How to Rediscover the Joy of Writing

It’s something of an irony that most of us come to writing because we love it—and, yet, it’s actually really freaking hard. Only somewhat tongue in cheek, I will often advise that if “you can not be a writer, then don’t.” And yet it is abundantly clear that more humans than not need to write. (And my more truthful advice is “everyone should write.”) But what happens when you lose the joy? Is there a way you can learn how to rediscover the joy of writing you experienced way back at the beginning of your journey?

Here’s the thing: we may initially come to writing because it brings us joy, but I think we tend to keep writing as a search for joy. Whether we’re writing purely for entertainment and escape or as an attempt to explore and make sense of the human experience, writing is one of our most powerful tools for healing, growth, and transformation. This means that, by its very nature, writing is a journey of change. If we start the scene with joy, we can know we will eventually arc into disillusionment, frustration, and perhaps even sorrow. But if we keep writing, we can also be assured we will arc back into joy.

Over the last few years, I have been sharing the occasional post from behind the scenes of some bumpy moments in my own writing life. I have arced through all of the above emotions, all the way down into the despair that perhaps writing was done with me and I was done with it. But I stayed with it and am quite happy to report that, yes, I learned how to rediscover the joy of writing.

Recently, I received several emails on this subject, asking that I comment on the need to learn how to rediscover the joy of writing and to offer any insights from my own journey down this road. One email was from long-time reader Joseph Merboth, who eloquently expressed a disillusionment with writing that I think many writers experience at one point or another (and who graciously allowed me to share his words):

This is perhaps too specific a question or too personal to my life. But I also know that you believe writing reflects life and vice versa, so maybe the answer lies somewhere in between.

For the past 7 years I’ve relentlessly pursued writing, but now I’m questioning everything. Do I want to be a writer, or do I just want the freedom to create at-will and not work a normal job? Do I love storytelling or am I just geeking out about the mechanics? Am I creating from a sense of joy or of duty?

One problem is that I never had an infatuation period. I was a latecomer to the party (relatively speaking), so there are no early memories of terrible novel attempts to look back on fondly. My love comes from reading, and somewhere along the way I realized I didn’t want to just consume anymore. This led to me studying the craft, which was thrilling at first as I uncovered a complex world of symbolism and rules and rule-breaking. But it has also served to disenchant my reading. I’m no longer in awe when I read a good book; I’m either self-satisfied because I know how it works or I’m lost in analysis.

If I’m being honest, each day of writing is a chore. That’s to be expected at first, but seems like a bad sign 7 years on. I think I’ve also lost sight of my ambitions. I used to write with a desire to change lives, to be an inspiration and bring hope. Ah, the naïvety. I’ve grown cynical in the last few years (something you might relate to), and that calls into question why I’m doing this at all.

Is it possible to rediscover the joy? How do you put your heart into it when you’re writing out of obedience to your schedule, your self-expectations, or your flimsy sense of purpose?

If you can’t identify with any of this, feel free to ignore my email. I just thought there was a chance you’d worked through some of the same questions yourself.

Sorry to be a downer! Your blog posts have had a new vitality lately, so I’m hoping that means you’re moving onward and upward.

Today, I want to share a few of my thoughts on the topic of learning how to rediscover the joy of writing. I can’t speak to a universal experience for all writers, but I can speak to my own experience, in hope it may provide context for others who are struggling through some of the more difficult phases of the journey.

Are You Transforming? (Or, The Stages of the Writing Life)

The first thing I would emphasize is that the writing life is a journey. It is a not a straight line to the horizon; it is not a one-size-fits-all container that holds the same experience for every one of us. In fact, if you’re pursuing writing with any degree of honesty and integrity, it is sure to be a highly personalized, often challenging, sometimes volatile quest into the unexplored regions of yourself and human consciousness. This is true not just in regards to what you write, but also in how you relate to the act of writing, your sense of purpose, and your relationship to discipline.

No surprise that one of the most intuitive models through which to view the writing life is story structure. Story structure is nothing if not a map to the full panoply of human emotions. Sometimes there’s joy, of course, but there’s a lot of suffering too. There’s a lot of doubt. There’s a Dark Night of the Soul, for crying out loud.

My own experience has shown me that, like most aspects of life, writing goes through phases or cycles (call them “acts” if you want). I read somewhere that three- and seven-year cycles are seen as important in personal transformations and spiritual awakening. I personally resonate with this. The current phase in which I find myself began seven years ago, and I now reach what certainly seems to be a resolution of sorts.

Early on in that cycle, I wrote the post “When Does Writing Get Easier? The 4 Steps to Mastery,” in which I talked specifically about the Arab proverb that says:

Arabic Proverb

At the time I wrote that post, I felt I had experienced all four stages. I wrote that I had reached:

…a very interesting new mountain peak. Frankly, it’s a mountain peak I didn’t know existed. No one ever told me it existed (or, if they did, I laughed at the whole idea and promptly forgot about it). But I’m here to encourage you that it does exist, and it’s name is: The Place Where Writing Gets Easier Because You Actually Get It.

I wrote that with some trepidation, since the acknowledgement seemed to baiting life to come slap me upside the head with the “next” thing. And, boy howdy, it did. Within a year, thanks to a potent cocktail of life experiences, I was struggling to write at all. A year later, I had to admit I was suffering heavy-duty writer’s block.

Not a lot of joy in that period, I gotta tell you. But here’s the thing about cycles: they don’t just repeat, they spiral. If you stay faithful to what the experience is able to teach you in the moment, you will not only advance out of the difficulties of the moment, you will also level up. When you regain the joy of writing, you will find not simply the same old joy that brought you to writing in the first place, but a deeper and more meaningful joy. A hard-won joy.

Why Are You Writing? (Or, The Golden Thread)

When we are struggling in one of the ebb periods of the writing life, a relatably common thought is, “What’s the point?” If you’re not enjoying it, if you’re not receiving all the results you’re looking for, then why keep doing this?

This is not a rhetorical question. Maybe the truth of your journey is to push through, to keep going, and to spiral up to that new level of the joy of writing. But maybe it’s not. Maybe writing has taught you what it’s meant to teach you at this point, and it is time for you to listen to a deeper wisdom and journey on to the next phase of your personal journey.

Creating Character Arcs (Amazon affiliate link)

Indeed, as the crisis points in story structure and character arc show us, these low moments in life are designed to trigger exactly this kind of soul-searching. At the end of the day, the question of “rediscovering joy” isn’t really about writing at all; it’s about life. And, straight up, writing is not the be-all-end-all of that path for every single person who decides to walk upon it for a time.

There is no shame in that. Showing rigorous integrity in being honest about your own reasons and motives for anything is one of the highest callings of being a human.

So ask yourself: “What’s your golden thread?”

Why did you come to writing in the first place? What has kept you writing all this time? And… is it still true?

Many of us come to writing in a haze of idealism. We’re going to make the world a better place. Or maybe just create an awesome lifestyle for ourselves.

Idealism is important. I believe in idealism. I identify as an idealist. But ideals, by themselves, can’t light the dark when the going gets tough. Per shadow theory, when idealism is overemphasized, cynicism is likely lurking in the shadow. That doesn’t mean the idealism wasn’t true, but if it’s to offer accurate guidance, it must first be integrated with all the other truths of one’s self.

One of the reasons writers—especially highly disciplined writers—may be disillusioned is that we can mistake the form of things for the truth of things. This can happen when we do all the “right” things, all the things we would do were we indeed motivated by true passion, wonder, and joy, only to eventually burn out and discover that we have been, instead, simply running on the motivation of “doing it right.” Although putting in that level of work and discipline will always pay off in some areas, if those actions are cut off from our true heart, things will eventually feel flat at a certain point.

However, just because we are more accustomed to referencing “the way to do it” versus “what my heart says,” this does not mean that, when we get in touch with our heart, it won’t indeed want the writing life after all. But (and here’s something I took the long road to learning), it doesn’t count until you actually get into the habit of asking your heart and listening to it.

This is a whole journey of its own, one that for many people who run highly-disciplined personality patterns, often involves the invitation to deep self-work and discovery.

Are You Really a Writer? (Or, Identities vs. Desires)

The process of identifying your golden thread can often lead you to the realization that many of your reasons and motives for writing may have more to do with “identities” than “desires.” This is most obviously true in that many of us are deeply identified with being “a writer.” If we were to stop writing, that identity would no longer fit—and that, in itself, can bring up ego resistance from primal places that actually have little or nothing to do with our deepest desires and truths.

Beyond the identity of “writer,” however, we must also examine broader and less obvious identities such as simply “hard worker” or “intelligent analyzer.” Although identities like these often point to personality traits that are incredibly useful and valuable, preserving these identities is not, in itself, a worthy motive. When you wake up one day and realize the only reason you’re writing is because “you’re supposed to,” you suddenly comprehend why writing doesn’t seem joyful anymore.

Another identity to examine is that of “published writer.” Many people grow frustrated with the writing journey when they are unable to access the level of results they feel is necessary to justify their efforts. Perhaps they want to be published, perhaps they want to sell a certain number of books, perhaps they want to make a certain amount of money. When it doesn’t happen, it feels like a cheat, and cynicism moves in to fill the gap.

You have to ask yourself: “Is this really why I’m writing?”

And maybe it is. Maybe you are very clear that the reason you’re writing is because you want it to be a job and pay for itself. When it fails to do that, your truth may well be that it’s time to move on. (And by the way, even if you’re totally in alignment with moving on, you still have every right to grieve the disappointment and the transition on your way to, hopefully, celebrating the lessons.)

If you can acknowledge that material results are not your true motivation for writing, then returning to those deeper reasons, over and over again, can help you focus even in the darkness. Ultimately, this is a process of reclaiming wonder. It is returning to “beginner’s mind.” When we have reached the proverb’s fourth stage—in which “we know that we know”—it is indicative that the cycle is beginning again and we are in fact once more at the first stage—in which “we know not that we know not.”

After we have spent so much time and effort studying and perfecting our understanding of the techniques and theories of our craft, it is common enough to reach a feeling of burnout. It is worthwhile to celebrate our discipline and our accomplishment in how much we have learned. But when we notice our own self-satisfaction or a tendency to over-analyze, that can be turned into a call to return to humility and the recognition that the more we think we know, the less we do.

Therein lies the return to wonder—to innocence. Yes, we still know what we know, but all that allows is for us to stop asking the same old questions—and find new ones. And I’ll be straight: that ain’t easy. Your reward (and I use that word with sincerity) for reaching the mountaintop of knowledge and accomplishment is to realize, Honey, you don’t know nothin.’ If you can identify with that, it becomes much easier to let the path take you where it will.

What Is Joy Anyway? (Or, Embodied Joy)

And now, a word on joy itself.

Apart from the mind games we like to play with ourselves and the potentialities for ego evolution, as discussed so far, there is also the little fact that joy absolutely can be lost. And reclaiming it is not as simple as adjusting our mindsets and talking ourselves back into happiness and acceptance.

Joy is a physiological experience. This means that when your body has habituated itself out of joy, getting it back isn’t always a simple proposition.

I do not view joy (or love) as an emotion, but rather as a state of being. This means it is something we can train our bodies to access even when circumstances are not conducive. There are many ways to go about this, and the true journey of somatic reprogramming is far beyond the scope of this post. But I will mention again a little daily practice I do that has initiated long-lasting and life-changing effects for myself. Whether or not you currently find yourself struggling to learn how to rediscover the joy of writing, this is a practice that can deepen your connection with your golden thread—with the truth of how you find and foster meaning in your life.

It’s simply this: While sitting calmly in a relaxed state, close your eyes. Call joy into your body. If this isn’t immediately accessible, try imagining or remembering a time when you felt strong joy. Now, notice where you feel it in your physical body. (For me, it shoots up my spine to the top of my head.) Once you can identify how your body experiences joy, practice accessing this feeling at least once a day. A continued practice will allow you to eventually grow the ability to physically access joy whenever you want. The more you develop this skill, the more powerfully you can wield it.

The One Thing I Would Tell Little Writer K.M.W.

I’ve been imagining stories all my life—since my earliest memory. I started writing when I was twelve. I began with nothing but joy and wonder and curiosity, knowing nothing and not even knowing I knew nothing and not caring.

Later on, I started journeying through the well-mapped territories of writing techniques and theories, where I had only to look to the expertise of those who had gone before to guide me.

But eventually, I ran out of map. In order to keep going, I had to walk right off the edge of the known earth and face the dragons for myself.

And out there, in the frontiers, things got confusing. They got scary. There were days when the joy went out of the writing altogether. There were many, many questions—because without the joy, surely it meant I must be doing something wrong.

There were days when I couldn’t always see my golden thread. Then I’d find it again, shining in the shadows. And eventually, in front of me, there was a whole new horizon of light.

And, now? Now, there are days when writing is a slog; days when it is bliss. In other words: back to normal.

All these years later, if I could go back to the side of my very young self—as she was telling herself stories in a treehouse just for fun—would I give her any advice that might make the journey easier? That might ensure she never had to go through all that trouble of losing the joy for a time? Would I tell her not to work so hard, not to burn herself out, and to be so very, very careful never to lose the wonder?

No. I don’t think I’d tell her any of that. I think the only thing I would whisper in her sweet ear is:

“The art isn’t what you’re writing. It’s what you’re living. The story isn’t what’s on paper. It’s your life.”

Without doubt, joy is one of the most important experiences of life. But it’s not the only one. If ever you feel you’ve lost the joy of writing for a time, don’t think of that as an answer to some cosmic question about whether or not you’re destined to be a writer. Rather, I invite you to think of it as an inquiry. What is its absence here to teach you? In my experience, it is only in submitting as a student that we can truly learn how to rediscover the joy of writing.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions? What are your thoughts on how to rediscover the joy of writing? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this deep and thoughtful post. It’s rare to read deep soul-searching topics from a writer who has been writing for years.

  2. Much of what has been expressed here has entered my mind from time to time. What is joy? How substantial is identity, and can we hold on to our identities and stay happy?
    Some years ago I read about American and Chinese perspectives on saving money. Americans would spend much of their earnings on luxuries, keeping the economy afloat, while Chinese would save as much money as possible, satisfied that they would survive the next disaster.
    In the same way, we fill our pages with words. We can share them, baring ourselves to the criticism of others and tempering (or sometimes damaging) our identities, or we can keep them to ourselves, dissolving our identities when we face a crisis and starting again.
    I admire seeing these depths in your post, KM.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have always said that writing is about balance–in so many respects. But really that’s just life. There is no perfect road. There is just the road. No perfect choice, just the act of choosing–and learning from where it takes us.

  3. This post came at a perfect time for me. I’ve been on a rather long journey at this point, trying to get back into a regular routine after several years of struggle and then a year of no writing. The joy has been gone for a long time, with only a few flashes here and there to keep me chasing after it. I keep asking myself if I really want to write. Deep down I know the answer is a firm yes, which then leads to the question of what do I want to write and, for me the most troublesome question of all, what do I want to do with my writing when it’s finished. That last question I wrestle with nearly every time I sit down to write, and I’m not sure when I’ll figure it out, so this post was encouraging to me. Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah, so familiar. I could easily have written all of these words myself. For me, the most frustrating part of the long years was, as you say not being “sure when I’ll figure it out.” Sometimes it’s less the struggle of the journey that is so difficult and more just the fact that you’re not sure *where* you are on the path. Context makes everything manageable. When it’s not available (as it often isn’t when we are trekking through uncharted territory), the only we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and trusting that eventually it will get us out the other side.

  4. I’ve been burned out for a while. I’ve continued writing, but it has felt like drudgery. I’m finding it hard to concentrate on my WIP. You made me think about what I’m doing differently, and one of those things was that I used to do my story structure and scene questions on notebook paper. I’ve been trying to do everything digitally.
    Because of this post, I just grabbed a three-ring binder and some notebook paper and will play with my story for a while—sketching pictures and drawing maps. I used to have fun doing that—just daydreaming on paper. I don’t think that’s exactly what you had in mind, but it sounds fun to me, and I haven’t had much fun in a while.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I love writing longhand in a notebook. I still do my outlines that way. My efficient brain always argues it’s a waste of time, since I just end up having to transcribe everything. But my creative brain thrives on the tactile, unplugged experience.

      • Whenever I write longhand (which I really should do more often as I find I’m more productive that way), I use it as a first draft. When I type it up on the computer I wind up editing as I go so it’s not just double work.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Totally. I only do outlines longhand, so they’re rough anyway, but I use it as a time to refresh myself and organize my notes.

  5. Thank you for the very meaningful article. I’ve lost the joy in writing. One your readers wrote: “I used to write with a desire to change lives, to be an inspiration and bring hope. Ah, the naïvety. I’ve grown cynical in the last few years (something you might relate to), and that calls into question why I’m doing this at all.” That describes my situation.
    I wrote a memoir about my recovery from PTSD. Insights from writing the book were very impactful for me. The experience of writing it was almost like I was in a different, very productive mindset–a zone. I had idealist hopes that it would be gobbled up by therapists, educators and victims. I gave 100 copies to friends and family and immediately got feedback from them that it was such a great book (of course, they’d say that).
    After spending $1,000s on editors and book marketers, I’ve sold only 200 copies in the first year. So I am lost in some cynicism and self-pity. Why write if no one is going to read it?
    I am accepting that I am not a writer by nature. I haven’t been driven to write and would be miserable if I didn’t write. I’m probably more of a romantic “change agent” who just needs to be more realistic, as I mature into Phase 4 of your diagram.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That is frustrating–to have a message you feel so passionate about and not yet be able to find the audience who can be touched by it. For what it’s worth, I personally believe that simply the act of writing is life-changing, and if the writing of it changed you and impacted your life, then it cannot help but also, by extension of your life’s impact on others, have a wider ripple effect than you might think. That isn’t necessarily comforting when what you want is to sell the *book*, but there is a deeper value in everything we choose to do.

      You might find this post encouraging: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/why-everyone-should-write-even-if-you-think-you-stink/

  6. Joseph Merboth’s initial post and your follow up speaks volumes to where I’m at in the present moment. I relate to his comments – I’ve been writing for the past 10 years after retirement. Writing has taken me down avenues I never knew existed, opened scenarios pulled from thin air but here I am doubting everything I’ve written. I felt that my writing – like Merboth did – was to “change lives” or in my case, be impactful in a deep sense through soul search and enlightenment of spirit. Going through the second edit of my manuscript and today I asked “should I just burn it all in the burn pile?” Man, I wrote some beautiful prose, shown humans at their lowest points, the emotions I shared and cried over. It takes so much energy to collect all this mountain of paper to burn – maybe I’ll hold off for a day or two. Thanks for this posting, I really needed it today – there’s a welcome light rain, perhaps will clear the dust.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      My unsolicited opinion, for what it’s worth: don’t burn it. On the one hand, you can’t ever truly burn it, since you’ve already brought it into existence. But on the other, if some part of you still believes it is beautiful and you can still tap the emotions it evoked within *you*, then that indicates to me a piece of worth, no matter where it goes from here.

  7. Even for one so jaded as I am this is an excellent article. I think most writers have been here or there, but it will or should resonate with all. Great article, Thanks.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Honestly, I think the greater our passion for something, the more likely we are to doubt it sometimes.

  8. Chris Moore says

    Those last few paragraphs whispered in my old ears … and I am weeping. Thank you, Katie.

  9. I recently re-read a favorite book, and re-discovered my joy of writing and of stories. It was storytelling that didn’t always follow the ‘rules’, and reminded me to let go and have fun. That’s why I write. And it’s been a journey, and will continue to be one. We all relate to J. M.’s moment in the journey. It’s important to sometimes stop and check on our perspective.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Perspective is everything. The more we explore our perspectives–and where they come from–the more flexible they become. We invest so much in certain perspectives sometimes, only to reach an epiphany that allows us to step back and realize that letting go and looking from a different angle changes the view entirely.

  10. This post was quite timely for me as I have been in a joyless bout for a couple of years. Thank you for your wisdom and insight. I feel a bit lighter after reading this.

    Lot of love and light!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sorry to hear that. I wish you strength for the journey! It can seem so difficult and dispiriting at times, but my heartfelt wish for you is that you don’t miss out on a moment of it–because there is so much gold and glory on that path as well.

  11. A great column, K.M. I too have lost the joy of writing, though for a different reason than you address here.

    I’ve published several mystery novels over the years, traditionally and independently, along with a few short stories. But I’ve stalled as to whether I want to continue.

    The reason I’ve stalled is not because I’ve lost the joy of writing. I still love creating stories: coming up with ideas, brainstorming characters and plots, and the writing and editing. I still feel a frisson when I write a good scene or wrestle with a sticky plot issue and pin it.

    My issue is that I’ve never truly discovered the joy of being read. Let me explain.

    After decades of writing, I’ve never developed a fan base. And despite a more concerted effort over the last few years to market my books (the supposed gold standard of a newsletter, a good website, and more active social media efforts), the growth of readers has been paltry. Friends and family and a small number of strangers.

    Several factors might explain this: I write terrible books or books that sound boring (which I don’t believe, judging from reviews, awards, and readers who express shock I don’t have a wider audience); I’m a terrible marketer (not from lack of trying); or I write good mysteries that simply get lost in the sea of books (which, I’m sure, happens to the majority of published writers).

    My point here is less the cause of poor sales as the phrase you wrote in a different context—“What’s the point?” In short, my writing has decayed into a hobby, not a profession. Hobbies don’t involve others, only yourself. Writing novels as a hobby is the equivalent of spending hundreds of hours creating a finished novel and then immediately putting it away in a drawer because you know few people will read it. But at least you experienced the joy of creating it. No different than stamp collecting or playing golf (assuming you’re not on the pro circuit).

    Several people I’ve talked with about this issue (writers and readers) say, well, you find joy in writing, so keep writing. I’m tempted. But I write not only for the joy of creating stories but the joy of people reading my stories. If there are few few readers at the other end, What’s The Point?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have always said I would keep writing (writer’s block aside) even if I was sure no one would ever read me. That’s my truth. But it’s an equally valid and totally understandable truth if writing is only worthwhile if you’re able to share what you’re writing. Getting super clear on our motivations is always valuable. It doesn’t mean we always get what we want (far from it sometimes), but it does at least ensure we can make our most aligned decisions based the on the circumstances we’re faced with.

    • I would suggest you chose the book you think is your best, then make the eBook permanently free. You can do this by taking it out of Kindle unlimited and submitting it to Draft2Digital, which will put it onto at least Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo. Once it is available, send the links into KDP and request a price match.
      Once your book is free on Amazon, promote it through some sites that do free promotion. If you can get many readers on one book, some of them will buy the others.
      I have several free books, because I often get the feedback that “everyone needs to read this book,” which instills a sense in me that price should not be an impediment. I have reached over twenty thousand readers on Amazon, mostly through free ebooks. I put an add in the books with a way to donate, but few do.
      If the point is to reach readers, making a book free will attract more. And it is like giving a free sample to build trust that your product is good. My goal is more to reach readers, but making your best book free should also generate more sales of your other books, as well.
      Just something to try. Good luck.

      • I understand giving away say the first book in a series, but I remain dubious of giving away standalones. I have a reader magnet I give away for people to join my newsletter, but my overall sense is that many readers scoop up many many giveaways, so many they never begin to read most of them. If 20,000 free books results in 20,000 readers, that would be great. Some of that would lead to sales for the author’s other books, and many may not, but at least people would be reading the author’s work. But I’d wager that only a small small percentage actually read the free book because it’s competing with all the other free books they’ve grabbed. I have free books in my iPad, and some I’ve read, but most I’ve not. It’s long been argued that people who buy a book are more likely to read it. The same argument is made for pricing books so cheaply that it suggests the book is cheap.

  12. I was asked once if I had any advice for aspiring writers. I answered, “Stop aspiring and start writing!”

    But I also said, “If you must, write, but if you can do anything else, do that. Only write if you can’t imagine not writing.”

    For me, writing is not an aspiration; it is a need. It is composing a note, placing it in a bottle and casting it into the sea—a desperate attempt to communicate something that needs to be said, and a hope that the message will be received. Off into the deep water they drift, seeking that great catch.

    But as the Bible says, “All is vanity and a chase after wind.” And so, too, is writing. But once in a while, the sails catch the wind and push the boat onward. And, that makes for a good day.

    The sands of time are endless and deep. And on them lie a few bottles with notes of my making. And that, at least, is something.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You raise an important point here which is the willingness to create with absolute commitment–and then let it go. Although goals and metrics are important, especially in a business context, releasing the need for expectation or attachment to outcome not only liberates us from the emotion of the moment but also frees up energy for the next creative pursuit.

  13. Joseph Merboth says

    This post reached me on many levels. Almost as if it was written for me.
    I love learning from the wisdom of the past and seeing the cycles in human nature. Hearing you talk about periods of time made me realize I’ve been at this for almost exactly 7 years. Maybe writers get a seven-year itch just like spouses? (Partly kidding, partly not.)
    One line stood out: “We may initially come to writing because it brings us joy, but I think we tend to keep writing as a *search* for joy.” That’s spot on, and helps me accept that this dark night of the soul is my search for joy bottoming out. One way or another, it feels like the only direction to go is up. I won’t be the same writer on the other side.
    If I may share what’s happened in the month since I sent that email:
    – I finished building a board game, and now I’m pursuing publication for it. The change of creative scenery has been nice.
    – My reason for writing has evolved. I no longer want to change others. I write because stories have changed me. It’s that simple.
    – I tried to quit writing and couldn’t. This is a blessing because there was always a nagging voice saying I was a pretender, but now I know the truth.
    I’ve always been thankful for your words, Katie, but never more than right now.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah, I think you already knew everything I said here. 😉 But I’m pleased to be of help. Thank you very much for giving me an excuse to talk about a subject that is so dear to my heart and for sharing your words, which so many people have clearly resonated with.

  14. This is FANTASTIC. I’ve been struggling with the EXACT existential questions you posed. In fact, I’m finishing a course on Creativity Coaching with Dr. Eric Maisel and shared my angst with him and fellow classmates! I’m going to print out your post to re-read because, quite frankly, it’s just as valuable as my coursework! Thank you so much. 🙏

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sounds like a good class! I remember reading and enjoying one of his books many years ago.

  15. I think Joseph Merboth’s narrative touched hearts all over the planet.
    First, I use to be an avid reader, but writing six novels has ruined me for reading and/or watching television. After you study dialogue and plot holes so many years, you learn to spot them immediately, so there’s not surprise ending!
    I will be three-quarters of a century young in roughly two months’ time, so I’d like to blame my several years of “total unmotivation” on age, but I think a lot of it has to do with having had covid and/or the jab. It may sound silly, but I noticed a distinct, immediate change in my brain activity in early 2020 when I firmly believe I had covid (right before it was revealed to everyone). Being a pantser, I went right on being one, but I noticed a total lack of motivation, where before I couldn’t wait to write – I’d always written songs on park-and-ride bus on the way to work, short stories over two or three days, ideas at 3:00 am, and novels by candlelight during a hurricane. Before covid, I was a writer. After covid, not so much.
    That being said, I also agree with Bruce’s comment about not being read. I was a member of two critique groups before covid, and one of them didn’t survive. The other’s membership went way down and we stopped meeting in person. At one point, I counted nearly 15 people (co-writers) who could have supported me by buying my book. Three of them bought it, even though every single one of them raved about my writing (I’ve won several awards and been published, though now I’m focusing solely on self-publishing so I can have control of my work.) I’ve realized that my co-writers may have been reluctant to buy my books because by the time they were on Amazon, all of them had edited and critiqued them to death!
    Also, like many of those who commented, I’m not on social media and don’t plan to be on any of them. I’m TC big-time. That’s technologically challenged, even though I’ve used a computer since they came out, as part of my job. Years ago (again, pre-Covid), all I heard or read was that I absolutely had to be on social media if I wanted to market my books. Now I hear reports from authors who are on several media platforms that for every 2000 clicks, they make 2 sales. For the hours involved, I don’t see the point.
    This is a long response, and I have a feeling I’m not done yet because you really touched a nerve in a majority of serious writers who seem to be facing the same problem. Don’t get me started on how it might be that we’re getting closer and closer to the end times!
    Over and out for now.
    Caden

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You raise a good point about the “surprise ending”–and that is, IMO, it’s not the surprise at the end that’s important but rather the quality of the journey to get there. I don’t personally care if I figure out what an author is doing, as long as they present it in such a way that I would want to experience not just this once but over and over. To me, re-readability (which, by itself, eliminates much of the point of a surprise ending) is the key marker of quality fiction.

  16. Sage advice indeed I think the most difficult thing for me to find is the right pace. I never put as much time into my writing as I’d really like to and I’d love to be working past the milestones quicker, but that’s not the road to beauty. It’s the road to exhaustion. I’ve definitely had to learn to force myself to take time off and to sometimes allow myself to do less than I wished.
    Bless you, Katie. May your words land on the page with contented sighs as they turn toward each other, finally waltzing toward the story you desire.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “that’s not the road to beauty. It’s the road to exhaustion.”

      So true. This evolution is still a major part of my own journey.

  17. Okay, I’m back after reading more of your article (which is long with food for thought to fill a king’s table!). First, I know I’m a writer because I’ve always written and couldn’t not write if I wanted to, even when unmotivated I still wake up at 2:30 with scathingly brilliant ideas. As for the next question you asked, I write to inspire others, to make them weep with a love of beauty or laugh at witty banter because, like me, they’re tired of thinking. Or over-thinking. Being technologically challenged, I gave up on expecting much in the way of royalties a long time ago, and I’m happier not thinking about it. I write what I feel, and if it touches me, chances are pretty good it’s going to touch whoever reads it. And that’s pure joy.
    Caden

  18. I found your post tremendously moving and I can so identify with both your journey and that of Joseph Merboth.
    I seem to flip from being inspired to total lack of confidence, although I do want to continue I wonder all the time if I am good enough. One of the reasons for this doubt is my poor education as a child. I have had to fight to gain a decent education and I worry that I do not know enough and never will. This lack of confience pulls me down and all the old doubts creep in.
    The thing that keeps me going is the desire to communicate, not teach or feel superior, but just to say this is what I see what do you think.
    I am also an artist and this is my passion, but I have found that wrting is also becoming a passion. The thing I know about is drawing and painting and have always thought that to produce a piece of work and display it is a sort of conversation. The work is what you put out and the viewer takes to it what is in their heart or head. I suspect that writing is a bit like that too.
    Thank you so much for your honesty and for genuinely being you and sharing your very personal journey.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      So glad you resonated with the post! And, yes, I totally agree about writing being a conversation. I don’t think this necessarily means it is important for the author to hear back from the reader, in whatever capacity. But just writing with the knowledge that the words may be read by someone else changes the experience.

  19. K.M. I enjoyed reading this post. I have also enjoyed reading your craft posts. I feel joy when I’ve finished a story that I know is good. Luckily, I haven’t reached burnout. However, I don’t feel joy while I’m writing a story except when I have an idea and am working on developing the first chapter. While I don’t have lots of readers, I’m glad some are reading my stories. I still have hope because there’s KDP when I can’t interest a publisher. As a hybrid writer I have twelve novels and a cookbook published. Carolyn Rae (My website is carolynrae.com, but the program won’t list it that way.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Even when we’re in a good space with our writing, joy comes and goes. It’s like any part of life–like a day. One minute we’re happy, the next we’re sad, then we’re happy again. What’s valuable isn’t so much sustaining the happy feeling as it is accepting that it is part of a larger cycle.

  20. Dorothy Pullan Read says

    I am an Indie author and recently realized my dream of seeing my work in print. I had always wanted to write about my fathers journey from England to Canada in 1928. He never spoke about his past nor his family, so I had to ‘imagine’ what his life was like growing up during WW1.I felt, not just a sense of accomplishment but also a deep reconnection to my father after it was done. I always believed my next book would be about my mother, a sequel of sorts. It seemed like a natural progression in my writers head, however I’ve struggled with outlining what her life was like growing up in Canada in the 30’s. As interesting as that timeline was, I couldn’t nail down her story. Nothing sparked. Neither one of my parents spoke of their childhoods or even their hopes and dreams, so I really didn’t have much to go on. After I read your article here and the previous comments, I realized that I don’t actually have to write about my mother. If it feels like a real labor of love then maybe her story may not need to be written yet. It is so freeing to think about the other characters in my first book … that maybe there’s a story there that needs to be told first. Or, and this is just brainstorming here as the ideas trip over each other in my head, maybe I need to write something completely different. Wow! Look at that, I’ve found my joy (and freedom) by allowing myself to play with other characters and themes. Thank you KM … you are a gem!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Congrats on your book! And what a wonderful idea. Sounds like a beautiful way to connect with loved ones who have passed.

  21. I so needed this essay today. Especially this paragraph:
    “Many people grow frustrated with the writing journey when they are unable to access the level of results they feel is necessary to justify their efforts. Perhaps they want to be published, perhaps they want to sell a certain number of books, perhaps they want to make a certain amount of money. When it doesn’t happen, it feels like a cheat, and cynicism moves in to fill the gap.”
    Thank you for writing it and reminding me that being published is only part of the journey. It came at the perfect time.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have always appreciated Anne Lamott’s words: “Publishing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But writing is.”

  22. Katie, thanks so much for writing more on the topic of joy. I’ll echo many of the same feelings so many have shared–I need to write. I write to understand, but I also write to share what I have. To connect. And stories necessarily are in need of an audience. This is the part that robs me of joy. I know that even if one life is better because of a story I wrote, it is of infinite value, but the numbers person in me would like to have a bigger audience even though there’s no such thing as a bigger infinity. lol. Joseph’s comment about how writing is transformative is spot on. I remember the essence of a GK Chesterton quote: What’s wrong with the world? Me.

    I’ve been making more music than writing, going to the beach more to play in the warm and salty sea, and reading lots, and all these things bring me great joy at a time when writing for publication feels hard. I’m studying more on writing novels (your book on Character Arcs is wonderful) but at some point I’ll have to plunge into the writing of the story. I’m not exactly sure why I won’t begin even though I want to very much. I’m scared. Write scared anyway? Because the story people aren’t going anywhere. They’ve taken up permanent residence in my head.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sometimes there is a deep wisdom in the waiting, but it’s important to be able to distinguish between fear that holds you back and a wisdom that says it’s not yet time. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference. Sometimes we must wait until we are in alignment. Other times, we must bravely face the truth that our alignment is telling us it’s time, no matter how afraid we feel.

  23. Robin Preibisius says

    Was really glad to come across this today. Time was when I couldn’t get enough of writing–if I didn’t have a keyboard or pen and paper handy, I was hashing out plots in my head.

    Unfortunately in recent years, I think I’ve picked up on one too many messages implying that if you’re finding joy in writing (or reading, for that matter), you’re doing it wrong. And that’s been a tough hole to climb out of. The line about running on the motivation of “doing it right”? Spot on for me, and somewhere along the way my mind took that up a few notches to “doing it right according to the most jaded and critical of critics”.

    But I miss that joy. Pretty intensely sometimes.

    I love the advice about beginner’s mind/adapting a learning mindset for a lot of reasons, but especially because it feels like being let off the hook for trying to measure up to someone else’s ideal. Or my own, for that matter. It’s hard to let go of that fear of seeming ignorant or naive for letting go of the “get it all right” fixation, but something in the back of my head does recognize how empowering that actually is. And how it could lead to actually enjoying this thing again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I think there is a lot of messaging in our culture in general along the lines of “no pain, no gain.” It is certainly a message that I have had to do a *lot* of deprogramming around. The process is ongoing, but life’s a lot more fun on the other side–and, on the whole, a lot more gainful too.

  24. Petra Veenstra says

    Ah, your article, the question from Joseph Merboth and the comments have brought me to the deepening of the question why i write. And what is holding me back.
    Writing is very personal, and it doesn’t matter if i write a fantasy novel, crime short story or poem. When the art is my life, i express my life, my visions, my ideas, myself in my storys, poems, and novels. I wouldn’t know how else to write, without the writing to be “dead”, without spirit or inspiration.
    On the one hand, i want to be seen, to be heard, to be read, to have feedback. On the other hand i fear to be seen because it is so personal!.
    I dont mean i fear people giving me good advice that teaches me to be a better writer, for what i am grateful.
    I mean the comments, that become personal thereselves, that claim that you cant writ at all, like trolls. I’ve met a troll as i posted a poem and doesn’t trust the social media anymore. But how do i get an audience without social media?
    Somebody said to me, see it as work. The work isn’t you. But there is always a piece of me in my work!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A big part of my own journey in recent years (and perhaps something I will post about sometime) has been teaching myself to distinguish between legitimate criticism from legitimate sources and comments that I have every right to ignore. I heard a quote from Tom Holland this week that I liked in this regard: “If you have a problem with me, then text me. And if you don’t have my number, then you don’t know me well enough to have a problem with me.”

  25. Janet Johnson says

    I’ve found that simply reading one of my favorite stories that I’ve written helps remind me of the joy of writing. It restores my passion for writing. I also give myself small goals, like writing just one scene a day. My other goal is to finish the novels I’ve started instead of trying to come up with something new. I don’t want to leave my stories unfinished.

  26. This was deeply profound. Thank you for sharing this this week.

  27. I don’t think I lost the joy of writing, but I have lost the confidence *In* my writing. Even after five published works, and two works-in-progress, I feel like I’m not “qualified” to write the stories.
    Got a way to fix that? 😉

  28. Chris Hoerter says

    I just listened to the podcast episode this morning on my walk, and found myself tearing up. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your journey.

  29. Thanks so much for your sharing. Honestly, I can’t say I enjoy writing, but I do enjoy it when I’m done. I enjoy the camaraderie that comes with the classes I take & I love sharing my books (2 so far).
    I have discovered that whenever I get away from writing, I start having issues in life. It’s like I’m unconsciously working through stuff when I’m writing and if I don’t do that, “All Hell breaks loose!” As my mom would say.
    I can’t imagine ever deciding to stop writing. It has become a way of life.
    Thank you for your contribution to keeping us all writing.
    Sherrie
    Sherrie Miranda’s “Crimes & Impunity in New Orleans” follows the dramatic story of naive, sheltered Shelly going to “The Big Easy” to prepare for El Salvador, but has no idea she will encounter sexism and witness racism as well as illegal activities by government agents.
    https://www.amzn.com/dp/B08KMHNNDK
    Author, Sherrie Miranda’s husband made the trailer for “Crimes & Impunity in New Orleans.” He wrote the music too.
    https://youtu.be/7_NL-V9KEi4

  30. Wow! What profound truths you discovered, and how eloquently you speak your truth. Have you considered penning a memoir? Your wisdom should shine from on high to light many lives. Thank you so much for writing this magnificent article.

  31. Your posting for August 21 is a treasure. Of course, you couldn’t have written it when your were eleven. Years of writing and pondering life enables the gaining of a perspective that only living a thoughtful life can provide. I find I envy those who began writing in grade school. Maybe that is the reason my first young people’s story is that of a third-grade class whose teacher encourages everyone to write what their imagination tells them; get it on paper and then share and see how it changes you and others. Because I didn’t have that, I simply kept imagining and discarding.
    Now, in the distant days of my life, I am imagining how to get those inventions on paper. It doesn’t matter if they are new or old. I don’t really expect an audience to arise out of the swamp. But if they do, I won’t be sorry. For the act of the conjuring, and perfecting the saying is its own reward. The wisdom it brings is slippery and sneaky. It comes up along side you when least expect it. It is the act of perfecting the saying, and making it ring true to the rest of the work, that hopefully makes it resonate with the reader. And if there are none, or few, it’s polish and truth is still mine.

    Thank you,
    Phil Holt

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