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?