This is not a post about the love lorn!
Nor is it a primer on writing romance novels.
It’s about something much more serious: Losing that flaming first love for writing.
A Personal Experience
I’ve been writing stories for a long time. My first complete story was written when I was in the eighth grade. I’ll be 57 this year. You do the math.
Suffice it to say that short story—written and illustrated with a number two pencil on lined, loose leaf notebook paper, is no spring chicken.
I always loved reading. I listened to the same stories until I had them memorized before kindergarten. Learning to read was an open door into a number of other worlds.
But discovering I could write my own stories? Wow! I mean, WOW! Once that train left the station, there was no stopping it.
Sure, there were periods of time—sometimes years—during which I wasn’t working on something, but those idle periods are neither as frequent nor as long as I’ve always thought they were.
In those days, it didn’t seem like I’d ever lose the fire for writing.
You’ve already guessed that that’s exactly what happened, haven’t you? Otherwise, why the post. Right?
What To Do When You Lose Your First Love
Beginning in 2009, it started getting more and more difficult to write stories. Yes, I was still kicking out word count, but novel production took a nose dive. Prior to 2007, I finished four novels. Several times. That is to say, I finished every single one at least twice. Most of them were revised three or more times. Sometimes serious revisions; sometimes not.
Since 2008, I’ve finished three novels. Only one is complete. The other two have gaps. I’ve started revisions on all three, but nothing has ever come together in a satisfactory manner.
Nor was I having much fun. Writing became work. Then it became a chore; something I did because I was supposed to write, not because I was on fire for it. Then it became drudgery. I couldn’t keep an idea in my head more than two or three days in a row before it grew cold and faded away.
No surprise, pretty soon I didn’t want to write any more. I kid you not, I’ve thought more than once about hanging up my writing hat. Forever. At least so far as novels were concerned. The struggle just didn’t seem worth it.
A few months ago, I started memorizing passages of scripture. The reasons were many, but one of them was to improve my memory.
The first passage I decided to memorize comes from Revelation. Revelation 2:4 and 5, as a matter of fact.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
That passage comes from the letter to the church at Ephesus. It was written to a group of believers who were doing a lot of things right but were still wrong. Why? Because their heart wasn’t in it anymore. They were going through the motions. They’d forgotten the why.
That passage has been committed to memory for months. But it was only recently that I said the words out loud and stopped dead in my tracks.
The spirit wasn’t only talking to the Church at Ephesus; it was talking to me.
Could it be that my problem was that I’d forsaken my first love, too? The first love of writing? Of story telling?
A Punch Between The Eyes
There was only one way to find out. I decided to look at those old stories and see what—if anything—I was doing then that I was no longer doing. Or if I’d picked up some habits since 2008 that were counterproductive.
I devised a plan.
I collected the finished manuscripts into a single folder. I did the same with all the digitized unfinished stories.
Then I opened each story folder and took a look at the documents inside that folder.
And I was amazed.
For the first two stories, all I had was fiction documents. In every case, I had the first draft and every subsequent revision on file. But for those first two stories, the only other documents were miscellaneous scenes.
No pre-planning. Not even a story journal. Nothing.
Beginning with the third story, support documents began to appear, but mostly only a story journal or other documents. If there were planning documents, they were all dated after the first draft and pertained to the editing and revising process.
I didn’t have to look at the stories started since 2008 to know those folders were crammed with pre-planning documents.
The Answer, Possibly
I spent nearly a week reviewing five finished novels, one finished short story, and four unfinished novels. At the end of it, I’d reached some very clear patterns.
I used to write pretty much off the cuff, beginning with whatever scene appeared first.
I used to work out plot questions by writing scenes.
I used to not journal the writing process.
That was all before I got serious about writing. Since then, I’ve adapted parts of a number of structure methods into writing. I plan and I love it. While planning is beneficial, it comes with some hazards, which I’ll talk about in a future post.
The solution was just as clear as the patterns I found in early writing. In short,
- Stop pre-planning
- Stop journaling stories
- Stop writing detailed list of plot options during the writing process
- Stop analyzing every doubt, every fear, and every moment of discouragement
The Road Ahead
As you might guess, there is no quick fix for rekindling the fire of devotion for writing after it’s been allowed to flicker and die.
But there are some basic steps you can take toward recovery.
The first is realizing that is what has happened to you. After that, what you do will depend in large part upon how you write in the first place and why your love for writing grew cold. How long it’s been cold is also an important factor.
I’m still looking for the complete answer because there’s the very clear sense that something still missing. Until I find it, I’ll keep looking.
And that’s the best advice I can give you, too. If you suspect that you’ve lost the fire of that first love for writing, take a step back from current work and look at some of your old work.