Keeping the Joy in Your Writing

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Don’t let your love of writing die out

By Karen Heslop

There’s a popular quote from acclaimed writer and activist Gloria Steinem that says, “Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else.” It’s simple and straightforward, but, more importantly, the quote highlights an inherent joy that can come from writing. Whether it comes easily or not, you have to admit that there’s something about getting those words out of your head and onto the literal or digital page.

Yet, it’s not unheard of to lose that joy and have writing become an activity that you dread. How do you keep that from happening?

Issues that Can Affect the Joy of Writing

In an interesting course of events, the same factors that are attributed to being a successful writer can sap the joy out of your words. For example, you might have heard that it’s important to know your audience and write to that market. While that’s helpful advice, it can also be a lot to keep in mind when you’re just trying to get those words out. It’s a bit like trying to turn on a tap with someone else tugging it in the other direction.

Another thing that can take a toll is recent feedback on your writing. Now, there’s always room for improvement where storytelling is concerned, but it can be hard to turn off that critical voice when you’re turning out a first draft. As you’re writing, you’re being plagued by the thought that it’s just as terrible as the work that got criticized.

Oddly, rave reviews have been known to have a similar effect. Writers who have gotten excellent feedback on something they’ve written often struggle to put out more work because they’re worried it might not be good enough. Even if you’ve been writing for some time and working on improving your craft, it’s not uncommon to ask, “What if that was a fluke?” That level of worry can keep the words at bay for a long time.

How to Recognize that You’ve Lost Your Joy

Whether or not you can identify what’s plaguing you, it will be helpful to know the signs that your joy in writing is wavering. Unsurprisingly, these signs may be fairly similar to what’s called burnout. You may find that even thinking about writing elicits feelings of sadness and fear. Some writers have described going into a panic or getting depressed when sitting down in front of the computer.

When you aren’t trying to write, you could find yourself thinking that writing is a waste of time and nobody wants to see what you’re working on. It’s not strange to give serious thought to never writing again. As you’re struggling to get the words out, you might try to motivate yourself with thoughts of your responsibility to others.

As with burnout, there can be physical manifestations of your loss. If you’re already dealing with a chronic illness, it’s possible to experience worsening symptoms.

How to Keep Your Joy

In an ideal world, you’d never have to put up with anything that steals your joy in the first place. Unfortunately, that’s rarely possible. The next best thing is to recognize when you’re losing the joy that used to come with writing and take effective steps to bring it back. Here are a few things you can try.

Go Back to the Basics

You’ve probably been asked this question a hundred times, but now you’ll have to pose it to yourself: Why did you start writing? Before you started thinking of writing as a career or something you needed to present to others, what made you want to write? Exploring the answer to that question may help to unlock your joy.

Write Like Nobody Is Reading

This one might be easier said than done if you’re writing for a living. However, there’s a lot to be said for writing without your audience in mind for once. After all, when you first started writing, you probably weren’t sure who your work would reach. It can be refreshing to get into that mindset again.

Entertain Those Weird Ideas

Many writers get a weird story idea that seems to pop up out of nowhere. Of course, if it’s not what you’re supposed to be writing, you’ll probably ignore it. When you stifle bursts of creativity, however, you trample on the opportunity to get a little bit of your joy back. Even if you can’t write everything that comes from the idea all at once, it’s a good idea to set aside some time to jot down a few words here and there.

Give Each Story Its Own Room To Grow

In light of how feedback can keep you stuck like a deer in headlights, it’s better to put all of that to the side when writing something new. That story deserves to be what it’s meant to be, so let it breathe. Once you get around to editing it, you might unearth something else entirely, but you shouldn’t force it into an old box while you write.

Try Something Different

Not only can you be kept prisoner by what your audience wants, but you can also be caught in the confines of what your specific genre requires. It doesn’t always leave room for you to experiment, and the restrictions can make it hard to find joy in writing. Instead of fighting against those requirements, explore different genres, tropes, or creative expressions. Yes, you’ll have to accept that this might not see the light of day, but you’ll benefit from spreading your wings.

Manage that Editing Hat

The truth is that in the beginning of your writing career, the words may have flowed more easily because you weren’t bogged down with that editing voice at the back of your mind. To keep the joy of writing alive, you need to find a way to put your editing hat somewhere else while you write. If you’re one of those writers who needs to edit as you write, it might be a little trickier to make that switch, but it’s still possible.

Moving Forward

No writer wants to get to the point where they lose joy in creating. However, it’s a very real problem for those who are making or have made a career of writing. Unless you’re prepared to walk away from it entirely, it’s best to put steps in place to ensure that you enjoy writing for as long as you want to.

Karen Heslop is a fiction and non-fiction writer from Jamaica. After 15 years in the food manufacturing industry, she decided to take her life into her own hands. Now, she's a freelance writer who specializes in health-related areas. You can find her on LinkedIn at