It’s interesting to look back through time at the ranks of famous authors and to realize how many of them have experienced less than fulfilling lives and even tragic ends. Writing ain’t for sissies. To be worth its salt, writing has to be a lifestyle (note that lifestyle and vocation aren’t necessarily the same thing), and as a lifestyle it is often a wild ride of super highs and extreme lows and a lot of mixed-up stuff in between. Unfortunately, it too often becomes our habit to direct too much of our focus to the negative side of the coin.
I consider myself a generally optimistic person, but even optimism gives way to plunging depression in the face of criticism and self-doubt. Good reviews don’t stay with me anywhere near as long as the bad reviews, or even the constructive criticism. I may need a minute or two to shrink my head back to size after a compliment, but it can take me weeks to scrape my annihilated ego up off the floor after a less-than-favorable comment. The good days—the days where everything I write seems gilded—become almost nonexistent during those days when I find myself slogging through a sea of two-dimensional characters, flat dialogue, choppy subplots, and that ever-blinking cursor.
Sometimes even finding the time to look at that blinking cursor can be a herculean challenge. Few of us have the luxury of writing full time, and even those who do must fight the pressures of family, friends, and outside interests. Non-writers often don’t comprehend our needs and our dreams. They simplify our endeavors or brush them off. We don’t always get the support we think we need, and our lone-wolf mentalities can often make us feel like freaks and outsiders. In our frustration, it’s easy pull the plug on the computer, to blame others for our lack of progress, or to simply feel sorry for ourselves when our writing consistently ends up at the lonely tail end of our to-do list.
Anybody depressed yet? If you are, may I recommend throwing up your hands and giving up completely? After all, with all these odds stacked against us, why bother? A lifestyle with so many things to complain about really isn’t worth pursuing. Maybe we should just all go on strike.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s time to embrace the ecstasy of writing and remember what’s it like to write with joy. After all, it isn’t like anyone is forcing us into this lifestyle. We don’t have to write; we get to write. It’s a privilege, an honor, a gift. Sometimes it’s too easy to forget that. Most of us write because we have some indefinable something running inside of us, demanding it be allowed to express itself. But don’t we also write because we love it? Because when we hit those high moments—when we’re sailing along with our characters on the peaks of emotion, hammering down perfect one-liners and nailing plot points—it’s all worth it?
Those low moments certainly have their place in the artistic experience (can there even be a high without a low?), but it’s important to spend as much time as we can celebrating our writing. Some days sitting at the computer may be nothing but drudgery, but it beats digging fence posts and doing dishes any day of the week. As much as possible, we need to abandon the fear and the frustration, the depression and the doubt. Banish all these little demons to the back closet and lock the door on them. Don’t complain about the hardships of the writing life—rejoice in the challenges.
The day you can’t find anything to rejoice about is probably the day you should burn your manuscripts and move on to selling vacuum cleaners. The world isn’t going to implode if we stop writing. In fact, it might be better off without the work of a writer who is no longer in love with his writing.
Teach yourself to write with joy. Focus on the thrill of discovering the germ of a new story idea. Bask in the energy of characters who live and breathe on the page. Throw yourself a major party on the completion of every novel. Let yourself believe every word you write is perfect (for a few minutes anyway). The bad days will come. They always do. And, granted, sometimes it seems like they will never leave. But we cannot allow the bad days to rob us of the gift we have been given.
We are writers. We are allowed to see the world in a way few others do. Fulfillment is ours for the taking, if only we can disperse the joy-killing demons that lurk beneath our desks. This week, try focusing on the positive. Delight in every minuscule detail, from the click of the keys beneath your fingers to the sharp, clean smell of that new ream of paper you’ve just broken out. Write with joy.