Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Writing as a Calling: Preserving Passion

Most of us started writing because we loved it. Of course, now we want to be the next J.K. Rowling (well, I do) but we didn't start because we thought we could make money at writing. It was because something about putting words on paper fanned a spark somewhere inside.

Most of us started out writing for ourselves. Then, somewhere along the way, we decided to try and improve our skills and learn how to write for others - i.e. seek publication. Which sounded like a wonderful idea until this thing that we did for fun suddenly turned into work.

Last time I wrote about how I try to stay disciplined and approach the creative process with a work ethic. This time it's all about the love. Here's what I do to maintain that inspirational spark that first drove me to write.

Writing is work. There is no way around that fact. But the most important thing in writing passionately is to write what you love.That may require research into trunked stories, the "shite" folder on your hard drive, or even (horrors) your middle/high school novels. (Yes, I have one of those. And no, it's not pretty.) Find something from the point when you wrote just for the joy of writing and figure out what it was about those stories you loved so much.

Michael Franti has a song with the line "I don't wanna write a love song for the world, I just wanna write a song about a boy and a girl" which I find particularly interesting. Because some authors do want to write the next Great American Novel. And some, like me, just want to write stories about characters that engage our readers and leave them with a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the book. Both of those are valid reasons to write. Knowing your reason will give you insight into why certain things you thought you wanted to write, just don't seem to be a good fit after you start.

So, here's the list of things I do to keep my passion alive.

1. Write down your reasons for writing.

You can stick these up over your desk or put them in a drawer, it doesn't matter. Write a couple of sentences (or a couple of pages) laying out your motivation for writing in general. (If you're a real organizational nut you could do this with every project but that's not necessary. I always try to figure out what I want to get out of any book I write because it helps keep me focused on the heart of the story. But not everyone is wired like I am.) It is important to WRITE THESE REASONS DOWN. Eventually you will hit a point when you want to burn everything you ever wrote because you feel it sucks. (Been there way more than I will ever admit.) At that point you need something concrete to look at. Trying to keep your inspiration in your head will fail you at that point because (and trust me on this) it will all seem too stupid for words. WRITE IT DOWN. It may still seem stupid but at least you won't forget in the heat of the moment.

2.Remind yourself of your reasons for writing on a regular basis.

Just like reviewing daily/weekly/monthly goals, you should revisit your reasons to write on a regular basis. And I don't mean just glance down the list and say "Oh, yeah. Great American Novel. Sure." Really think about it. Find that excitement that drew you to writing and hold on to it.

3. Enjoy every bit that is enjoyable.

Not everything about writing is enjoyable. Editing, kind of a pain in the butt. Trudging through the second act - like cleaning your teeth with sandpaper. But, even in the less pleasant aspects there are plenty of "This is awesome!" moments. Enjoy those. I know, it sounds a little crazy, but perspective is important. When you finish up a chapter that really had you in knots and feel like celebrating - do. Even if it's just a cookie and a cup of coffee before you tackle the next chapter. Or giving yourself an extra thirty minutes of reading time.

Writing is work but that doesn't mean you should hate it. In fact, quite the opposite. You should put in the effort because you love it. And just because you're constantly striving to be a better writer and hone your skills and sell that manuscript you've been polishing for years now doesn't mean you can't love every second. Even the ones spent editing. (Okay. Maybe not the editing part - although I've learned to love editing/revising - but all the rest of it.)

What are your reasons for writing? How do you maintain excitement when the work starts to get the best of you?


Cheyanne Young said...

Great post!

I know many people say they write for themselves, but I've always written for other people. Not in a bad way - just as a kid, I loved writing stories and seeing people's faces when they read it and (hopefully) liked it.

The joy of giving people a good story to read is what keeps me writing. Otherwise, I'd just leave all the stories in my head. =)

A.G. Carpenter said...

Haha. That's one of the reasons I kept writing - because it was cool to see other people read and like what I wrote.

When I started though, I just wrote for myself. I wanted to write things like I read from the library (there was this one set of stories that was strikingly similar to The Boxcar Children) and it didn't really occur to me that other people would read them. I just wanted to write.

But one of the big joys is getting share the worlds in my head with other people. And see what kind of wonders they have in their heads. :)

Jaydee Morgan said...

Loved this! And yes, passion is important - why else would anyone want to put up with all the frustration.

I'm not looking to write the next great novel - but I do want people to enjoy the stories I tell.

Angela said...

Great post. I keep wallet sized pic of my kids right below my monitor to remind me of why I do this. :)

A.G. Carpenter said...

J.D - me too. :)

Angela - that's great. I had a teacher once who said his greatest motivator was the monthly stack of bills.

Charlene said...

When I was a kid I also just wrote what I wanted to read. I still do now, but I also take the other stuff into account.
Sometimes my motivation is for the satisfaction of knowing I entertained one person with an idea I thought was good. The other motivation is the feeling I get when I stop and think about how writing has always been something I could do when all the other endeavors burned out.

A.G. Carpenter said...

Charlene: That's a great thing. I love writing but sometimes it tries to abandon me. *shakes fist at muse* Glad to hear that at least for someone it produces something consistently. :)