On (not) Writing

Cats are great at helping you put off writing. Thank you, cats. (c) Lejon A. Johnson

Cats are great at helping you put off writing. Thank you, cats. (c) Lejon A. Johnson

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend about a project I’ve been struggling with. This is #3 in a series of what I call my “cheesy romance novels,” a series I started way back when it looked like a person might be able to make a living writing, if they picked the right genre. I dashed off the first two volumes and they were a fun romp (yes, in contrast to my dreary usual fare). Then I went seven years without another novel sale and completely lost enthusiasm for the project.

Sometime during that seven-year slump, I decided to revive the cheesy romance series. I dragged out the notes I’d sketched for book 3, and kicked and screamed my way through a complete draft. It was pretty awful, but I’d gotten back into writing. Then came some forward motion on two other projects, one self-published and one I’m shopping to new agents, and now I’m in a holding pattern as I await responses from the agents. What to do? Twiddle my thumbs? Seems like a good time to get back to cheesy romance #3 and fix it, trying to recapture what made the first two so successful. Which I’ve tried twice, and it’s still like pulling teeth. Which brings me to this conversation with my friend, who promptly said, “Do you really want to write this book?”

After much deliberation, and more pulling of teeth, I have to admit the answer is no.

I’m going to step back and make an observation about human nature. (Cue dramatic music, if you must.) We humans have a strong tendency to do things because we think we should, whether or not it’s really the best or most useful thing to do at the time. We tend to get ourselves in trouble, frequently, because of these choices. At the very least, we spin our wheels and wallow in dissatisfaction, trying to figure out what the problem is, when the real problem is simply that our perception about what we should do was erroneous.

Stepping back seven-plus years to those optimistic days when I thought I could make a decent income writing, I made a choice to take a part-time position, cutting my schedule and my salary in half, to free up more writing time. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: a rare part-time position with benefits at a better location than where I had been working. It was, both personally and objectively, the right thing to do at the time. But then New York stopped being interested in me, my previous agent had no news for me, my optimism about writing dried up, and it started looking like a bad choice. For various reasons, I’ve been unable to go back to full-time work, and while these reasons are pretty well justified in themselves, I’ve still been clinging to the original reason I went part-time: to write. By this reasoning, if I’m not writing, I’m doing it wrong.

I’ve therefore been pushing myself to write, whether I want to or not, whether it’s crap or not, just because I’m clinging to this perception about what I should be doing, even though it’s not currently applicable. And – no surprise – I’ve hated everything that I’ve written solely because I felt I should be working on it. (The series I’ve got out on submission, on the other hand, is something I really wanted to write, and so it came out well. No teeth pulling, even.)

So – for all you seekers of writing advice – that’s the secret: Write what you really want to. Don’t write just what you feel you should. You’ll be happier, and the work will probably be better anyway.

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