Are We Having Fun Yet?

I’m taking a blogging break this week. Hope you enjoy this post from my archives.

I received a letter from a writer who said that one of the great joys of his life was creating ideas and playing around with characters in fantastic worlds. But when he decided to try transferring these thoughts into stories, the joy disappeared. The struggle to pin down ideas and images into words and sentences was simply not any fun.

He was wondering if he was the only one with this problem. Does he simply need more practice? Should he just write, even if it’s not fun?

I thought this was a great question and I want you all to answer, but first (of course) I’ll offer my two cents.

I heard an interview with Nicholas Sparks that seems relevant. He might not be everyone’s favorite author but he’s successful and prolific, so I think he’s worth listening to. I was surprised that when the interviewer asked him if he enjoys writing, he said “No.” He said it’s difficult work and it’s not fun while he’s doing it. When he goes in his office and closes the door, he has the mindset of “going to work” and doesn’t think of it as enjoyable.

I’m sure, like many successful authors before him, that he enjoys having written even if he doesn’t enjoy the process of writing. He likes the results—as do most writers.

Personally, I don’t enjoy the process of writing, but I do enjoy the results of what I write. However, I know many of my clients, fiction authors especially, love their writing time. For them, that creative flow is energizing. They love being in their made-up worlds and hanging out with their fictional characters, and find it enjoyable.

The conundrum most novelists face is that there’s a big difference between imagining those worlds within the freedom of your own mind, and wrangling them to fit into the severely limiting structure of written language. It’s hard work.

Coming to this realization can be a defining moment. You’re going to eventually figure out, once and for all, if you’re committed to writing a novel or not. If you decide you really want to go for it, then you’ll be ready to accept and deal with the truth that writing a novel is hard. You’ll be able to commit to the work, hoping eventually there’ll be a payoff meaning that you’ll enjoy the results of your labor. That doesn’t necessarily mean being published, but simply enjoying your story on the page, and enjoying the feeling of accomplishment.

If you get to a point where the writing feels more difficult than fun, I think you should give it some more time, accepting that writing is hard work rather than being surprised by it or fighting against it. Listen to your gut and see where it leads you. After six months or so, you’ll probably know whether the novelist life is for you or not.

So, readers, what do you think? Is writing fun? Is it supposed to be?

If you haven’t yet, drop by my Facebook page and click “Like.”

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  5. marion on June 6, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    >Just came across this quote from Maya Lin:
    To fly we have to have resistance.
    Seems to sum it up.
    Of course, there's a difference between resistance and a brick wall!

  6. patti.mallett_pp on June 6, 2011 at 7:21 AM

    >Loving the Archives, Rachelle!

    I agree with *Sharon Lavy (above). Being told we MUST READ takes the guilt away, from say, choosing to read rather than clean out "that" closet. ("It's our job!!")

    Most non-writers think it's all about the "fun and exhilaration."

    To explain my feelings on the subject, I usually just say this one line: "Writing is a Love-Hate relationship."

  7. marion on June 6, 2011 at 6:27 AM

    >Loved my comment so much that I just put it on my blog. I'm so modest! No, really, I thought my bloggies [just made that up] might enjoy (well, perhaps not "enjoy") reading what I love/hate about writing.
    Thanks for sparking this little old post.

    I also tell people that "Rachelle's blog has become a sort of home-away-from-home for me. A virtual writers' community."
    Thought you might like to know that.

  8. Anonymous on June 4, 2011 at 6:33 PM

    >Writing first drafts is a lot of fun.

    Rewriting is torture. It's not the killing the darlings piece that makes it so painful. It's treading over the story that has already been written, wanting to just write another story, rather tearing apart what has already been done. It's like watching the same TV show episode on repeat. That is pain!

    And then, after all that pain, you learn that the market for books like one is dead: Urban Fantasy. More pain!

  9. Jenny Brabin on June 4, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    >I love writing! I wouldn't be able to force myself to sit down and write a book if I didn't enjoy it. Although I still haven't done that aha. I love the idea of manipulating worlds, and when I get an idea, I have to scribble it down before it floats away. Ideas will rocket around in my head, if I leave them to sit they would start to makes steam come out my ears. Sometimes I think it's hard, but never unenjoyable, however other times words just flow from brain to screen or paper. I think that the best way is to charge through it and get it down, then do the hard work after. The feeling of writing is the best of all. Editing… maybe not. I never realised some people didn't enjoy the process. Poor you.

  10. Beth K. Vogt on June 4, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    >Is writing always fun? No. But do I love writing? Yes. That's why I opted for a journalism degree in college. I asked myself "What do I love so much that I could imagine doing it every day for the rest of my life?"
    My answer to my then 18-year-old self?
    I'm also one of the crazy ones who thinks editing is fun. I like to edit my stuff–and other writers' stuff–to help make the words sing!

  11. Cheri Gregory on June 4, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    >It sounds as though "fun" has many definitions and comes in many forms! I suspect our personalities influence the extent to which "fun" and "work" are separated or co-mingled in our lives.

    As a Sanguine, I associate "fun" with "effortless." So no, writing is not "fun" for me. My ideas sprawl so crazily that I often over-write by 200-300%, and in the midst of the mess I vacillate between frustration and despair. I feel dumber than dumb for thinking I had anything worth saying and just want to wad up my computer and toss it in the trash can.

    However, once everything (and then some!) is out of my brain and onto paper (okay, hard drive!), my Choleric side enjoys the revision process. It's work; but I like work, and I'm good at it. I KNOW how to clean up my own messes, how to recognize the good, the bad, and the hideous.

    I start having wonderful "Ah-HA!" moments: motifs I hadn't planned, patterns I hadn't seen, and connections that I hadn't made until I started writing. This discovery process is what calls me back to pen and paper (or keyboard) time and time again.

    I love and enjoy revising. It's not "fun" in the same way that attending An Evening With Bill Cosby is "fun" or three hours of hysterical family game night (which usually ends up with my husband rolling on the floor gasping, "I can't breathe!") is "fun".

    But for me, "fun" doesn't last…while the fruits of hard work and joy do.

  12. marion on June 4, 2011 at 5:23 AM

    >Writing is the most rewarding thing I can do, and the most challenging. An activity that I'm gifted for, but the most difficult and frustrating and exasperating. And a huge learning curve.

    The best part is when something reveals itself that you didn't know. Maybe from research, maybe just from the logic of the characters and their lives. It's fun living in this other world. It's an antidote to depression (not a cure)–having an interesting world to go to as a refuge when your own life seems so drab.

    And the really best part is when it flows. And the worst part is when you're stuck–because your life is stuck, or because your story needs percolation time.

    And the really worst part (as someone mentioned) is rereading a chapter & thinking that it's all a boring load of garbage. And then you have to ask yourself: Is this me having a bad day? Is this me being insecure? Or is this really not the best or most accurate piece of writing I've ever done?

    Enough already! Thanks, Rachelle!

  13. Leigh D'Ansey on June 4, 2011 at 12:03 AM

    >I don't see the fun until after it's finished. Throughout my life it's been the same with various creative projects (don't ask me why I start them!). Sometimes it seems torture but then when the garden blooms, when the cake gets delivered, or the ball gown worn it's all worth it. Getting there is really hard for me.

  14. tamarapaulin on June 3, 2011 at 11:08 PM

    >Writing is the same as exercise or house cleaning or hanging out with certain friends. Sometimes I enjoy the process, sometimes I drag my heels and whine and moan. But I always love the results.

  15. Julie Nilson on June 3, 2011 at 10:06 PM

    >Like many challenging activities, it's both. Sometimes it's fun, when the words and ideas are flowing easily, and sometimes it's hard, punishing work. However–what gets me through the punishing periods is that "woo hoo!" moment where a piece of the story finally clicks together or I come up with some turn of a phrase that I just love.

  16. Larry Carney on June 3, 2011 at 7:43 PM

    >Depends on what type of writing. Used to write for this little newspaper and it was always fun.

    What isn't fun……is writing fiction and trying to find a unique way to say something. Simply because, as a wise-guy once said, "There is nothing new under the sun." 🙂

  17. Anonymous on June 3, 2011 at 6:22 PM

    >For me writing is communion with God. It's a chance to shut out the world, tune into him and hear what he is saying to me. Am still struggling with the process, but I like the focus writing brings to my life.

  18. Mary Anne Graham on June 3, 2011 at 6:18 PM

    >The writer's mood should follow the story.

    If your charcter is sad or scared or stressed, then you should feel some of that as a writer. If your hero and heroine are in the the white heat of attraction or the first blush of love, then the writer should feel some of that too.

    If your story doesn't carry you along first, how will it ever transport your readers?

  19. Kristin Laughtin on June 3, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    >Writing can be fun. It can be frustrating. At times, it can be both. And sometimes it's just tedious.

    However, the rush after writing a great scene, or one that matches all the action in your head, can't be beat. I suppose I enjoy having written more than writing sometimes. I LOVE revising. But if I never got any enjoyment out of the process of writing the first draft, it'd be silly to pursue as a career or a hobby, since that takes up most of the time!

  20. Chemist Ken on June 3, 2011 at 12:54 PM

    >Writing research reports always felt like pulling teeth to me, so a year or so ago, I would have said that writing is a total chore for me. But after toying around with a few ideas for some fan fic, I accidently discovered that writing fiction is addicting — at least the part about plotting and world-building.

    As far as the actual writing goes, it's still a love/hate relationship. I have so much trouble getting the ideas in my head down onto paper in a coherent manner, it often feels like hard work. But then I eventually come up with a good way to write it down and the excitement draws me back even stronger than ever.

  21. Loree Huebner on June 3, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    >I was blessed to be able to stay home and raise my kids when they were small. As they grew and went to school, I still stayed home and ran my husband’s business from my office at home. I also started writing during this time when the kids were in school. It was easy and fun. I had time to be creative without rushing. Life was God, family, and then my writing. I managed to write several novels during this time. After a few more years, my kids got old enough to where I could go back to work. The writing, the one thing that was just me, became like 6th or 7th on the list.

    Now that I work full time again, it’s been hard, but I still love the writing. I must work it in to my schedule along with trying to build a platform…etc. That’s not always easy to accomplish. At one point, I thought of giving it up. I felt overwhelmed, but something in me just couldn’t let it go.

    I now have a regular routine and schedule with my life, family, and writing, and what I have found was a mountain of already written manuscript to polish up. I’m taking all the books I wrote when I had time to write and I’m revising and editing them. I’ve learned so much about writing since those books were written. I have also started a new book.

    For me, writing is fun when I’m writing. Finding time to write makes it difficult, rushed, and not very fun.

    Great post!

  22. Stephanie McGee on June 3, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    >It is for me. It's the most enjoyable thing I do in my life right now. I love discovering an idea and characters and writing them down and forming the words that tell their story.

    Sure there are parts that are a total drag, but I get over those and move forward and find the fun again.

  23. Christine Rains on June 3, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    >Writing itself is fun. I love letting a story take me into another world. The editing and marketing is not at all fun for me. Yet I understand it's necessary.

  24. Sue Fuller on June 3, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    >Writing is fun when the words are flowing, when I'm in the zone and the story is pouring from my brain faster than my fingers can keep up with.

    But writing isn't always like that. Sometimes I struggle for every single word. My muse goes on vacation and it's just me and a blank screen. I'm convinced everything is utter dreck, and then my beta sends it back, usually bleeding red but with smiley faces and little notes of encouragement that the story is good.

    And suddenly writing is fun again.

  25. Carradee on June 3, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    >This reminded me of something my mom told me about when she was in college. Her professor suggested she be a writer, and she said "No." My mom told her professor that writers love to hate the process—even when they hate writing, they like the results. She doesn't like the process OR the results.

    Every hobby has aspects that we hate. I enjoy knitting and crocheting, but I hate the finishing work. Picking up stitches on the side of the baby jacket to make the button panels. Sewing that teddy bear together. Ulgh. I'll just make another bracelet or set of baby booties, thank you.

    But if we don't enjoy something about it, we have no drive to do it.

    Parts of writing should be fun, though those pieces will be different for different writers. For example, I actually enjoy cover design and layout work. That was actually something that factored into my decision to self-publish.

    If you hate writing because what's on the page doesn't match what's in your head, keep going. You won't get there without practice.

    If you hate writing because it's now work, keep going. You need to pay the bills.

    If you just hate writing altogether, whatchya doing it for?

  26. Taz on June 3, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    >These comments totally sum it up for me: "…enjoying your story on the page, and enjoying the feeling of accomplishment.

    "If you get to a point where the writing feels more difficult than fun, I think you should give it some more time, accepting that writing is hard work rather than being surprised by it or fighting against it. Listen to your gut and see where it leads you."

    Rarely do I not know what to write, and when I do, I back down and stop thinking because that's when it becomes forced and the fun becomes more like work. I'll assess a different part of the story and check out different angles or do some research. I might even pen ideas for another story that have been refusing to lie down, and so that frees space for the words/action to flow again. I even like the edits because I know the story's improving.

    Writing is so much fun that I LOVE it. I think it should be fun. It's a privilege to be able to write anything! If it wasn't fun, I'd seriously be considering other options for my other day job. I admit it's slightly scary to hear published writers say the joy departs when the contract finally comes. Perhaps because the pressure to perform comes with it.

  27. MaryC on June 3, 2011 at 10:05 AM

    >Such a perfect topic for me this week as I've been struggling with it. Writing used to be pure fun for me – the secret pleasure I found time for. Lately, it's too often felt like one more task to accomplish before bed.

    The "what if?" and playing with story ideas is still fun and still gives me an incomparable rush, but the time at the keyboard is sometimes/often a struggle so I've been thinking on it.
    The answers I've come up with aren't completely satisfactory, but they're helping me figure out where I'm at.

    I think writing was pure joy for me when I didn't know a thing about marketing, when I was clueless about story structure and rules and I was writing just to find out what happened next to my characters. In a sense, writing was just another form of reading to me – I was reading my own story as I wrote it.

    There's a big difference between that private writing and writing for publication.

    Right now I sort of feel like the cranky child in the sandbox who was told there are rules for playing nicely. 😉 Once I adjust my mindset to following rules, I should be able to have fun again.

    Hope that rambling makes sense to someone other than me.

  28. Cynthia Herron on June 3, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    >I'm with Wendy above. Writing's a blast. Editing, not so much.

  29. Rosie Lane on June 3, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    >I love the first draft where I'm making the story up and getting into my character's heads. Revisions, where I start worrying about craft, I find wearing.

  30. Ace on June 3, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    >Writing is fun for me. I enjoy creating the characters and the world they inhabit and chronicling their adventures in that world. Yes, there are times when the writing is slow-going and, as Stephen King put it in On Writing, it feels like you're shoveling s**t from a sitting position.

    But you just keep shoveling.

    Is writing supposed to be fun? I think that's up to the writer to decide.

  31. Laurie Muench on June 3, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    >Personally, I love writing stories. I love imagining them, I love searching for the perfect word to use. I adore putting it all down on paper so it is somewhere besides my easily distracted brain. What I loathe is editing. I force myself to do at least two hours of editing for every hour of writing.

  32. Betty A on June 3, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    >Betty A says:

    Writing allows me to think–and rethink–and finally arrive at a set of words that are more meaningful than most of the popcorn verbiage that pelts us daily from the Internet, tv, newspapers, magazines, political forums, town meetings, sales pitches, athletic events–yadda, yadda, yadda.

    Summary: It's cheaper than therapy!

  33. Sharon A. Lavy on June 3, 2011 at 8:39 AM

    >When you wake up in the middle of the night and realize one of your characters just got in a horrible car wreck. And you did not see it coming at all. And you have to go write it down. And it takes your story in a direction you hadn't expected.

    When all these characters get killed in the next story. And people, other writers even, say "And you look like such a nice person!"

    All I can say is, "Hey, I don't ever kill off a character. No way. I am just the reporter."

    And in the re-writes your characters let you know you got it wrong the first time and you have to go back and change things, because you didn't know your characters that well the first time through.


  34. Rowenna on June 3, 2011 at 8:17 AM

    >I find what Sparks said interesting–as though he can't reconcile "going to work" with "fun." I'm not suggesting that writing is all happy giggles, but you can enjoy your work–and if you don't, I think there might be something wrong with what you're doing. I've had jobs I found enjoyment in and jobs I didn't–while every job has elements that aren't enjoyable, if you dislike most of it…well, why are you doing it? No, writing is not a leisure activity if you're doing it seriously, and yes, there are days and parts of the process that are simply Not Fun. But if the only enjoyment you derive is from the finished product, nothing from the process (which is long!) that sounds like a sure way to make yourself completely crazy if you make it a career. Find another way to "have done" something–like baking cupcakes. Everyone loves cupcakes, and they're quick!

    Honestly–I don't believe Sparks. I think he does enjoy the process, at least one some levels (otherwise, I honestly don't believe he'd finish anything). But he wouldn't admit that it's "fun" because that seems to devalue the "work" element of it. To me, they coexist beautifully.

  35. Sandra Ardoin on June 3, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    >I'm part plotter and part pantser. The only time writing isn't fun for me is when I bog down trying to get from scene forty to scene forty-five. Sometimes it takes a while to work through it.

    I love it when a character does something unexpected that adds a terrific twist to the plot–one I hadn't considered yet. What a rush!

  36. Lynne Connolly on June 3, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    >yes, yes, it should be fun!
    There are always parts of a job that you don't like. I don't like editing. I know other writers who love it.
    If you don't enjoy most of it, don't do it. Go and work at your local supermarket, you'll probably get the same kind of money and the work's regular.
    But hard work should be fun. It is fun. In this world of instant gratification, sometimes people lose track of that.

  37. Sharon A. Lavy on June 3, 2011 at 6:47 AM

    >Yep, Sarah, you are a writer! And that is why we need each other. Non-writers cannot understand.

  38. Wendy Paine Miller on June 3, 2011 at 6:47 AM

    >Writing is fun for me. Editing is not fun for me.

    ~ Wendy

  39. Sarah on June 3, 2011 at 6:33 AM

    >Writing isn't easy, and it's rarely fun.

    But- and I hope this makes sense- I love the struggle. I'd rather work at this than sail through something else.

  40. Sharon A. Lavy on June 3, 2011 at 6:30 AM

    >What I do for fun = read novels. The best thing that ever happened to me is when I became a novelist and had instruction to read, read, read.

    Not just permission to read, but a rule. "You will never be an excellent writer unless you read good books, bad books and learn from them."

    Life on earth doesn't get any better than this.

  41. Kathleen@so much to say on June 3, 2011 at 6:26 AM

    >I think Catherine has nailed it: writing is a love, and love in its true sense is not an emotion, it's a commitment, a series of choices and actions. Sometimes you enjoy it, sometimes you just want to walk away, but either way you discipline yourself to stay and put in the necessary effort. Just like marriage. Yup, nailed it. 🙂

  42. Sharon A. Lavy on June 3, 2011 at 6:14 AM

    >After six months I should know if the novelists life is for me or not?

    I took my first novel writing class from Writers Digest School in 1996. I have never looked back.

    I don't know if it is fun or not. What is stressful is being interrupted when I finally get into the flow. Because life happens. And relationships are important.

    I am one of the fortunate writers with a supportive husband.

    Now that mother-in-love lives with us, she is reasonably supportive too.

    • dresses on sale on January 8, 2012 at 10:59 AM

      Why i can’t see the pictures on your blog ?

  43. Catherine West on June 3, 2011 at 5:51 AM

    >I am still very much in love with writing. Like a fine wine or a solid marriage, it improves over time. But it takes work, commitment and the willingness to give and take and compromise. Sure, there are days when I want to pull my hair out and never look at another word. But then there are those days when I sit back after reading that final chapter and just know…this is what I'm meant to do. No, it's not all fun, but then what job is?

  44. amboycharlie on June 3, 2011 at 4:09 AM

    >I actually love the process. I can't think of anything I enjoy more, though when I read really pedestrian prose with stereotypical characters formulaic plots, I can understand why some authors consider it work.

  45. Carol J. Garvin on June 3, 2011 at 2:34 AM

    >My interpretation of what constitutes enjoyment may differ from someone else's. I gain satisfaction from my writing, even when it's challenging to the point of frustration. There is such a rush when the gears mesh and a particular scene begins to roll out effortlessly. I can't imagine spending long hours pursuing my writing if it gave me no pleasure at all. I'm not masochistic.

  46. Sra on June 3, 2011 at 2:26 AM

    >It's both at the same time. Some things are frustrating and obnoxious. Some things are magical.

    But you wouldn't really appreciate writing very much if it was always fun all the time. It would get old.

  47. Nancy Thompson on June 3, 2011 at 1:04 AM

    >Well, I'm relatively new at this novel writing thing, especially for my somewhat advanced age, but I must say, I've enjoyed, or dare I say loved, this process, at least for the most part. I absolutely love the writing part & even the revisions. As long as I'm dreaming & writing, I'm tremendously happy.

    I struggle with the doubt more than anything. Just last night, after I read your archive post regarding backstory, I panicked, doubting that I had done it correctly. And yet, when I focused in on those areas that needed attention & started writing, I felt great.

    I must say, though, that I am worried about the next project, wondering if I'll be able to reproduce the magic of that first time around. But I imagine, once I do actually begin to write, I'll be in that happy place I discovered just over a year ago, at the age of 46.

  48. Jimmie Hammel on June 3, 2011 at 12:59 AM

    >Sometimes, it's perfect and exhilarating. The words run from your brain to your fingertips and then into the computer as if by magic. When that happens, it's better than chocolate.

    And sometimes, it's a chore.

    Even when it isn't a lot of fun, it's better than stocking Gaterade at Walmart.

  49. Julia B on June 2, 2011 at 11:48 PM

    >I was talking about this with my Dad the other day. I was angsting because things just weren't coming out right.
    He said "Well, if it's not fun, don't do it."
    That really threw me. I had to try and explain that while it wasn't "fun" as such, it was something I had to do. It was arduous and frustrating and tiring, but at the end of the day writing chose me as much as I chose writing.

  50. Melissa on June 2, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    >I’d say that 75 percent of my paid job as a writer is sheer drudgery. I love doing interviews and background research, but the writing itself can be really meh, depending on the topic. Thus far, writing fiction has been a mixed bag. The biggest fun for me is – believe it or not – creating the outline of the story and writing a background for my characters. The planning stage is wonderful. But I hate major revisions. I mean, I really, really … grr … when something is just not working and I don’t readily know how to fix it, it makes me feel like a drooling idiot.

    I just wrote a “Dear Chapter Eighteen” letter to get it off my chest.