Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Sneaky Way to Bring Joy Back to Your Writing

Albert Camus said a wonderful thing about why we write or paint or dance or make music: "A person's life purpose is nothing more than to rediscover, through the detours of art, or love, or passionate work, those one or two images in the presence of which his heart first opened."

Many readers emailed or posted their reactions to the balance of practice and love in the writing life.  One, a creative buddy, shared her efforts with a writing project that has flatlined.

She is in despair because it wasn't fun anymore, and wasn't creative work supposed to be fun?  After all, this wasn't her "regular" job, which she expected to be less than incredible.  This was her art.

We talked about the stage she was at with the project.  It's a series of short pieces, and she's written all of them and revised numerous times.  But now she's got a publishing date and she's having to go back and look at all of these creative children, ask herself if she's comfortable sending them out into the world.  She isn't.  Not yet.

So once more, back to revision.  And it isn't fun.  Shouldn't it be?

We were taking a walk, talking about this creative dilemma.  I told her I was in the middle of two books, and the fun was quite sporadic at this stage.  I've drafted both, one is at final edit and the other at middle-stage revision (read:  fifth or sixth time through).  I'm seeing tremendous holes everywhere and much of my time is spent silently berating myself for thinking it was ever any good.  But I also know this stage is much like a slog through thick mud.

As we spoke of this, a look of intense relief came over her face.  She said, "You mean it's OK that it's not full of joy for me right now?"

"I'd be worried if it was," I said.  I was teasing her, but also serious.  If the writing process is always nonstop joy, I often wonder if it's really talking to anyone but me.  It takes work to stand back from the magnificence of your project, to get the detachment you need to see it from a viewer's (reader's) eyes.  That standing back is hard for writers; it made up much of the slog I was currently going through.

Switching Points of View--Literally and Otherwise
We finished our walk and went about our days.  I had benefited from our conversation; my chapters took a completely new turn that afternoon.  One chapter of my novel-in-progress was a scene about the aftermath of an accident.  The mother has the accident, the scene is written from the daughter's point of view.  But it wasn't really furthering the plot to put the mother in harm's way once again--poor woman, she's already had so much happen to her in 20 chapters.  After the walk and talk, I got the radical idea:  switch the accident, make it the daughter's crisis, write the aftermath from the mother's point of view.  Same plot points, different person having the experience, different point of view in the chapter.

It worked.  I tried it on another chapter too.  Wow.  Loved it.  Had fun.  The slog was gone, I was flying high.  And remembering why I enjoy all this, anyway.

Where did that idea come from, to switch like that?  I think from our talk, from the reminder to not look toward the process as a good time had by all.

Later I heard from my creative buddy.  "I found it again!" she said.

"Found what?"

"The joy.  It came back!"  She went on to explain that just because she didn't expect it to be all wonderful, a bit more wonderful had leaked in during the afternoon.  She was working on one of the pieces and found herself playing with a new idea.  Just like I had--only we hadn't talked about it beforehand.  For her, it was really fun, a completely different avenue than she'd taken before.  Not much change required except an attitude shift and suddenly things were fun again.  She shared the piece with me and it had indeed taken a leap.  Much more complex, more interesting, more uplifting too.

I could feel the joy in it now.

So this is the conundrum, isn't it.  When we're not looking, not trying so hard to get the joy, it sneaks in again.  When we let go of having to have it as part of the creative process 100 percent of the time, it sneaks in again.  Sounds like a plan, doesn't it?

This Week's Writing Exercise
1.  Take a walk, preferably with someone who is also working on a creative project.
2.  Journal or talk about the slog and the joy--what stage are you in?  Maybe talk about the Camus quote at the beginning of this post.  What moment did you start wanting to write, to create?  What image are you remembering when your heart first opened?
3.  When you come back to your writing, try something radical.  Switch something around.  Reverse what you planned.  See what happens when you try this.  More fun?  A little less slog?  A little more joy?


  1. Great advice. I have just the project to try it with.

  2. Thanks, Jan. Let me know how it works for you!

  3. This is exactly what I needed to read Mary as I have been experiencing this same thing--taking a break from a project because it was no longer fun. Now I'm excited to think something may happen to put the joy back in--so thanks!

  4. I love you!!! You have helped me immensely as I write my first book. I'm almost done...but hit a major snag. It's a very painful process...the death of my parents and our journey together during their final years. Thank you for your expertise, knowledge and warmth!

  5. Thanks, Monnie! It is challenging to write about those kinds of topics--I know! Thank you for your positive feedback and I'm so glad these posts are helping you move ahead.