Sometimes as a writer, it’s easy to get into the drill sergeant routine: it doesn’t matter if I feel like writing, I suck it up and do it anyway. This is how I wrote much of the first draft of my first novel. I was postpartum, cranky, sleep-deprived, but dammit, I was gonna crack out 1500 words during my baby’s nap. And I did. The drill sergeant ordered it, and I saluted and said, “Yes, ma’am!”
The problem with this approach is that sometimes I lost sight of why I was writing. A drill sergeant can dictate my external actions (in this case, sitting in a chair and typing) but she cannot dictate my inner self. The love of writing was missing.
Many times the love returned as I wrote. It was still work, hard work—all great writing is—but my enthusiasm returned. I remembered why my voice mattered and why I was willing to forgo sleep to work at the exhausting, exhilarating experience of learning to write.
A few times, the love didn’t return. The words I wrote those days were the ones that most often were cut. My subject matter didn’t move my heart.
It happens with other things, too.
Last night I told my husband that I feel a tad guilty that I don’t do anything at our church. I love our church, but I don’t see any areas where I want to help. I’m not musical, I’m horrified at the idea of teaching anything, and I don’t like hanging out with kids or teens.
But there’s the saying that 10% of people do 90% of the work, and I don’t like the idea of being part of the 90% that do 10%. “I don’t want to be a moocher,” I said.
“Honey, if you aren’t enthusiastic about doing any of things you could do, then you shouldn’t do it,” he said. “Other people love to work with kids, so that’s what they need to do. You’re gifted in writing. That’s where you need to focus your attention and energy, not on things that you couldn’t care less about.”
If it doesn’t move my heart, why am I doing it? Without love, it’s meaningless.
You and I can do fabulous things:
- Work with the poor and fight for justice for the oppressed.
- Produce gorgeous music or artwork or writing.
- Send a shuttle into space and explore the far reaches of the galaxy.
Yet when it becomes merely a duty, a drudgery, a way to grab renown or hit the bestseller list, then our work is meaningless. Or when it’s always been a duty, something I feel guilt-tripped into doing, then it’s meaningless, too. That’s not to say that it won’t make a difference in another person’s life.
But does it make a difference in our own?
Have you ever done things only because you felt obligated to do them? Have you ever lost your love for things that you once loved to do? How did you get that love back?