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Finding the Joy in Writing

 article about Finding the Joy in Writing

This article belongs to The Writing Life—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly column.


When you start freelancing, there are many things you can no longer do. You can't wait for someone else to tell you when it's time to go home. You can't take a break without feeling like you're wasting valuable interview or writing time. You can't depend on someone else to say you are doing a good job. And you can't write.

Yes, you read that last one correctly. But let me explain. The articles and work products still come out fine. It's the creative writing assignments - the ones you used to do with a notebook in your lap under an oak tree or on porch swings - that fall by the wayside. It's not as if your mind can no longer think this way; after all, your paid assignments turn out fine. It's more that your brain becomes split into two sections: work and rest. Everything with writing falls under the work section; all else is rest. Now I have never excelled in biology so I can't say exactly why this happens, but I imagine it works something like this. Back when you were a child and you first learned that putting sentences together makes an exciting story, it was like a whole new world opened up. If someone was mean to you in the lunchroom and didn't want your smelly lunch near theirs, you could later open your notebook with Spider-Man or My Little Pony on the cover and write away your day. In the new version, bad lunchroom kid begs you to be his friend and even gives you all his Oreos for a week. Just a few strokes of pen and your world was no longer sad.

As you got older, you may have bought a journal - one of those sophisticated looking ones with a brown leather cover. In it, you jotted down your deepest emotions and waxed poetic on the snow or leaves on the ground or an upcoming road trip. Depending on the day, you were Plath, Emerson, or Kerouac. When you imagined writing for a living, it did not involve deadlines, or newspapers, or magazines. Your dream placed you at a desk, soft light shining onto your notepad, thinking and writing book after book into the wee hours of the morning. Characters jumped off the page. You thought about this gift you had, the ability to make words dance.

Then you decided to write for a living and the magical world of writing ceased to be. Your brain could not deal with this new development - this writing method where flowery language was replaced with technical jargon or quotes, where the product was spun succinctly and did not allow for hours of window-seat exploration and people watching. From that moment on, whenever you picked up a pen or typed on keys, there was an agenda. Any character sketches were analyzed. All stories had to have a purpose. You could no longer write without proofreading or determining the best layout for the piece at hand.

If this has not happened to you yet, you're lucky. Maybe it never will. And if it has, you may be wondering if you can go back to that fantasy writing life you once had. I can't. My friends like to send hand-written letters and post cards and talk about how journal writing helps them understand their lives. I talk, I analyze, but I don't have the patience to write about my life anymore. Each time I begin I want to get to the essence of it. I want to outline my thoughts. I can't just let the words evolve. A few years ago, a friend and I did a monthly journal exchange where we wrote about our thoughts and lives. She wrote everything in multi-colored inks, in pretty, flowing handwriting. My entries were typed in black and white. This was the only way I could do it. Typing put the words on paper so much faster and my mind worked too fast for my pen.

Before you feel too sorry for me, though, let me tell you that I've made peace with it. I find new ways to feed my creativity. I try to write more articles that allow me to use that part of my brain now covered in cobwebs. I crave the projects where I can set up a scenario rather than just provide technical jargon. But the technical ones serve a purpose too. They're challenging. They force my brain to find a way of presentation that will make something like bladder infections sound interesting. And I still write stories. Only now they can't exist for the sole sake of existing. The characters have to go somewhere eventually, there has to be a reason I put them on paper in the first place. In all my stories, there has to be an ending, a possible publication date. The words are no longer free to roam on paper in that On-The-Road way. And, yes, that is a little sad.


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