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  • [BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] 4 Simple Ways to Create Joy in Your Writing Life
[BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] 4 Simple Ways to Create Joy in Your Writing Life
Contributor
Written by
Jill Jepson
August 2015
Contributor
Written by
Jill Jepson
August 2015

As a writer, writing teacher, and coach, I have long been interested in joy. In Writing as a Sacred Path, I come back to this question again and again: What brings joy to the writing life?

While many beginning writers I’ve worked with insist that success is the key to a joyful writing life, most writers with experience don’t agree. Publications and book contracts feel great, of course, but joy is something deeper and longer lasting than the pleasure you get from success. True joy goes to the core of your life.

After years of working with writers (and observing my own feelings) I’m convinced that we can choose joy. Even through the disappointments and frustrations and hard, hard work, we can take steps to create joyful writing lives. Here are some of the things I advise my coaching clients to do—and I do myself—to create joy in our lives:

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Be playful.

Ray Bradbury famously said, “...if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer.” I think you’re fully a writer even if you’re steeped in gloom, but still, Bradbury has a good point. Many of us writers work with grim determination, hunched over our desks with our jaws set and anxiety looking over our shoulders. How much more enjoyable our writing lives become when we can charge into our work laughing. Learn to see your writing as a game. Shake off the feeling of drudgery. Be playful. Have fun.  

Lighten up on your goals.

I have often written that goals do writers more harm than good. Research shows they stress us out, make us focus too much on false ideas of failure vs. success, and don’t actually help us achieve. I agree with Buddhist blogger Leo Babauta who says the best goal is no goal

When I suggest writers abandon goal setting, I get a lot of backlash. People like goals. We’ve been taught that they’re the keys to success, and we’ve depended on them too long to give them up. So instead of saying abandon goal setting like I used to, I’m going to suggest we all lighten up on our goals. Set them, but don’t live for them. Don’t let them get the better of you. Our goals should be guides and helpers, not tyrants. Set goals if you can’t imagine your writing life without them—but take them lightly.

Write what makes your heart sing.

If you choose to write what you think is going to get published or make you famous, you’re choosing the wrong thing. For one thing, it’s impossible to know what the next big thing is going to be. (Example: no one predicted a kid’s book about a boy wizard was going to take the world by storm.) For another, if you’re writing for the market, it’s going to show in your writing. Most importantly, writing with publication as your primary target is a surefire way to kill the joy in your writing life.

Instead of writing to get published, write what makes your heart sing. Write the poem or story that fills you with music. Imagine a book you would love to read, then write that book. This will not only make your writing life joyful, it will paradoxically make your writing more likely to get published because it will be written with energy and passion—and that’s what readers want.

Stop counting.

Writers tend to measure their success by counting things. We count our publications, visits to our websites, comments on our blogs, book sales, rejections, and numbers of stars on our reviews.

If you feel you need to count things to see where you stand in the world of publishing, limit yourself. Check your book sales once a week or once a month, then let it go. Don’t obsess on the fact that last week’s blog post got twenty comments and this week’s only one. Take note of it and move on. Numbers are just numbers.  

If you are one of those lucky writers who get out of bed in the morning eager to rush to the page,  and go to bed at night with a sense of rich satisfaction, then you already know what a gift a joyful writing life is. If you’re like most of us—gritting your teeth through one frustrated, anxious day after the other—turn away for a time from the struggle and focus on creating joy in your writing life. Discover what it can do for your life, and for your writing.

What do you do to create joy? What lightens and brightens your writing process? What gifts does joy bring your writing?

Get my free ebooklet, Calling Up the Writer Within: A Short Guide to Writing at 50 & Beyond here.  


 

 

 

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Comments
  • Jill Jepson

    I can so relate to what you say here about the near-misses, Rachel! I agree about focusing on the path. Thanks for your comment.

  • Jill Jepson

    Thank you, Susan! I'm so glad this post worked for you. I often have to "work" to stay joyful.

  • susan imhoff bird

    thanks, jill... it certainly is difficult, at times, to keep a steady focus on an uncertain future. tips one and three are most crucial for me, and I appreciate the reminder to keep play, joy, and heartsongs in my life!

  • Rachel Rivett

    Thank you Jill, I found your post refreshingly light. These points resonate with me too, and i find the longer I write and the more near-misses I endure, the more I have lightened up on the definitions of success, and the more I focus on the path. I like that Buddhist saying, that the goal is the path, and the path is the goal. I am never happier than when I'm writing, and perhaps that in itself is enough. I'm really grateful for the books that have made it to publication and I sit a little easier with the ones that haven't. It's refreshing to have someone 'give permission' for an author to stop fretting about likes and numbers. I do not enjoy that side of it at all.

  • Jill Jepson

    Thank you, RYCJ! I'm so pleased this resonated with you. I think most of us are aware of these things. We just need to be reminded from time to time!

  • Wow. I say it all the time... every word of it... though I really wished I wrote it like this myself;-). Beautiful. So very, very on point!