The Joy of Writing

2021 Mar 7, 2021

I imagine a lot of us enjoy writing the same way an athlete enjoys sports, or a musician enjoys music. You might find the athlete spending hours a day doing grueling training, or the musician practicing until their fingers bleed. Yet despite this, there’s an underlying enjoyment to the act that surpasses the discomfort of the moment.

Once we might have enjoyed it because it was fun, and now we enjoy it because it’s fulfilling. It’s productive. After spending hours upon hours training and bleeding and driving through mental brick walls, you have your trophy. You have your art. You get to go holy shit, I did this.

For some of us, that gratification might be why we started writing in the first place. For others, it might be because the actual act of writing was fun. For others still, it might be some mixture of the two; obviously there isn’t a single generalization that encompasses everyone, but generally, you don’t start doing something if you hate it.

So why, then, can writing begin to feel like a joyless act? And is there a way to move past it?

(Disclaimer: these are my own opinions gathered from my own observations. I’m not claiming to know anything about other people’s writing processes, especially those who write for a living, or to even have unique, unheard of before insights into writing as a whole. I just live here, yawl.)

We’ve begun with one generalization, so let’s move onto the next one. This turns, as discussions of writing sometimes do, into fanfiction. Now bear with me for a moment.

I’m calling it a generalization because I know there are a vast chunk of people who didn’t begin their writing journeys with fanfiction. Even if you didn’t, I promise this has to do with the rest of the post.

By design, fanfiction is self-indulgent. Nobody goes into it seeking recognition, or to make a profit, or to get published by or on anything more reputable and well-known than fanfiction sites like AO3. In fact, legally you can’t make a profit from it. It’s in the law. And yet despite that, you have masses of people flocking to these sites, writing because they want to.

Now, the obligatory personal relation: I’m one of those aforementioned people who started their writing journey with fanfiction, in this case Warrior Cats. In my defense, I was nine. In something that is most certainly not my defense, I was twelve when I stopped. For those three years though, I wrote every single day. I wrote for hours, sometimes. Most of it never even saw the light of day — it’s all lost somewhere on my old notebook computer.

For context, I was unschooled. I had a lot of free time. I did things that made me happy and not much else. Writing just happened to be the thing that made me the happiest — not because it was good, not because I had dreams of being a published author, and not even because I wanted the gratification of having written something.

I was just deeply, irrevocably in love with the actual act of it.

I think there are a lot of people who can understand that sentiment.

That’s how the seed is planted. Why, then, is there that sense of responsibility that comes with serious writing? The responsibility to write things that are meaningful, that connect, that can be shown to people and met with approval? And that’s where we get into the idea of productivity.

Productivity can be a lot of things. Google tells me it’s the state or quality of producing something, with the addition of the effectiveness of productive effort. In this case, words are the goods, and writing is the act of producing. But if that was all that productivity was, then wouldn’t writing rudfkj erjsdf erus ernfd rdfkj for thirteen pages cause the same satisfaction as writing a scene that brought someone to tears?

Obviously the answer to that is no. Because that’s not quality writing, and quality matters. If you’re not producing quality writing, then are you really producing anything at all? Anything of worth, anything that will bring you satisfaction?

I know that for me, the answer is no.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a problem. Obviously quality is good! That’s basic logic, right?

And I mean, sure. But there is so much that goes into writing. You spend hours plotting and writing and character building and world building and absolutely everything, and for what? For a first draft. For words you’re going to rewrite. That is not quality, that is just quantity, and this is where it begins to feel like a joyless act.

This above all begs the question, what is the point of writing if not to be productive?

And here’s where I propose a solution in the name of rethinking what productivity means.

But Frace, you say, this is the Google definition of productivity! Are you saying you know more about productivity than economics/capitalism/any other area that uses it as a measurable quantification to solve real world problems? And to this I say, do you actually think I’m that big brain? I once drove a car into a tree, yawl. Seriously.

All I’m saying is that writing is a personal endeavor, and so it might be worth redefining what productivity means to you personally. Why does it have to measure the amount of x you produce, regardless of your feelings, your emotions, your general mental state? Why does 200 words of a painstakingly typed scene matter more than taking a step back before you burst into tears at the sight of your keyboard?

Why is it more productive to write an original work than something self-indulgent like fanfiction? (Told yawl it was relevant.)

I don’t regret any time I spent writing fanfiction, and I don’t think most other people do, either. It allowed me to build skills necessary to learn in order to express myself as effectively as I do now. It’s not anything I would boast about in polite company, but it wasn’t meaningless — it may not have been good, but it had worth.

This doesn’t just apply to fanfiction. It applies to anything that doesn’t fill the definition of being a productive endeavor; maybe it’s not marketable, or it’s embarrassing, or it’s something so deeply personal you’d rather become a recluse than share it with another living soul. And so you don’t write it, because it’s more productive to sit in front of your computer for hours on end, pulling out your hair in a joyless act.

All I’m saying is, it’s worth it to rethink productivity to include those projects that will never see the light of day. It’s worth it to rethink productivity to include the skills you’re learning from writing these projects, to include the time spent refreshing your creative mind so you have something to write in the first place. There’s no point in digging deeper into an empty well. You’re just going to hit bedrock.

By rethinking productivity to include these things, you'll rethink productivity to include joy.

As with all things, it’s easier said than done. Even as I’m writing this, I’m still learning to deconstruct and reconstruct what productivity means for myself. But if you don’t try, then it’s never going to happen. And besides.

Whatever you do, I’m sure I’ve written something more embarrassing.

** cue photo of the duolingo owl **



they/them | approximately once a week i have a single thought

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