Write What You Love

And it don’t take money, don’t take fame. Don’t need no credit card to ride this train…That’s the power of love.
       – Huey Lewis and the News

I have a lot of writer friends in various career stages, and therefore considering various career moves. The nice thing these days is that there are moves, more options than ever before. This requires that writers not only know and understand the choices (in terms of possibilities and pitfalls). It also requires that writers know themselves.
One friend who has been writing steadily for many years for traditional publishers is a case in point. After receiving news that her publisher was dropping the last book in a contract, she took a break from writing and looked inside. She wrote about what she saw, and gave me permission to share it:
After taking a much-needed break when I learned in May that my third book with ____ wouldn’t be published (which was, perversely, good news for me, as I hated the story, the characters, and the obligation to write it—with 20k words and one month to deadline at the time), I finally got to the point at which I would literally get the shakes at night because I needed to be doing something creative (i.e., WRITING), but every time I pulled out a notebook or sat at the computer, I would feel even worse staring at that blank page because the only thing I could think of when trying to start something new was all of the pressure and pain (emotional and physical) of being under deadline to churn out two or three (usually three) books a year for the past four years.
But the urge to create something still existed and was driving me slightly batty. One day, when at my acupuncture appointment, I needed something to focus my mind on—something other than work, which I’d just left and had to go back to, since this was my lunch break. I decided that since I still love watching all the cooking shows on TV, I’d focus my mind on my chef character from my second contemporary. What would it be like if he were to go on Chopped or Top Chef? What if his restaurant (which he was in the process of opening at the end of his book) were featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show? So I closed my eyes to allow my mind to “play” for a while.
Then something shocking happened. That character’s sister-in-law, one of the main secondary characters in that series, stepped forward and reminded me that she, too, is a chef and restaurant owner, and has been for longer than her brother-in-law. Besides, he’s already had his story. It’s time for her to have hers. And she’s right—I’ve had readers asking me for her story for years. By the time I got back to the office, I had the entire first scene fully formed in my head.
At a conference last week, I had a chance to talk to both my agent and former editor about the story and my ideas for things I can do with the uniqueness of the ebook format, and I realized, after walking away from my meeting, that for the first time in years, I was not only interested in a story idea but actually excited about writing it.
I’m taking it slowly—I’ve finished the first chapter and figured out how I’m going to incorporate the “viewpoints” of the four potential romantic interests for the heroine, without actually making any of them a main POV character. The most fun part, however, has been revisiting the first three books to gather all of the information about this character and to update the stories of all three of the couples from those books to “where they are now” six or seven years later. 
It’s also been a great joy to return to the fictional city I “founded” and started building in 1992. As a writer who got completely burned out from having to write based on the need for money and not a passion for writing the stories I’d come up with, it’s been so wonderful to return to this setting, to these characters I’ve known for years and years. It’s a lot like going home after a long estrangement and being welcomed back with open arms and a fatted calf.
And the best part about this turn of events is that her writing will be the best it’s ever been. She’s a pro, she knows what she’s doing—but now she’s also recaptured the love.
We have to have that in our writing if we’re going to keep doing this for the long term. You’ve only got so much time. Give that time to the stories

you’re burning to tell. Do that first, and the money will follow. How much, no one can say. But joy tips the balance in your favor. For example, in addition to my novels and novellas, I’m writing short stories about a boxer in 1950s Los Angeles. I make some scratch every month on these. But more than that, I love writing them. It’s a different voice and genre than I normally write in, which has the added benefit of keeping my writing chops sharp. 

If you love what you do you’ll do more of it, and  you’ll do it better, and that will increase the odds of making a decent buck at this—either through self-publishing or finding a traditional publisher who believes in your voice and vision. Or some combination of the two. 

So my question for you today is, do you love what you’re writing? If not, why not?
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30 thoughts on “Write What You Love

  1. Jim,

    I’m always amazed at how timely your blogs are for where I am in my journey.

    First of all, I want to tell you how much I learned at ACFW in your Quantum Story workshop. It was great. And second, how much I enjoy this blog. I’ve been away for two weeks, and it’s great to be back.

    As for your question: Yes, I consider myself fortunate. I’m a beginner and haven’t been hit with the pressure to produce…yet. I found an agent at the ACFW, and he’s working with me to get my manuscript fine tuned before we submit it to publishers. I am very fortunate indeed.

    And, I am winding down one career to devote my time to writing – for the love of writing. I am realistic enough to know that I won’t make much money. But that’s okay.

    I just told my wife this morning that we all need “life editing.” In writing we get the words down on the paper, then we make it better. We edit. In life we end up with marriages that need fixing, or have already been broken irreparably. We end up in occupations where we are not happy. We need to edit our occupation as well. Whether that is throwing out the whole manuscript and starting over, doing a major rewrite, or just line editing, we need to seek that place where we find fulfillment and joy.

    If we’re not happy, if we’re not fulfilled, there’s a reason. It’s time to do some editing.

    Thanks for your advice.

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    • Thanks for the good word, Steve. You have your writer’s head on straight and your trendline is upward. There will peaks and valleys. Through it all, hang on to the joy.

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  2. Okay, so here’s the problem. I love whomever I happen to be reading at the time.

    I enjoyed writing my current book. Mabel is interesting and funny and tragic. The genre of her story is my favourite, mystery/suspense. But I also love horror stories, old and new. So if I’m reading a Dean Koontz, I get all excited to start a new horror novel. But I read faster than I write so before I’m finished with my horror book, I’ve started reading a romantic comedy. Hey, I can do that. I have a great idea. I’ll work on that one.

    Pretty sure you can see where I’m going with this. Lots of ideas. Lots of good starts. Two books actually written in ten years.

    Love for my books is not my problem. Focus. That’s my ongoing problem.

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    • I have the same problem as Amanda. I’m great at starting a book about every new idea I come across. Not so good at Act II. I think I’ve found my answer. A character I really care about. More to come.

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  3. This post hit the proverbial nail square on the head for me. I agree that writing what you love is vital.

    I do love my two current big projects but expectations about my writing and outcomes have drained fun away from those two projects, projects which I truly love.

    This may be fuel for a sister post to the one above, entitled “Our self image as writers” or some such, but I find that *expectations*, about myself, about my projects, about what I *should* be writing, lead to my losing faith in what I love.

    I’ve seriously considered writing under a pseudonym to let myself lose those expectations and simply write my heart out in the service of what I love. Regardless, dropping those expectations and focusing on what I love has to be the way forward.

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    • Dale, interesting insight here, as great thinkers have told us that the source of unhappiness is “expectations unfulfilled.” It’s hard not to have them, but if we can get past that and just be PRESENT with our writing, and go on to the next project, it will work out much better for our writer’s mind.

      Keep writing.

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  4. Hey Jim,
    I love what I write. I’m not currently under contract and after having a taste of three deadlines I can understand how the author you mention here, and probably many others, could burn out and lose their enthusiasm. Pressure to produce, whether a deadline for a traditional publisher or a self-imposed deadline to produce more and more in order to make income can really steal the joy. So I’m taking my time and writing a non-fiction book as I play in your Hive Word’s Knockout Novel and prepare to write as much as I can of my next historical during NaNoWriMo. I wish I was one of those writers who could just produce like bunnies but so far I’m not. Maybe that will come as I gain more experience and find my niches. Looking forward to listening to Quantum Story since I didn’t get to conference. I’d love to hear more in future posts about writing e-shorts that are connected as a series. And now this song will be stuck in my head all day but it works for the writing life, good choice. 🙂

    The power of love is a curious thing
    Make a one man weep, make another man sing
    -Huey Lewis And The News

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    • “…produce like bunnies….” Love it. I am one who likes being prolific, and I have lots of ideas in various stages…before I commit to a project, though, I have to find what I love about it. If I don’t, I work on it till I do, or abandon it.

      Yeah, the song, makes me want to watch Back to the Future again!

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  5. Excellent post, excellent timing! I found an agent (finally) and she’s shopping one of my novels around. While it does it’s thing, she asked me to write a sequel to the book she’s pitching. I’m less than a quarter of the way in and bored to tears. While I was whining to a writer friend about how stuck I was, she admitted that she was stuck, too. So I started a new work in a genre neither of us has ever tried, wrote the first chapter, and sent it off to her to write chapter two. That creative act got us both out of the rut–for the first time in over two months, we both produced words. It was liberating, exciting, and we absolutely loved it. THAT’S what I need to find for my requested WIP.

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  6. In almost everything, I’m an ‘all or nothing’ type of guy. It sounds as though I might be a little different from the others commenting above – I only write what I love. Since I am at the being of my writing career (first book written and almost ready, second started, ideas for a score more in a notebook) and since I planned from the beginning to self-publish, I am entering the field when options have never been greater. Of course, without the vetting process of the agent and editor, the opportunity for me to land squarely on my fanny has never been greater, either.

    I also have the luxury of a owning my own little business that let’s me set my own hours and, to an extent, my income because I am very good at what I do. That builds flexibility.

    The end result is that when I sit down to write, I focus on the story that moves me, shakes me, and makes me write it. The flip-side is that if the story doesn’t do that, it will sit in the notebook forever, no matter how interesting the idea.

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  7. I wrote for fourteen years before landing my first contract, and that was when I lost my passion for writing. Now that I’m finishing my last contracted book over the course of 15 years of killer deadlines, I’m eager to jump into the epub life and write my own stories, set my own deadlines, answer to my readers and no one else.

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  8. I like what I’m writing okay, but don’t love it. I’m tackling a few nonfiction projects to cut my teeth on this whole publishing thing. These projects are quicker and easier to finish, are helping me learn the self-pubbing and marketing ropes, and are forming my “published works” foundation.

    In the meantime, I’m plugging away at my fiction WIP. I hope when I get comfy — and more confident — in the fiction world I will have settled on the writing I love.

    If I don’t love it, I’ll keep kissing frogs.

    And yes, now I also want to go watch Back to the Future. 🙂

    (So how was the conference in LA? I’m going to get there one of these days!)

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  9. Yes, I am enjoying all of my current projects. Working with small press where I have to submit a completed book, I like the freedom from deadlines. With that pressure aside, I can work on each book until it’s as good as it can be. I have various indie projects I want to do, too. The limiting factor is time.

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  10. When I’m writing (plotting, scribbling, editing, correcting, thinking about it) I feel like I am off on a secret island somewhere building worlds. Yeah. I do love it. When I was technical writing, I even enjoyed that. Of course, the deadlines were a bummer. Whaddaya gonna do?

    The creative part of working for yourself and not being under contract is marvelous (when the money end is covered). It’s an opportunity to drill down, learn and try stuff out. I’d put this right up there with flying—like birds riding air currents. Discipline, organization and reading JSB’s writing books are some what you need to do to keep from flying upside down.

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  11. I enjoy being under contract. Contracts focus my attention and deliver a sense of solace that I have a team behind me in the form of an editor and a sales force and a marketing team. On balance, I am very engaged by the stories I write and by the characters who act them out.

    That said, there comes a point in every project (somewhere around page 200), when I hate the whole process. From some of the posts above, I guess I should feel fortunate that I’ve never felt pressured to write anything I didn’t want to write.

    John Gilstrap
    http://www.johngilstrap.com

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    • I was just talking to an author who took a paying gig (tie-in work) for a show, and while the money is good, the writing joy is nil, and the deadlines creep up like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors. Said author wants to get on with what said author truly wants to write. That makes all the difference, as Brother Gilstrap sez.

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    • Boy, I hear that. A friend of mine would get so annoyed he would jump up and down shouting, “Tell ’em to just write it themselves if they don’t like it!” So, yeah, “when the writing joy is gone…” Jeesh.

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  12. I love my wife & kids, Korean & Mexican food (sometimes in the same bowl), long hikes in the mountains and forests, camping near oceans and rivers, shooting guns, eating game meat, reading good books, and pansies (the flower kind…not the people kind).

    What kind of a book is this going to make? Stay tuned.

    That said, I hate getting writing assignments, but enjoy finishing them. How will this new publishing relationship work out? Also stay tuned.

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  13. I spent the last 8 years trying to figure out what was selling and write accordingly. Of course, I didn’t sell a thing. I have made good money on the corporate side, writing white papers, newsletters and such, but it drains me to write it. I just let an opportunity go with a company that could have made me quite a bit of money. The problem was that it cut into my novel writing time. I may never make the money in fiction that I do writing technical papers, but I have a lot more fun.

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  14. I can honestly say I love both of my main writing projects. I love my middle-grade series. My frustration there is that the books are not coming out fast enough (not something I have control over). But I just keep writing.

    And I love writing my police-procedural series. I’ve got one story out with Mysterical-e, one on submission, one coming in an anthology from my SinC chapter in December, and I’m starting the first novel in November. I’m so eager to write it, I might burst!

    Yes, there is nothing more invigorating than loving what you write. I hope, eventually, that’ll pay off in some way, shape, or form.

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