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When writing just isn't bringing you joy?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by DragonOfTheAerie, Jul 18, 2019.

  1. I'm so lost. Every writing advice ever tells me to just force myself to continue through the rough parts, and i tried that with my last project, and i got 50,000 words in and I never felt any kind of connection or joy or pleasure or anything. Like, I understand that first drafts are rough, but they've never before been just pure drudgery. I've never felt actually indifferent about a story. I'm a bit scared by this experience and I don't know where to go from here.

    I really want to be writing, but I'm scared that if I start on anything new, I'll burn myself out as badly as with the last one. I've never felt a single twinge of uncertainty about quitting the story I was working on because to put it simply I don't give a shit about that story, but I don't know why it happened that way in the first place. Writing has always been at least somewhat fun to me. I have always liked my characters and wanted to see what happens to them. I'm deeply shaken by how none of that ever happened with my last project. I thought if I kept stubbornly moving forward I might start to care just a little, but it just ground dismally on and on and on and eventually i just hated the thought of how much longer it would take to finish to continue. There was no reason for me to keep going. I didn't feel even the slightest warmth at the thought of having a finished product or even picture having a finished product and the characters were dull and interchangeable and continuing to work on it was a miserable punishment.

    Now I have some other ideas but I'm scared to start any of them. I don't want to ruin them too. I don't even feel like I can write anymore.
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Start them.

    But first, think about what you really want. Those other ideas might not be it.

    I don't know. If there is an inhibition, you have to come to terms with whatever is inhibiting you. I look at this a little like Socrates looking at his daimonion. He said it never told him what to do, but it spoke up forcefully to tell him not to do something if he ever considered doing something he shouldn't. It's okay to stop. You should listen to this voice, and don't let yourself waste time trying to tell it that it is wrong.

    Just my two cents.
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    If it happens four or five times--the full course, 50k in and still no connection--then I would start to be concerned. But once or twice? File under One of Those Things.

    I'm not going to say don't be discouraged or don't feel down or any such. Feel how you feel. I'm just trying to say it's too soon to know if it's anything significant. That doesn't mean you won't fret over it! But know that others have been where you are.
  4. I just know that I genuinely was getting nothing out of my last project, not fun, not satisfaction. And I don't write just to see the numbers go up, I write because I enjoy it and that i want to create something and I love to watch that thing grow, and deciding not to continue with a project that just seemed like a pointless chore, that I didn't even have a vision or a hope for, was the easiest thing in the world once I got past the "you have to Keep Going" thing.

    But I dont understand *why* that happened. I've had periods with almost every project I've done where i've genuinely hated the thing and wanted to burn it for brief periods, but that was because I really cared about it. I didn't even love this thing enough to hate it. That's totally new to me. I really don't know what it was exactly about that last book that made me feel total apathy. Not being able to identify the problem is what I don't like.
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    You could try joining Ankari's Mythwright Challenge. Do something else for a bit.

    It sounds like you're better off with that project behind you. Maybe it's time for a vacation from writing, or at least big projects, or at least the pressure of it all. But don't let the fear stop you from moving forward. Take a breather, maybe do something with your writing that's fun or silly for a bit, and then get back into it when you feel - I won't say ready because nobody's ever ready - but get back into it when you find a bit more excitement and a bit less fear.


    As for the why of it, you might not realize that until you start your next project.
  6. I think where I'm stuck right now is that I really want to figure out what I messed up if I did mess something up so I can avoid doing it with my next story. I know painstakingly planning every chapter of a book will totally deaden my interest in something. (I don't think I got past chapter 3 of that one.) I know not planning at all is perilous as well. I don't want to wait too long, I don't want to jump the gun, I don't even know when you're considered to be "ready" to start something as that has looked totally different with everything I've written.

    There is just no formula, no algorithm, no best practice, no patterns, no road maps or signs. If I do something right I can't repeat it. If I do something wrong I can't figure out exactly what it is. Worldbuilding for me is a chicken-and-egg conundrum; it's hard for me to worldbuild without any story, but I can't write the story without the foundation of the worldbuilding.

    My habit of painstakingly tracking my progress and word counts has probably hurt me as much as it's helped. It frames my writing process like there has to be discrete 'advancement' instead of just a period of time spent splashing about in the general vicinity of your first chapter, getting to know your story and characters.
  7. Honestly, I wish I could move a little backward and go back to just messing around and playing with ideas and writing things that may or may not be considered part of the story instead of tracking my "progress" and thinking to myself I'm x percent of the way to the end or whatever. In some ways this thinking in terms of progress all the time hasn't helped. That's not really how art works.
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Maybe try thinking of other situations, totally not related to writing, that made you feel the same way.

    In my opinion, drudgery is pretty much the same no matter the activity. It's always a sign of being occupied doing something that has very little relation to yourself—your wants, your goals, your dreams, etc.

    Now, maybe you need to find the relation. For instance, work at a job can feel like drudgery, and maybe it is. Maybe it's a sign that you should have a different job, one that aligns better with who you are. But on the other hand, earning a paycheck is something that can help you further your other goals (eating regularly helps, heh, and having a place over your head, etc.) So even when I've felt drudgery at work, I remind myself, or try, that this drudgery may not be ideal but still be related to other wants, needs, and dreams.

    Writing a book, if this isn't how you are currently supporting yourself—if it's mostly for enjoyment—means that you don't even have this sort of thing to fall back on. You don't need to be writing that particular book. So I'd look at how that particular project is utterly failing you.

    That's the point. The project might fail, but this doesn't mean you are failing. It is failing you.

    So you might dump it and move on.
  9. I think the "straw that broke the camel's back" was realizing that I was writing something I probably wouldn't be bothered to read.

    Now that is damning.

    So maybe I need to be writing something I would want to read. That's pretty basic in my opinion, but I suppose it's a start.
  10. Its totally possible that I’m just burned out from the previously mentioned forcing-myself-through-book-I-didn’t-like, and Ill feel better about my other ideas once I’ve had more time away.

    But also I just don’t like how little I seem to understand about what’s going on under the surface. What makes X idea work but Y idea not work. What problem I’m really facing when I feel stymied. What causes me to become blocked or drained or lost and how to fix it. Do you ever get to the point where you understand yourself and the craft well enough so that you can say, “Oh, I know what’s going on here” at least sometimes or do you just sacrifice a pop-tart to the Muse and hope clarity arrives no matter if it’s your first book or your tenth?

    For me, no problem or solution has ever repeated itself. :/
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    For myself, I honestly don't know.

    I think I've had problems in choosing characters that were too different from me, heh. Sure, we're not supposed to Mary Sue—place ourselves in our books—but for the longest time, all my main characters were young, they were often royalty or from extremely wealthy families, their concerns and life experiences were not my own.

    About six years ago, when I was contemplating a story I was planning, I introduced a character more my age, with more of my background and lifestyle. He would be mostly a side character who appears at a significant point early in the book. The more I thought about him, the more I became interested in him. I kept telling myself, You should just write a book with him as main character!

    Instead, I kept coming up with younger main characters, for various story ideas. Always mid-twenties or younger. Always royalty, nobility, or from wealthy merchant classes. All those story ideas have stalled, whether before I began writing them or after writing thousands of words.

    My current project features an MC who is 48 years old. Some of his attitudes and outlooks are my own. Well, heh. a lot of them are. But I'm not a wizard. So there's that. Anyway, I think this is going to work. Incidentally, he features some traits very like that side character I'd imagined six years ago.

    Incidentally, why are MCs in fantasy tales so often in their twenties or younger? Or even, in their thirties? Why not 40's, or 50's? (And immortals don't quite count, since usually they are locked into a younger body and, anyway, don't have the concerns that aging brings.)
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  12. As for why middle aged fantasy characters are uncommon, modern society is obsessed with youth and tells people that all their great accomplishments will happen when they’re young, while portraying anyone older than thirty as settled and past their peak.

    But I’ve been entertaining the idea that maybe I was writing something that was just not my thing, and maybe it wasn’t more complicated than that. I like weird stories with creative worldbuilding and I like to include humor and an occasional touch of ludicrousness (usually as a sharp contrast to the darkness and gore of the rest of it, lol) and this last book was a fairly generic fairy tale-ish setting. It was dignified, poised, took itself seriously. Nothing wrong with that, but also just not my sort of thing. I dont really read books like that.

    I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of stories where I can include giant eyeballs, sentient clouds, and toasters that grant wishes than conservative fantasy settings. My characters generally have a certain quirkiness to them as well. For me, this is true to life: it’s part of my philosophy that the universe is a weird place, and most of my experience is that people are generally weirder than books portray them as being. No one is really “normal” so I don’t write them that way. I love the weirdness and diversity of people.

    My characters seemed very normal to me last project, and it made them seem not very real to me.
    Firefly and FifthView like this.
  13. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    Hey Dragon, if I'm not mistaken you've opened quite a few similar threads in the past. We all stress over our craft once in a while, but I feel like it is a bit deeper in your case. Stress shouldn't become a pattern.

    My advice would be to step back, enjoy some other hobbies and maybe... drop the idea of writing a novel for the foreseeable future. Short stories, poems, novellas and more are just as valid formats of writing, and a lot more manageable. Trying to write novels simply wasn't my way of going about things, perhaps it isn't yours either. Whatever the case might be there, I think stepping away from writing altogether for a little bit is most important. Enjoy the summer.
  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I went back and looked at some of your older threads about the last project because I remember feeling strongly at one point that you needed to dump it and I wanted to make sure I understood why I had that impression. The biggest red flag for me as an onlooker was that you seemed to associate the project directly with some of your real life hardships, things that you might have been grieving for at the time. In particular it seemed like you were writing the story not for yourself but for someone else, which is fine, except that your relationship with them turned painful.

    I don't really know how much that might be the "why" you're looking for, and please forgive me if I'm way off base or overstepping, but that's the impression that had come across for me.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2019
  15. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

    To be a bit (or a lot?) facetious, I have a love-hate relationship with writing, but we're working on it. I hate to write! It's hard work and I frequently wonder why I bother. It's when I have a finished work—and it needn't be perfect—that I remember the answer. Then, of course, I want to do it again.

    I considered myself first and foremost a painter for thirty years before I shifted to writer. I was moderately successful but had the same sort of relationship with it. Plenty of canvases had holes punched in them before they were completed! (Hey, Cezanne did the same sort of thing so maybe I'm not crazy. Only maybe.) I create art, whether writing or painting, because I have to. As I said, a relationship, and the love part of it is real. And if the hate part of it is too, so be it. It's great when we make up. :)
  16. I'd say, based on that right there, that you should do exactly that!

    It seems that, if I may say, you've got wrapped up in hitting goals that aren't fulfilling the creative part of your soul and, IF that is true, you should trust that instinct. I could not, for the life of me, write a story I wasn't invested in just as I could not read one. All the advice in the world is not going to help if you aren't inspired to write and if the story isn't grabbing YOU it won't grab anyone else. I can't think of a published writer I've read interview with who doesn't have a novel or novels in the drawer that, as they all seem to say, "will never see the light of day".

    Its ok to move on. It's NOT wasted time nor is it a sign you did anything wrong. Maybe the thing you will be doing right is recognizing it's not worth investing anymore time in, like a bad relationship or unfulfilling job, but with the story, that may just be for now and in the future you may come to feel differently.

    I'd say set that one aside and start something that excites you.

    Thinking in terms of progress - when there's only one definition or measuring stick of progress, it's not helpful. The other day, instead of writing for two hours, I spent half that time working out the reasoning for one of my secondary characters to be where he was, something that invested him in the action taking place to make him less of a sidekick in the scene. This had not been important before because of the scenes placement but now it is right up front at the beginning. When I followed that thread and figured that out, it helped other pieces fall into place immediately. So I may have only made a quarter of my usual word count goal that day but at the end of it? TOTAL success.

    And this:
    OK, I could have just gone with this quote of yours and said, "My friend, the answer is RIGHT THERE!" If the current WIP is not bringing you joy, set it aside (for now or forever isn't something you need to decide this moment) and start something new that makes your soul come to life.

    While there is merit in seeing something through IF you have a habit of walking away when things get hard but there are also stories that aren't quite ready to be told, or don't warrant the time you're investing and some need more time in the creative forge to come back to a glow.

    Most of all, don't torment yourself!!! You have not failed, not lost the way, not fallen down an unscalable ravine. It's just been a detour. Close your eyes and make the next turn based on instinct , desire and heart. Then follow it wherever it leads you.
  17. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    You’re supposed to feel joy when writing?
    It’s always an agonizing emotional rollercoaster for me. I just stick with it because I enjoy reading the end result since I write the kind of stuff I like reading. Even if it sucks.

    Maybe the medium is what’s boring you. Maybe you should try writing a film script or episodic shorts - mix things up. Get out of your comfort zone.
  18. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    Sucks when this happens. You'll come out of it though and create again. Just look at your track record. You've managed to finish books. Don't worry so much and enjoy your summer.
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  19. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team


    I have had a solid writing habit for seven years. I don't write much during the summer. I wrote two novellas in one summer and that was two years ago. This is the time that I take to recharge and enjoy spending time with my family.

    The rest of the year, I write enough to satisfy the hours for a part time job. But I need the 2-3 months off in the summer. I can't function without it.

    Maybe something similar to this is happening to you (a pattern you're not yet aware of). As a human, you are constantly evolving. Your creative mind is expanding and figuring out more efficient ways to work. There is a pattern natural to you that you are probably still understanding.

    (sorry about the DP)
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  20. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    If you're getting no pleasure and enjoyment from it then why do it?

    Allow yourself to quit. Take a break. You'll either take it up again later or you'll find a new hobby that you enjoy. I think all writers have to force themselves sometimes but it shouldn't be a daily/monthly slog to write anything. Maybe you've just moved on from this hobby or maybe you're just burnt out and need a break, maybe you haven't found an idea that you are really passionate about you just need to get it down. Like I said, maybe just stop. You may come back to writing but if you don't that's ok, life is too short to be forcing yourself to do something you're not enjoying. You're scared of getting burnt out but it sound to me as if you all ready are.

    You're not alone with this feeling. I always take a break for a few months and come back feeling 100% better, but before you take a break ensure you write everything down so you don't forget it.
    Chessie2 likes this.

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