Don't Write Until You're Excited?

The September 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest features an interview with Chris Cleave, author of the best-selling Little Bee. When asked for his advice to writers, he says this:

“Make sure you’re excited about your work. When you research a story, it should feel like life and death. And when you come to writing it, it should feel like, It will be devastating for me if I don’t make this story as exciting as I know it can be. You should get up every day and think, If I’m not super excited about the 2,000 words I’m going to do today, how can I make it so I am super excited? It should never feel like a chore. If it ever gets boring, the reader can tell. You need to put the pen down and change something, and not come back to the desk until you’re excited about the line or chapter you’re about to write.”

I always read Writer’s Digest with a pen in hand, and in the margins next to this paragraph, I drew a big question mark. I think I disagree with Chris on this one. While I think it’s definitely a good idea to try to psych yourself up and to get excited about what you’re going to write, and to examine your piece closely when it does start to bore you, I don’t think it’s safe to leave the work alone until you are excited about it. Nor do I think the reader can necessarily tell where your enthusiasm has waned. I’ve often had the rude awakening of reading back over work I wrote full of excitement and inspiration, only to find that it’s no better (and is sometimes even worse) than scenes I’ve written where each word felt like it had to be wrenched out of some quicksand pit in my mind to be put on the page.

It’s fairly common for writers to experience a “lull” mid-story, when the initial excitement has worn off and the momentum of the end being in sight hasn’t begun. One of the biggest challenges facing new writers is getting past this and finishing their stories. Many writers who lose their “excitement” over a work in progress end up starting something new that feels more exciting; until that one becomes boring, at which point there’s another new beginning; until soon you have file drawers full of half-finished manuscripts with none of them anywhere close to being ready to see the light of day.

So my modification of Chris’s advice would be this: If you’re not excited, see whether you can do something to get excited (brainstorm ideas in your planning notebook, take a walk to mull over your story, read over a scene that you’re really proud of, journal about what made you want to write this story in the first place). But if you can’t get excited, write anyway. The last thing we writers need is one more excuse to abandon our craft.