Finding (and Keeping) the Love
One thing I've struggled with in the past couple of years- and it's something that becomes harder and harder the longer I'm published- is keeping the joy. The longer I'm in the business, the more writing-related things there are to worry about. And the more I worry, the harder it is to just sit down and write and let myself love it the way I did when I was just starting out. It seems entirely crazy, but I often have conversations with writing friends about how much we envy our past-selves and how we sometimes long for the way we wrote before we were published. And I know that this is going to make a lot of people want to smack me across the face with a dead fish. Probably a very large dead fish. And I get that. What I'm doing now is the dream, and I am very, very grateful for it, but like all dreams once achieved, it can be a really hard thing- more so because it IS the dream than it would be if it were something else. And for me, the absolute hardest thing is that writing was always something that was mine. It was my escape and my little joy and one of my absolute favorite things to do. And there are days when I really miss writing being those things and only those things.

Once you're published, writing isn't just yours anymore. That's a wonderful thing- after all, the fact that people read my books means the absolute world to me and that's the very best part of the dream- but at the same time, it takes some getting used to. Readers, reviewers, agents, editors, marketing people... as a published writer, there are TONS of people involved in and invested in your books. Which is good. But also confusing. And maybe a little terrifying. It's a little bit like finding out that whenever you sing in the shower, it's actually being broadcast on national radio. And that can make it kind of hard to just have fun and belt it out there.

And then there's the fact that the longer I'm in publishing, the more I discover about the way things work, and the more time I spend (and try not to spend) thinking about the industry when I should just be writing. Over the years when I was querying and submitting and trying to get published, I got habituated to the idea that whatever book I was writing might not see the light of day. I've written many, many novels that are not published. I've even written books since I sold Golden that remain unread in a drawer somewhere. And over time, book by unread book, I just got used to the (once-horrible) idea that maybe nobody else would ever read what I was writing. I made my peace with that idea, and decided that for me there was value in writing it anyway, and doing that helped me to recapture some of the joy the submission process can suck out of you.

Now, however, I've discovered many other terrifying possibilities that writers have to make their peace with, too. Like what if you write a book and you sell it and then the chain stores don't pick it up and readers can't find it and the sales are disappointing and every time you try to sell another book, editors pull up those numbers and it's a giant brand on your forehead, and you end up being worse-off than you would be if you'd never published a book at all? Or what if the book does really well, but all of the people who liked your previous books absolutely HATE this one and feel personally let down by you and it ruins your previous books for them because they just hate this one that much? What if (and this is, I swear, something every single published writer I know has thought at one point or another) the books you've done so far are just a fluke and you've been lulled into a false sense of security in thinking that maybe you don't suck, but you really do, and soon you will be revealed as an impostor, full of suckiness?

So with all of these things going on in my head, it can be a struggle to just sit down and write and recapture the joy. So I thought maybe we could all talk about the things we do to KEEP the joy. The following are the things that I've found that work for me (so far, I'm always adding new things to the list), but I'd love to hear from other people, too- no matter what stage of the journey you're at, because I think it's something we ALL face. And also, not something that we probably talk about enough, because sometimes admitting that something is hard feels like admitting a failure or flaw. Or it feels like whining. Or like someone is going to smack you in the face with a dead fish. So we don't talk about these things, and then we just kind of stumble around looking for ways to make it better instead of openly exchanging ideas with others, which is generally a much more effective way of getting things done.

So here are the tricks I've discovered- and I'd love to hear what you guys do to keep your love for writing- or whatever else you do- fresh.

1. Give yourself permission to suck. This is especially key for me on first drafts. I don't write perfect first drafts. Far from it. And I shouldn't expect this to change just because I've sold a couple of books. I'm improving as a writer, but ideally, I should also be challenging myself with each new book, and when you're testing out unfamiliar waters, things might be kind of dicey at first. It's okay to suck. No matter what happens on the business side of things, that doesn't change, and I'm never going to wake up one morning and suddenly be capable of effortlessly pouring gold and fairy dust onto paper, so I shouldn't expect myself to.

2. Sometimes, for me as a writer, it's more important to write something that I love than something that will sell. Think of it as taking a mental health day. Give yourself at least one project whose sole purpose is the enjoyment you will get out of writing it.

3. Don't compare yourself to anyone else. 'Nuff said.

4. Fill your life with other things. Your success as a writer and your worth as a person are two different things. Failure- and taking risks- seems a lot less scary if you can know and accept this deep down.

5. Accept the idea that publishing is a business and that life isn't fair. No matter what you do, this business is sometimes going to break your heart eight ways from Wednesday, so you might as well avoid borrowing trouble whenever you can. For me, the easiest way of doing that is just to accept that there are some constants about the industry: it's easier for celebrities to get book deals than normal people, bad things can and do happen to good books and good things can happen to bad books, and the market will never be a fully predictable beast. Angsting about these things will never change them, so if you can avoid doing it, that can only help your joy quotient.

6. Don't stop reading as a reader, just because you're a writer. This is a hard one, but I think that's why I read A LOT- because I know that if I do, I'll find plenty of books that I can get completely lost in, and those books will get me pumped about stories and story-telling and will make me forget the fact that the business end of things even exists. They will make me want to write things that excite me as much as those books do. And that's a wonderful thing.

7. Realize that- to a large extent- what happens to a book after you finish with it is largely out of your control. Focus on the next book- and make it better. As a writer, the most control you will ever have over a book and what happens to it will be in the writing, so your number one priority should always be to write a better book. As per #5, this does not guarantee that the book will do well or be well-received, but you can't change that. All you can change is how good the book is. So do that.

8. Make yourself try things that are completely different. Take chances. Do things that can't possibly work, and then make them work. Nothing gets my adrenaline pumping like trying something that's a little bit scary- and the more you challenge yourself IN a book, the less room there is in your head for anyone or anything else.

9. Sometimes, let writing be your reward. Even if it's your job. Even if you have deadlines. Don't just get things done. Indulge. Give yourself a whole afternoon to write, and view it like a long, warm bubble bath.

10. Every once in a while, sit down and think "If I could be writing any story in the entire world, what would I be writing?" Because really, what's to stop you? Recently, I've even been thinking "If I had a year to live, what book would be worth the time I'd spend to write it? If I could only tell one more story, what story would it be?" Because if that story is out there, why am I not working on it RIGHT NOW?

11. This one is hugely crucial for me- and sometimes, it's the only thing that helps me keep my sanity- but it's definitely not the best option for everyone, so like everything else, take it with a grain of salt. The single biggest gift I've ever given myself as a writer is keeping my day job. It's a lot easier for me to take joy in writing when I'm not counting on a project to pay my bills.

12. Okay, this one is kind of silly, but if I get into a rut, I sometimes treat writing like a sporting event. When I was playing volleyball, we used to have a mixed CD that we played during the warm-up for every game: our pump-up CD. It was full of lively, upbeat music that got our adrenaline pumping. So sometimes, I do the same thing with writing. Music can really affect my mood, so even though this seems kind of small, it can help a ton.

13. Also, sometimes I like dressing up to write. Given that I most often write while wearing sweatpants, this seems really weird, but occasionally, I just feel like treating writing as an event, so I'll dress for it. And sometimes, I design the outfits to be thematic with the book. Lame? Yes. But it's fun. And sometimes, fun is what I really need.

14. I also like turning writing into an outing. You know destination weddings? I do Destination Writing- but on a smaller scale (most of the time, anyway). I'll pick out a place that I will enjoy being (for instance, a coffee shop at the mall, or a bookstore, or a restaurant I love, or the library) and then I go there and I write.

So. That's what works for me. What works for you guys? And does anyone else but me struggle with keeping the love?


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