasy, so the last thing I wanted to do was read more YA or fantasy. I set aside my stack of To-Read books and picked up novels I didn’t usually read. My husband recommended a military science fiction series and I read every one. I tried some erotica, some literary novels, some thrillers–anything that seemed interesting and wasn’t related to what I usually read or wrote.

When writing is no fun or a manuscript isn’t going well, it’s easy to read novels like it and compare. Why is this one working and mine isn’t? How did this get published when mine probably won’t? How did this author make this plot work when mine is a mess?

Reading work so far removed from what you write hits the reset button and allows you to read for the pure fun of it—which reminds you why you love to write

4. Write something just for the fun of it, but in a way you’ve never tried before

I decided to do NaNoWriMo last November, because I felt ready to get back to fiction, but wanted something that would allow me to just write for fun and not worry about all the things that had kept writing from being fun. It was about the story, not the craft. I didn’t even care if I hit the 50K, as long as I got lost in the story itself.

Switching up your process—even for a month—can change the way you look at your writing. You’re not as caught up on how you do it because you’ve never done it this way before. It’s okay to be messy, write out of order, skip whole scenes if you’re not feeling it. You’re not writing to produce anything, you’re just having a good time discovering a story.

5. Remember why you write in the first place

My husband was wonderful during my rough patch, and one thing he kept reminding me was to write the stories that I loved, not what anyone else thought I should write. I had the most fun when I was caught up in a story that excited me.

It’s all too easy to forget what draws us to writing in the first place. We focus on the end goal and forget the joy of the journey. But if the passion isn’t in the writing, the odds of us being successful plummet.

At the end of NaNo I had a rough draft of a new novel that I had a blast writing. It took me a long time to get back to my writing happy place, but I learned a lot on the way.

If writing is hard, or no fun, or you run into a manuscript that makes you want to quit, take a step back and a deep breath. You can change directions and rediscover the reason you started writing in the first place.

Have you ever lost your writing mojo? How did you rediscover the fun?

36 Responses to What Do You Do When Writing is No Longer Fun?

  1. Cait Jan 29 2014 at 6:07 am #

    This is such a good list!! I’m going to use all of these. When I get sick of my book, I like to take a full break. I’ve been working on a YA fantasy for 5 years…but only last year I started writing other genres and just branching out. It really changed how I felt about my fantasy. It actually inspired me for it again! 🙂

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 29 2014 at 10:13 am #

      That’s great! Trying new genres really helps. It makes us look at the work in new ways and we break out of expected tropes. Good luck diving back into your YA.

  2. jeffo Jan 29 2014 at 6:43 am #

    All good advice, Janice. I have never quite gotten to the point you reached, but I’ve certainly had my moments of frustration. Walking away, taking a break, anything that can give you a little perspective and space is a good thing once in a while.

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 29 2014 at 10:15 am #

      That’s the smart thing to do. I wish I’d taken more breaks when it was all happening actually. That probably would have helped a lot. I won’t make that mistake again!

  3. Anita Jan 29 2014 at 7:03 am #

    Hi Janice! We met at Springmingle a few years back. Hope things are going well! And thank you for this post. It’s perfectly timed, as I’m going through a bit of a frustrated spell with my writing. I’ve taken a break from writing for a few days and I’m learning to knit and catching up on my to-be-read pile of books. Hopefully, this will as you say “restart my creative juices.”

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 29 2014 at 10:18 am #

      Hi again! Sorry to hear you’re in the same funk, but I hope you find a way out of it as well. The break and the reading did help me a lot, and even just giving myself permission to *not* write helped. It’s good to walk away and clear your head sometimes. Keeps things in perspective.

      Are you going to Springmingle this year? If so, say hello! I’ll be there again.

  4. Claudia McCarron Jan 29 2014 at 7:47 am #

    Thanks for this post! I’m actually doing something very similar to this to get my mojo back. I decided to work on on a contemporary book (a genre I’ve always been scared of), and I plan to do the first draft during Camp NaNoWriMo this April. I’ve never written contemporary or tried NaNoWriMo, so I’m excited and scared. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 29 2014 at 10:22 am #

      My pleasure, and good for you! You might discover contemporary is totally your genre and things will fall together. If not, hey, you tried and you’ll learn good things no matter what.

      What helped me with NaNo was to focus on the story and not the word count so much. I only hit 36K words but I got a rough draft of the entire novel down. It really let me see how the story unfolded and now I know exactly what to do to flesh it out. If a scene was 200 words, so be it! All it had to do was tell that part of the story. Doing that was very liberating.

  5. Kyra-Lee Martin Jan 29 2014 at 9:50 am #

    This post has given me another chance to pull through this evil fog of decaying writing juices. Although I feel I’ve tried everything in that pile but the to-read list, I want to try the break all over again. I got a semester of college in front of me with two religion classes for the paranormal novel. I’m hoping this will help me pull things together and finish a novel for one (it’s ironic how many times I’ve told myself this).

    I just don’t have any books that I want to read at this point. I’m even working on multiple genres now; fantasy, horror, paranormal, mystery, and romance. I just can’t seem to get it down. I’ve been working on a fantasy novel for 5 years now and a paranormal one for about 6 years. I just can’t bring myself to get halfway through them.

    I did work on NaNoWriMo and got the furthest I ever had with a novel (45k), but the deadline only worked because there was something in it for me. My brain doesn’t register work the way I want it too. I know, it sounds like an excuse because it is. I feel sick just thinking about the excuse I keep working with. I want to break this habit, only I just don’t know how.

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 29 2014 at 10:30 am #

      That’s rough, I’m so sorry. It almost sounds like maybe it’s a different issue for you. When I have trouble finishing a novel it’s usually due to a few things. 1. I don’t know how it ends, so I can’t write it and stall halfway through. Right after the midpoint is when the plot starts gearing up to the climax, and without knowing what that is…-splat-. 2. I have a premise novel but no actual plot, so I don’t know what to do with the story. It’s a cool idea, but there’s no character with a solid problem and a resolution to work toward driving it. It’s just people doing stuff, and again, it goes splat halfway through.

      If either of those feel like what you’re facing, you might try focusing on the core conflict of the novel. What is the one thing your protagonist has to do to resolve the problem? Why do they have to do it?

      I don’t know if you outline, you but might try doing an outline or a synopsis of the entire novel. If a scene doesn’t make you want to write it, cut it or change it. Keep messing with the outline until it’s all scene that make you excited to write.

      If you do outline and that’s sucking the fun out of the story, maybe try pantsing it. Pantsers often feel knowing how the story unfolds before they write it saps the fun and they don’t want to finish it. Maybe try just diving in and seeing where the story goes without a lot of planing.

      You could also try starting over with a brand new novel from scratch. Sometimes we get stuck on a draft and it’s so inherently flawed we can’t make it work. Approach the idea from a new perspective, or try something totally different.

      Hopefully one of those sparks something to help.

  6. Kaye Jan 29 2014 at 10:50 am #

    Thanks for this post, Janice. This sums up my 2013. I was working hard at an idea my CPs/friends DID like, but it wasn’t going the right way. It was sapping the energy out of me, and when one writer-friend on Twitter compared the book she shelved to an “abusive relationship,” I felt disheartened to agree. I ended up writing the first draft of another idea (which I am trying to finish up by the beginning of next month), and am hoping that now, I’ve cleaned out my mind and am ready to try and give this idea another go, because everyone and everything in me is telling me that it deserves the chance to be finished.

    I hope my brain is telling me the right thing.

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 30 2014 at 8:00 am #

      Trust your instincts. If you want to give the ms another go and feel good about it, go for it. But if it starts stealing your energy again, don’t be afraid to walk away. The idea might still be a good one, but maybe it’s just not the right time for you to write it.

      Good luck, and I hope the ms starts falling into place for you.

  7. mooderino Jan 29 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    I think we all have days when we get into this sort of funk, good to have some strategies to deal with it.

    mood

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 30 2014 at 8:01 am #

      Indeed. It’s also nice to know that it’s okay to just walk away and take a break when we need it.

  8. Hamed Jan 29 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    So…this… happens to every one?
    OK, one problem solved!
    This might sound weird but in such [recurrent] events I pick up my old Canon D500 and start taking photos. It changes everything.
    When I feel writing is no longer a joy but a job to be done, I take a break. Turn off the writing section of your brain and let rest for a while. Let it take a nap. It would recharge the batteries.

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 30 2014 at 8:03 am #

      I don’t know if it happens to everyone, but it’s common. I’s guess it happens to people in all creative fields as well.

      Photography’s a great way to keep things balanced. Creative, yet it uses a different part of the brain.

  9. Heather Jan 29 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    This is so timely. I’ve been in a writing funk for a couple of months. I’ve worked on revisions, but no new ideas. No new writing. I have been reading a lot. A whole lot. And I love it. Today I finished The Book Thief and oh my gosh is it amazing!!! I’ve always written fantasy, usually YA. So I want to try something new. I think contemporary, but I have no idea where to start or what story to write. So I’ll keep reading until I figure it out. Thanks, Janice!

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 30 2014 at 8:05 am #

      You might try reading a bunch of contemporary and see if anything sparks there. Get a feel for the genre and what type of story you might want to tell. You could even try looking at your fantasy plots and thinking about how you might make those into contemporary stories.

      The Book Thief is such a great book.

      Best of luck on finding the next story! You’ll get there.

  10. Erin Bowman
    Erin Bowman Jan 29 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    Janice, this is such a fantastic post! I, too, have hit patches where I *hate* writing. Usually it comes when I spend a long time revising the same ms over and over and over. (I have one WIP that is experiencing something very much like the story you mentioned at the beginning of this post.)

    I find time away from these stories can help recharge your love for them. I set it aside, work on a new piece for a few months, and revisit with a fresh eye. I think it’s near impossible to stay in love and intensely passionate about a project when it’s all you read for weeks on end.

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 30 2014 at 8:08 am #

      Thanks! I’ve always subscribed to the “take a break when needed” idea, but that didn’t help with this one. Though the next book I wrote did use the same theme, so I guess I found a way to take what I loved about that nightmare ms and turn it into something new.

  11. Julie Musil Jan 29 2014 at 6:15 pm #

    I’ve definitely gotten into funks before. Then I remind myself that this is a choice. No one is making me write. I can quit right now if I want. Once I think about quitting, that’s when I’m back in it. Taking breaks is key.

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 30 2014 at 8:09 am #

      Great reminder. This is indeed our choice, and we control it. Not every manuscript needs to be finished.

  12. Amy Schaefer Jan 29 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    Well, you’ve decided things for me. I’ve been inching towards the end of my WIP (after major plot restructurings), and I’m so tired of it right now. I know I only have maybe 4 – 5k words to finish, but I feel like if I do it now, I’ll just race through it so i can shout “THE END”, and therefore it will suck.

    My parents are in town for the next three weeks, so I am going to take a break. A real, actual break. When they are gone, I will finish the draft, put it in a drawer, work on something else, then go back to it with fresh eyes when I love it again in a few months and get it ready to send out.

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 30 2014 at 8:11 am #

      Good for you. I always have to rewrite my endings because I do exactly that and rush them. I think you’ll find that ending is much more fun after a few weeks away.

      Good luck with it!

  13. Anne R. Allen Jan 30 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    What a great post. I’ve gone through this a number of times and sometimes it led to depression. I think the advice to take a break from all of it–even reading in your genre–is great. I’ve also found that writing something completely different–like a poem or a song–can shake me out of it. (Your #4) Excellent advice.

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 31 2014 at 1:23 pm #

      Thanks Ann! It’s amazing how something we love so much can become something we hate. Stepping back and gaining some perspective certainly helps, even if it’s hard sometimes to know when to do that.

  14. Leanne Dyck Jan 30 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    I’d like to pretend I haven’t–but I have.
    The ace in my pocket is anything written by Stephen King–especially his book on the craft, On Writing. Something about his writing speaks to my muse and calls her out of hiding.
    Thank you for these helpful tips.

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Jan 31 2014 at 1:24 pm #

      I feel exactly the same way about Harlan Ellison. Whenever I get stuck, I read his work and then I’m (usually) jazzed to write again.

  15. Caitlin Vanasse Jan 31 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    What a great first post, Janice! I think you’ve said some really important things here, about giving ourselves permission to let things go or to try other things. Thanks so much.

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Feb 4 2014 at 4:03 pm #

      Thanks so much! Often we’re way too hard on ourselves when we should be giving ourselves a break 🙂 Sometimes we need an outsiders to say it’s okay.

  16. Alexa S. Feb 1 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    I really like your advice on what to do if writing is no longer fun! I’m particularly fond of the one that focuses on setting deadlines. Since I’m the type of person who likes working on a “schedule”, this will probably be my best solution as it will work with my brain’s natural impulse to meet a deadline and be willing to let go if I don’t. Thanks for sharing!

    • Janice Hardy
      Janice Hardy Feb 4 2014 at 4:05 pm #

      My pleasure. Different situations might need different options as well. On lazy days, a deadline can be the right motivator, while it might just add to the stress on other days. Good to mix and match as needed!

  17. Claire Caterer Feb 6 2014 at 9:31 am #

    Thanks for a wonderful post, Janice. For me, reading is the key to rediscovering an urge to write and an excitement in doing so. It’s what spurred me on to become a writer in the first place. Taking the pressure off by just enjoying fiction really helps. And I echo what you and others here have said: Try something else creative. Sketch. Take pictures. Visit an art museum. Schedule an “artist date” as outlined by Julia Cameron. Give yourself a break.

  18. Day Mar 15 2014 at 10:02 am #

    What great advice!

    I loved the shifter books. I have my masters in Reiki and these books with the energy healing were so cool. What an amazing concept, shift pain into an inanimate object! I love it! Maybe one day…

  19. Scotie Rainwater Nov 23 2015 at 2:34 am #

    Stop writing.

    Writing should be a hobby you’re able to make money off of. If it becomes unpleasant then stop writing.

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