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Surprised by Joy

I read a lot of posts and comments – not just on this blog, but on writers’ sites all over the Internet – subscribing to a world view which I would characterize as “Live is real, life is earnest, and everything worth doing is hard.”

Well, yes. Can’t really argue with that. But I sometimes fear that with all the comments like “Writing requires butt in chair and fingers on keys,” and “Just force yourself to do it,” we’re lying by omission – leaving out the most important part of the enterprise, as though it were marked TOP SECRET.

The first part of our dirty little secret: Writing is fun. Writing is joyful. Oh, not all the time. And it’s perfectly true that you can waste your life waiting for that joyous inspiration to strike. Most of the time it works the other way. You carve out a chunk of free time, you persuade your brain to get over its slothful reluctance to turn itself on, you start typing… and then, unasked and unanticipated, comes the joy.

I’m sure just about everyone here has experienced it: that time when you’re flying, when the words come spilling out without editing as you know just what your characters are doing and experiencing, when getting that scene down on paper makes you happy. Yes, you have to get there through hard slog; but shouldn’t we admit that once you get there, the rewards are more addictive than any drug?

Very few of us are in this business to get rich quick – or at all. (And if you’re one who is counting on fame and fortune to make it all worthwhile, do yourself a favor and get into some line of work that’s more reliably financially rewarding, like playing against the house in a Vegas casino.) Most of us aren’t even depending on our writing income to pay the bills. Yes, back when we were paying off the second mortgage on the house and discovering that one of the kids had to be whisked out of the public school system before they damaged her irreparably, those monthly bills were a substantial motivation to get myself up, caffeinated, and at my desk daily. Now, though? Not so much. If it weren’t fun, I wouldn’t do it; not the long-term, everyday slog.

If it’s not paying the bills, and it’s not even fun, why are you doing it?

That’s the second part of our little secret: what really gets us to sit down and start typing is the hope of that unparalleled high.

I’ve been reminded of this quite recently. For several months chronic illness kept me from ever achieving escape velocity on the current book. I’d have a “good” day in which I struggled to remember what was happening in the book and why anybody should care, and if I was lucky, I’d get a couple of thousand words before retreating to bed. Then there’d be a string of “bad” days long enough that when I was next feeling well enough to write, I had to go through the whole tedious process of the mental restart once again.

Then the “bad” days stopped happening. Suddenly I was able to work every day. I didn’t dare count on it at first, but after about ten days of slog, the book took off under my fingers and I was flying. Now, once again, I wake up eager to get to the next scene, hungering for my daily fix of joy.

When we’re giving out advice to neophyte writers, let’s not forget this part, okay?

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And speaking of joy — Dragon ScalesBook Two of the Dragon Speech series, is live on Kindle now, and Book One, The Language of the Dragon, is only 99 cents for a short while more. Check them both out!

It’s one thing to meet a dragon in the snowbound mountains of the High Pamirs, but quite another to entertain him when he shows up at your Austin home, together with his sulky and all-too-human teenage girlfriend! Linguist Sienna Brown battles a shapeshifting dragon who helps himself to her clothes and demands enormous quantities of pizza, a teenager whose ignorance of American customs doesn’t prevent her from picking up every man she meets, a nosy neighbor and a group of Russian thugs who are tasked with acquiring the dragon for their own country. In addition, her boyfriend is terrified that the dragon’s presence will tempt her to use its magical but brain-injuring native language. And he’s not entirely wrong about that.

(Image cropped from Houston Physicist [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D)

11 Comments
  1. Oh, yes, that nice warm glow, where you sit grinning at the computer screen because that scene was just right!

    September 5, 2019
  2. Congrats on getting another one out!

    The joy you write with certainly reflects in the stories you tell, too. 🙂

    September 5, 2019
  3. Those times when somebody in the cast had thrown it all down on the line for their friends, and I stand up and shout “Oh you magnificent bastards!”

    I’m pretty happy to be writing. I’ve met some very cool people that way, by writing them. ~:D

    September 5, 2019
  4. Mary #

    The point at which you realize that three hours have vanished under the influence of the muse.

    September 5, 2019
  5. I totally understand feeling so ill you just can’t find the will to progress with a story. I was sick and didn’t realize it for a long time. I just thought I was getting older and couldn’t sleep as much as I needed. It finally got so bad I went to a doctor about it. Took six months to get tested for sleep apnea, but once I was diagnosed (and a few months of waiting after that), I finally was fitted with a CPAP machine. Before the machine, I was lucky if I got 2,000 words a week done. Now I’m getting 2,000-5,000 done a day. Last week I hit a new record of over 12,000 words in 2.5 days. Being sick is no joke – you have to take care of yourself, or everything else falls apart too.

    September 5, 2019
  6. Reblogged this on Lee Dunning and commented:
    Isn’t this the truth. You have to take care of yourself, otherwise everything else falls apart as well.

    September 5, 2019
  7. I’ve written scenes that I wished I had the fine motor control and the art skills to draw them. Just that feeling of knowing what I wanted to see…

    September 5, 2019
  8. “I’ve been reminded of this quite recently. For several months chronic illness kept me from ever achieving escape velocity on the current book.”

    Been there, still navigating the issue myself. Thanks for reminding me there’s hope that things will get better.

    September 6, 2019
  9. Draven #

    for those that can look at me on FB…

    Joy rarely surprises me, she’s predictable.

    September 8, 2019
  10. When you throw three horses, the kitchen sink, and all the jilted girls in Lankhmar at the guy just to keep him busy, and then stick there for weeks trying to cipher him out from under it— then the solution presents itself, all in a rush of glorious Technicolor, and you can’t type fast enough to get it all on the page in time.

    Honey, come to bed!
    Let me just finish this up, dear!
    That’s what you said at eleven thirty!
    I know, I know! Hang on just a bit more, okay?

    Then it’s done, and it’s nearing 0300, and you lie down very carefully in the bed so as not to wake her.

    September 12, 2019

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