When passion burns low

My daughter and I had a conversation about romantic relationships recently where she observed, “You and Dad don’t have a lot of excitement in your love life these days.” Well, I suppose that’s true. After nearly 20 years of marriage (and with 2 teenagers to keep us running) the days are no longer endlessly filled with fireworks and sparklers. But, I explained, that’s pretty normal. Otherwise, I think we’d burn out.

So, too, is it with any passion. Including writing. The general public believes that we all sit down to our computers (or pads or typewriters), a cup of our favorite beverage in hand, maybe at some fancy bistro or in a lushly appointed writing den, and the words pour onto the page in an endless rush, seeming to flow directly from our brains to the page. No stopping. No editing. The angels sing, the trumpets blare. Cue Beethoven’s Ode to Joy! We are writers and we are glorious!

And yeah, sometimes that happens. And it’s awesome. But I think a lot of days go something like this: “What is this dreck? I wrote this? This character sucks, he’s boring. How did I get to this point? More important, how do I get out? I’ve written myself into a corner. It’s hopeless. I suck. Why did I even think I could write? I should be flipping burgers.”

Anybody? Good. Not just me.

I’m pretty sure these feelings are not unique to writers. Athletes, musicians, visual artists – I bet they all have their days where the fires of passion seem to be burning low. Michael Jordan, probably one of if not the best basketball player ever, used to practice every day and not stop until he had made 500 shots. Made, mind you. Not taken. And despite the joy that so clearly shows on MJ’s face in game footage, I can’t think that he felt that way every day.

And I don’t think this is a bad thing. And therein lies the key. We are not bad people if we approach that day’s task – new pages, revisions, whatever – with a certain amount of “why am I doing this?” We tend to think of stress as a negative thing. But any state of high emotion is stress. Passion definitely counts as high emotion, at least in my opinion. And stress wears on the body after a while. And the spirit. The human body was not meant to exist in a constant state of stress. It’s not healthy.

So maybe those days where we approach the task with less passion than usual are the body’s way of saying, “Hey, let’s take a break here, shall we? Relax. Unwind. Before we break something – like our brain.” It’s okay. Normal. Go take a walk, or read, or play music, or needlepoint. Whatever.

Because underneath the exhaustion, if we’ve done it right, is a strong bed of coals. Coals that burn with a slow, steady fire. Coals that will burst into flame as a new idea comes to us and we blow on them ever so gently.

And when the flames of passion burst forth again, we remember: Oh yeah, this is why I write.

Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73


Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She survived growing up through reading, cutting her mystery teeth on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark and, of course, Nancy Drew. As an adult, she finds escape from the world of software documentation through creating her own fictional murder and mayhem. She lives near Pittsburgh with her husband and two teenage children, and fantasizes about owning a dog again - one of these days.

14 thoughts on “When passion burns low”

  1. Oh, absolutely. Writers are not alone in this. Simmering coals make the strongest, steadiest fire. Recharging from time to time is part of the passion.


  2. Thanks for your post! I’m there. I’m so there some day. There’s a really good book about it called Art & Fear by David Bayles which I picked up when I was feeling miserable about my painting. (I still feel miserable about painting most days.) Anyway, when I take a break from the MS, I write short story or work on my Mysteristas articles. Or paint for entire weekend so I can feel more miserable about that. It’s part of the process. Maybe that’s why Stephen King called the book “Misery”?


  3. Sue, we have a wood-burning stove and sometimes the kids will say, “Oh, the fire’s gone out.” But there’s a good coal bed. We put a new log on, adjust the air flow and suddenly whoosh! Flames.

    Keenan, I hear you. Doing something different – anything – generally gets me going again. Interesting idea about Misery. 🙂

    Sam and Pamela: Thanks. Every once in a while, I get the right metaphor. And Pamela, if you make that shirt I want one!


  4. Thanks for the “insight” into your writing process. We readers always wonder what you writers do. When we read what you have written, it does just seem to flow out of your pen (or rather keyboard), right onto the page, and then right into our eyes (and our being). It all seems so easy for us, but so hard for you.


  5. Oh, Mary, thank you! I’m in that corner right now thinking how did I get here? How do I get OUT. I was beginning to think I was the only one, for certainly writing is easy for everyone else. Whew, I needed to read your post today.


  6. Sorry I’m a bit late responding – busy night (aren’t they all?).

    Peggy, thank you.

    3 no 7: I can’t remember the exact wording, but there’s a saying out there to the effect of something that is easy to read is hard to write. I can’t even remember who said (Elmore Leonard?). But if it looks easy to you, we must be doing something right!

    Kait, nope. Not just you. Or me. We all look at our peers and think “It’s so easy for him/her.” But if Hank Phillipp Ryan sits down with each new book and says, “Nope, not gonna happen this time,” you and I are in very good company. You’ll figure it out.

    Leeandra, aww, shucks, Thank you.

    Cynthia, have faith. The exit from the corner is there and you will find it for sure!


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