Shouldn’t This Be…Fun?

Quoth Not Having Fun: A lot of the time, I find the act of writing to be pretty much agonizing. I mean, not like “severe acid burn” agonizing, but at least unpleasant enough to make me not want to do it. I know we’re all told that good things are difficult and work is work, but shouldn’t writing be…more fun than this?

As a person who hasn’t felt like writing this site in over a month, I feel your question all the way to my lazy, duplicitous heart that prefers napping to artistic expression.

I distrust writers who claim to love 100% of their working process, largely because anybody that happy about anything is clearly delusional. I distrust them, but I also envy them for the same reason I envy those animal people in the Richard Scarry books, just showing the fuck up to their jobs all cheerful and shit.

I’m guessing Sergeant Murphy here isn’t on his way to bag and tag a torso in the farmer’s field.

On the other hand, I also distrust (and pity) writers who claim to hate most of their writing process, or who brag that they like “having written” more than writing, or who crow that old canard about cutting open a vein to bleed on their typewriters. They remind me of the blowhards in the office who work on Sundays pretending to save the world.

If I had to guess at a healthy percentage of enthusiasm versus despair in writing, I’d guess that anything less than 70%/30% is edging into the territory where it’s tempting to ask just why the fuck you’re doing it.

You really have two basic options for why you’re writing:

  • You’re doing it BECAUSE you genuinely enjoy the act of writing (playing with language, performing characters, capturing vision and experience), but you’re just stuck on this particular work or in a generalized funk of depression.

OR

  • You’re doing it DESPITE hating writing because the result you are working toward (sharing a vision with the world, telling a hard-won truth, awakening the proletariat) usually makes that hatred worth enduring. Except right now.

In both cases, the issue is often that you have lost contact with why you want to write in GENERAL, or why you want to write this SPECIFIC thing.

Here are two refocusing exercises that I do sometimes to remember what I’m writing for.

Why Are You Writing at All?

  • Think back to when you first had an interest in writing, back when it was “fun.” What made it fun? What were the pleasures you found in it? What reasons brought you back to the page?
  • Find three to five of your OWN favorite works. What did you enjoy about writing each one? What drew you through when they got tricky?
  • What can you do differently to make your work these days more enjoyable? What do you need to remind yourself of each time you write? What do you need to forget or ignore?
  • Are you overly fixated on your slim odds of success in writing? Welcome to the club. Those odds aren’t going to go up by hating it.  

Why Are You Writing This Thing?

Consider the project you’re working on.

  • What drew you to write it in the first place?
  • What does it have in common with some other work that you love? Does it share a style, a setting, a voice, a genre, a structure with something else? Are you experimenting with that?  
  • Who do you want to read and enjoy it (or at least find it provocative)? What feeling do you want to evoke in them?
  • Will it have some impact in the world? Does that matter to you?

(I hasten to point out that the answers to these questions do NOT have to be artistic or noble in any way. You can say, “I want people to laugh so hard at my story that they shit their pants” or “I’m in this to get laid and paid, either order,” and that’s wonderful. Have at it.)

The issue, Not Having Fun, isn’t that writing (like all human effort) can’t always be a frolic in the fields. The issue is that you’re NOTICING and DWELLING on it right now. You’re letting outside factors like fear and doubt and economics overwhelm the tiny spark that got you started in the first place.

Most of writing is a cultivated delusion that your work will matter to someone. If all else fails, you can at least do your best to make sure it matters to you by either enjoying the act or enjoying the possible result.