5 Steps to Generate Joy to Overcome Writer's Block
This is a guest post by Jessica Bayliss.
Hello, Wonderful Writers. Welcome back to It’s a Writer Thing! Here we are in Part Three of my Writer’s Block series. [Here are Part One and Part Two.] Last time, I focused on those situations where the excitement to work on a WIP has fizzled and how to re-ignite enthusiasm; and we covered the importance of establishing the WHYS of writing in the first post.
Today, as promised, I’m going to tackle how to generate JOY for your writing.
“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” ― Marianne Williamson
HOW TO GENERATE JOY
This one is actually so simple, you’re going to wonder why I bothered to write a whole post about it. Unlike last time, there aren’t a whole series of steps. In truth, there’s just one: you have to NOTICE the joy.
Yes, that’s it.
Of course, there are some concrete actions you can take to help you get there, but technically, it really is that simple. Thinking about your WHYS, you can certainly pull out joy-inducing motivations for your writing, but as you know, joy within writing presents in many ways. For me, plotting is one of my favorite parts. I’m usually inspired by one thing, maybe a setting or a concept or a situation, and I build everything else around that. I love it when the parts come together, when something clicks, when I figure out how to navigate a problem or fill in a blank spot that was plaguing me.
But here’s what makes it difficult to connect to the inherent joy of writing on a regular basis. Plotting is a tough thing. It can be laborious and frustrating. In other words, in order to feel the joy, we must also feel the challenging side of the experience. And it’s the fact that it is challenging that makes it so satisfying. This is just one of the PITFALLS that can trap us.
PITFALLS TO AVOID
In this situation, the stress of the process could completely override any joy I might derive from plotting if I don’t deliberately engage in mindful reflection about the good side to the process. The same goes for ALL aspects of the writing journey. This brings me to pitfall 1.
We can become so bogged down in what’s not working well (e.g., writer’s block or disappointments ) that we lose sight of the fact that this is actually something we love to do, something that brings us joy. OR, we can fall into …
We might avoid writing altogether in order to avoid the hard parts, which is like slamming the door in joy’s face.
Of course, not all situations that are joyful in our creative journeys require a challenge or difficulties. I find joy in the simple act of rapidly typing out my ideas. I love the sound of the keys and the way they feel under my fingers. I like to keep my nails short so I can truly feel the keys, but I can easily miss all of this. A million things might distract me: hyper-focus on word count; thinking about deadlines; worrying about the thing I just wrote that’s not perfect; the need to keep checking what I just wrote to see how it is; doubt about my plot; doubt about my writing ability; worry over whether this book will be accepted for publication … and on and on.
Once again, the key to generating joy is the simple act of NOTICING it. We may have to wade through a whole pool of muck to get there, but it’s so worthy the effort. (Incidentally, I talked about this in a recent Instagram post.)
Before we move onto the ACTION STEPS, I want to mention one more pitfall.
There is such a thing as anxiety in the presence of joy. Dr. Brene Brown calls this “foreboding joy,” which she defines as that moment when a joyful emotion is suddenly hijacked by fear, doubt, or worry. She shares the example of feeling joy and love toward our loved ones followed quickly by sudden dread that something bad happening might happen to them. You know that old saying: waiting for the other shoe to drop …?
When things are good, we are somehow conditioned to immediately be on the lookout for something negative, and that can absolutely squash the joyful moment.
As a writer, I had a period of writer’s block that was absolutely because of foreboding joy. This happened after an intensive experience of working with an editor on a manuscript. When that work was finished and I returned to a new project, I found myself completely stifled, my writing stilted and unnatural. I couldn’t get to my flow zone—the fingers flying over the keyboard zone—because I even though I loved my project, I kept imagining her voice in my head giving me critiques on everything I was typing. That was a version of foreboding joy. I couldn’t connect to my love of writing because I was anticipating negative reactions to it. And it wasn’t even a thing in the world yet!
Can you see why writers must be vigilant for these pitfalls to our creativity and joy?
“There are moments when I wish I could roll back the clock and take all the sadness away, but I have the feeling that if I did, the joy would be gone as well.” ― Nicholas Sparks, A Walk to Remember
YOUR ACTION STEPS
Remember what it is about writing you love. Think about that as you sit down to work on whatever you are about to do. Think about what it is that you find joyful about that particular task. It might be different each time you sit down (e.g., a plotting day versus a revising day; a website maintenance day versus a drafting day).
Then, as you do that thing, pause periodically to reflect on that. Allow yourself to FEEL the satisfaction and joy that are inherent in these activities.
If you are struggling to remember to pause and NOTICE, it could be that you need to beef up your mindfulness muscles. This is definitely a skill, and some people are better at it than others. The good news is, it’s something we can all learn. You can try something like a traditional body scan, do a mindfulness of the breath exercise, or focus on multiple sensations (I like to first focus on the breath, then zero in on a particular area of the body, then jump to sounds and smells, and to return to the breath to finish).
Embrace the suck. I got that phrase from professional coach, Brendan Burchard. Remember, to reach the joy and satisfaction, we must experience the hard parts. If we retrain our brains to ACCEPT that the HARD PARTS ARE JUST AS ESSENTIAL as all the other parts, then they stop feeling so big, scary, and overwhelming.
Look out for moments of foreboding joy. Catch yourself jumping to negative thoughts that hamper your ability to be in love with being a writer. You’ll probably have negative patterns of thinking you engage in over and over. Once you learn YOUR OWN UNIQUE WAYS OF FOREBODING JOY, it will be easier to keep a lookout for these and to turn them around. Personally, I now know to look out for that critique voice when I’m drafting. It may still pop up, but I can easily pinpoint what’s going on and I’m getting better and better at turning it off.
This entire process is about practice, so don’t get discouraged if you struggle at first. I PROMISE you’ll get better and better at it as long as you keep trying.
That’s it for this month. Next month I’m going to switch gears a bit to a process that’s more visual. See you then. Until next time, remember: You can do it! You can write!
Check out Jessica’s other posts:
“Let’s Talk about Feedback”
“Seemingly Inconsequential Events”
“How Christopher Pike Saved Me From Drowning (Seriously)”
“Let’s Talk Some More About Feedback”
“Why Breaking into Publishing is Like Pac Man”
“Goals Vs. Outcomes”
“What Project Runway Taught Me about Being a Writer”
“The Many Faces of Critique Partners”
“My Process for Responding to Feedback”
“Harness The Power of Stimulus Control in your Writing”
“Turbo-Charge The Power of the Environment”
“It’s All About Control”
“Do Not Fear Rejection”
“Preparing for Pitch Wars”
“On Productivity and Finishing What You Started”
“On Plotters and Pantsers”
“Is THIS Why You Are Struggling to Finish that Book?”
“Why I Write”
“How I Write”
“Six Myths of Revision”
"Writer's Block: Part One"
"Writer's Block: Part Two"
"Writer's Block: Part Three"
Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand.