Writing Wednesday: When It Feels Like Work
By Kara Newcastle
Writing really shouldn’t feel like work; writing should be an outlet, something relaxing, something that stimulates your creativity and your joy. When writing feels like work … well, then you’ve got a problem. If you’re starting to dread writing because it feels like too much of an effort, but you’re not sure why, take a look at the list below and see if any (or all) of these descriptions fit you.
- You’re not writing for yourself: First off, and I’ve said this before, always write for yourself first. Once you start thinking that you have to write for a particular audience, your focus shifts from creating to pleasing, and you will burn yourself out with worrying that your imaginary reader—somebody vague and, in all likelihood, doesn’t even exist—will hate your story and badmouth you all over Goodreads. Once you start thinking about pleasing that reader, that critic, your fifth grade English teacher, your great-great-great-aunt, nothing you write will ever be good enough. Don’t imagine any audience. Think, “I’m going to write what I want to write. To hell with all the readers,” and then just write! Write what you Go back and make fixes when you’re ready to present to the world. Trust me, I’ve been there, and you’ll notice that when you write for yourself the quality of your work is so much better.
- You’re too hard on yourself: If you write thinking that you’re Hemingway, and then reread your stuff and feel like you sound more like a two-bit Dr. Seuss, then you’re being too hard on yourself. Getting angry that your writing isn’t as good as you want it to be only adds to your stress and takes the enjoyment out of writing. Be honest with yourself. Find the parts that you like and tell yourself you did a good job. Go back and tweak the parts you don’t like later on. Understand that writing is a process that improves with time. Remember that you are you—you’re not Hemingway, Salinger, Oates or anybody else, and nor should you be.
- You’ve got too much going on: There are too many things going on in your life that are affecting your focus on your writing. You might think that you’ve put all those problems and stresses aside to work, but they’re probably bouncing around somewhere in the back of your head, making you too unconsciously tense and distracted. You might even feel a little guilty that you’re trying to write when there are problems, issues, concerns, annoyances to be addressed. Stop writing for a bit and take care of what you can accomplish at that moment. Don’t get distracted by insignificant tasks like dusting—those can wait. Do make that phone call to the doctor you’ve been putting off.
- You’re tired: Didn’t sleep well? Worn out from work? Jet lagged? Allergy medicine knocking you on your ass? Exhaustion can make anything seem like a monumental task, and if you’re consistently overtired when you’re trying to write, it’s going to be so much more difficult to get anything done. Stop writing, take a nap, go to bed, slam down a V8 Energy, veg out for a while until you’ve got your oomph back.
- You have writer’s block: ARGH, THE FORBIDDEN PHRASE!!! THE DREADED ANTITHESIS OF THE MUSE!!! THE SLAYER OF HOPE, JOY, AND CREATIVITY!!! NO, I AM NOT EXAGGERATING!!! If you’re any kind of a writer, at some point you will get stuck. You’ll get hung up on a plot point, a character motivation, how to phrase a sentence or scene … hell, you might just have no idea of what to do next. When you’re stuck, you’re frustrated, when you’re frustrated, you’re angry, and when you’re angry, nothing’s fun anymore and it starts feeling like work. I’ll write some blogs on writer’s block in the near future, but in the meantime, if you find yourself blocked, try taking a break for a bit, skipping ahead to another scene, or try working on another story for a while. My husband likens writer’s block to mental constipation and recommends eating a dictionary to cure it. He says it’s chock full of wordy fiber. If you try it, let me know how it goes.
- You’re sick of the story: It happens; you started out on what was supposed to be a great story, and it’s just not living up to your expectations. Rather than killing yourself trying to get it done, tell yourself that it’s okay to put it aside or even give up on it entirely. You can always go back and rewrite it. You might even be able to salvage some scenes to use in other projects. Just understand that there’s no shame in saying “Screw it” to a bad story.
- You’re discouraged: You’ve submitted twenty stories, and two-thirds of them came back with rejection letters and the remaining third haven’t even been looked at yet. The story you posted on Wattpad/Fanfiction.net/A03/wherever isn’t getting read. Maybe those stories are being read but no one is posting a review or, worse yet, the reviews are horrible. Maybe you gave out copies of your book to several friends and relatives over two years ago and nobody has bothered to read them yet … not that I speak from experience (EXTREME sarcasm.) You start feeling that because you can attract any interest to your stories, then you mustn’t be that great of a writer, so that takes your passion away and makes writing feel like a chore. This is all painful stuff that every writer goes through, and the best advice I have for you is to just keep trying. Do your best to ignore the sting of rejection and work at both improving and promoting yourself. It does get better over time.
- Your feelings are hurt: I really hope that anybody reading this will fall into the minority of this instance, but, unfortunately for the rest of us, there is likely at least one person in your life that is going to say something about your writing that will cut you to the core. Sometimes it’s a stranger, but frequently it’s person you know well and trust, like a parent, relative, friend or even a writing instructor, More often than not, these people think they’re being helpful, but they come out saying really dumbass things, like, “This is good, but you’re not seriously thinking about doing this for a living, right?,” to “There’s no way you can compete with somebody like JK Rowling,” or even, “This is so bad.” With all that negativity weighing down on you, it makes perfect sense that writing would become so much more of an effort to do. Don’t let their stupidity derail you, even if you feel that their opinion is extremely important. Many an accomplished writer (such as JK Rowling) had people in their lives that they loved and respected tell them that they had no future, but they forged on ahead and became wildly successful.
- It feels like work because you’re making it feel like work: Want to know the secret to utterly killing all desire and happiness for your writing? Start treating it like a job! Seriously, if you approach your writing like it’s a job that you’re dependent on for survival, then you’ll worry too much and all your energy and passion will fly right out the damned window. Don’t think about putting in a set number of hours, or how you have to satisfy somebody, or how this has to be good enough for Oprah to pick because if she doesn’t pick it well then you might as well give up now because you’ll never have a career as a novelist and you might as well be living in a refrigerator box downtown because you won’t have a book deal so you’ll never be able to make it on your own and, and, and … Aaaaaagggh! Stop it! That’s not how writing works—that’s not how any kind of art works! You don’t create art for the money, you create art for the sake of creating art. Don’t approach it the same way you drag yourself to your regular job because you’ll just make yourself utterly miserable. Enjoy it. Treat it as a release and a reward. You’ll feel so much better about it, trust me.
Now get back to writing.