Discover more from To Write with Wild Abandon
✍️ How to Fall in Love with Writing
or, How I Went from Hating to Loving the Writing Process
I’m going to assume that either you know the name “Stephen Merchant” or you don’t. Because one of those statements has to be true. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’d probably recognize his face. And unless you have totally eschewed TV for the past 20-odd years including any media that ever mentions it ever, you definitely have heard of his work.
I can’t say I know his whole story, but I do know he grew up in Bristol, England, wanted to be a TV writer from an early age, and ended up acting as well. (That sort of thing happens in the UK all the time and Canada fairly commonly; it’s less common in the US, I believe.) Merchant recently appeared on an episode of PBS’s “On Story”, which is a series of conversations with writers taped at the Austin Film Festival. The interviewer referenced a panel he was on in which he said that he “enjoyed writing” – but the interviewer wasn’t sure if that was a joke. I mean, what writer likes to write?
“No, no I do. I enjoy the process of writing,” Merchant said. He went on to say that sometimes it is about banging your head against the wall. But he enjoys the challenge and puzzle-solving of it all.
Of course, you’re thinking that when you’re co-creator of two hits on two different continents of the same show – The Office, along with the more-famous Ricky Gervais – you have the luxury of enjoying writing. It’s easy to like writing if you know there’s an Emmy at the end of it! I’d argue it wasn’t as easy as all that, though there’s no denying that anticipated success does make the medicine go down in the most delightful way.
My Love/Hate Relationship with Writing
Watching this interview got me to thinking about my own writing journey. There are times when I dwell on the fact that my 20s were basically a decade-long party, and could have gotten more done. Sure, I got a university degree in there somehow. Got married. Became a dad just in the nick of 30. I called myself a writer all the way through (I’ve called myself a writer since age 6), but I was not what you’d call a “producing” writer. A few short stories here and there. A poem, maybe. A grocery list, if that counts. (It doesn’t.)
It’s not that I didn’t want to write – I did. But I didn’t have the interest or self-discipline or ability to sit still or any of the other things you need to be able to concentrate on putting one word after another.
Really, what it came down to is that I didn’t particularly enjoy writing. My common refrain back then was that I like to “have written”. I can’t remember exactly what I thought or felt back then. I suspect it was a lot of things. Not sure of what I wanted to write about. Not sure how to go about being a writer. Thoroughly enjoying working nights at a restaurant, partying until 2 (or 5 or 7am), then sleeping until my next shift. Fear. That was definitely mixed in. Probably fear that I was not really a writer after all, this thing I’d hung my self-identity on.
It’s a period in my writing life that I hadn’t thought about in a while. That time when I struggled to put the work in.
That got me to wondering, well, what changed? How did I go from not really liking it to now, chomping at the bit to write almost every day? Because I think if I can understand that, I might be able to show others who are stuck on the same stationary merry-go-round, pretending to ride a horse and not going anywhere.
So here’s a list of what I came up with:
I started writing professionally. Writing someone else’s project on someone else’s deadline is unintuitively freeing.
I found things to write about. Everyone tells you “write about anything!” And it’s true. But what does that mean? It means that it doesn’t matter what the subject is. Just pick up something that interests you. Research it if you want or need to. Then tell the story your way.
I tried different writing. Previously, I focused on being a short story writer. Maybe that was never going to work for me. Today, my personal writing is comprised mostly of novel writing and this Substack. (Though I did relatively recently write a short story that I keep going back to every once in a while...)
I write every day – or close to it. I hesitate to call it a “habit” but it could be that. It’s just something I do. And I can tell you from experience that when you do write regularly, it gets easier and easier to sit down at that desk. Eventually, you get to the point that you don’t even think about it anymore. It’s not the major event it used to be for me.
I can honestly say I love writing. I mean, there are still days when I have creative block (much different from so-called writer’s block, don’t forget). There are days in my day job when things don’t go to script. There are days in my personal writing when I think, geez, this novel should be finished by now. But often none of these are directly writing-related things. They’re usually Life getting in the way of writing (or my mood, or my concentration...), which is a completely different thing.
Things You Can Do to Hasten Your Love of Writing
Based on my journey, here are some things you can try to give you that same love of writing:
You don’t have to write “professionally” but you can make it your mission to enter three short story contests a year or submit your creative nonfiction to 12 different magazines, or get that poem published in a literary journal. Set goals, and stick to them.
Find things to write about that interest you. Ray Bradbury once wrote a list of things that interested him. I can’t remember everything exactly, but it was probably something like: tattoos, Mars, fun houses, electricity. Then, over the years, he wrote short stories based on his own one-word prompts.
Try different writing. Poems. Short stories. CNF. Amazon reviews. Substack comments. Your own Substack. Twitter stories. Try it all! If you’re having troubles getting started, it might just be you’re writing the wrong thing.
Write every day – or close to it. At the very least, set up a schedule. The more you do it, the less self-conscious you’ll feel. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you don’t even think about it anymore.
Key Takeaway: If you don’t love writing now or if you struggle to write, but you desperately want to, find a way into it. Writing regularly, finding things to write about that interest you, and trying different kinds of writing can all help. And even if you are writing professionally, you can still create goals so you have something to work towards.
Over to You: What Do You Love About Writing?
Do you love writing? If so, why? If not, what can you do to get there? Great questions to answer for yourself. Even better if you can share in the comments below to help us all!
I’ll leave you with the Stephen Merchant’s “On Story” interview – I’m pretty sure you’re about to go, “Oh, that guy!” when you see him. (And I highly recommend the series as a whole…)
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!
email me if you get lost.