Do I REALLY Have To? The Puritan Work Ethic and Writing with Passion by Shan Jeniah Burton

Let me start by saying that I’m an American, born and raised on the East Coast, where Puritans had a lot to do with the formation of culture. The Puritans were not exactly known for being passionate about much but their religious zeal (think The Scarlet Letter, or the Salem Witch Trials). Hard work and rigid behavior were the path to heaven; life here was certainly not intended to be fun.


Ok, you say, but what does that have to do with ROW80, or, for that matter, writing?


BICHOK is a rather famous acronym, in writerly places. Much is said about the self-discipline that writers must have. Often, I read articles and comments encouraging writers not to wait for the muse, but to force ourselves instead to the task at hand,as though writing is a war in which we must win every battle, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, and writing, no matter what.


I used to believe that. I used to have a lot of “have-to’s in my life. Enforcing those “have-to’s” on myself and my family took up a lot of my time and energy – and I often found myself resisting that endless list, rebelling outright, and feeling like a failure.


I didn’t write much, in those days, and when I did, I usually felt like it “didn’t count” if it was less than perfect, or if the words just poured out, or even if it was fun.


Because everyone knows that writing is hard, relentless, grinding effort, and must be endured and gotten through, with a main force of will…




We have to do it.

Do we really have to? Do I?


This round, I am delving my passions. And writing because I “have to” sounds about as far from passion as I can get. Passion is wide open and reaching outward. That is clenched up tight, white-knuckled and tense-necked. I’m not even sure there is space for passion, in such a posture and mindset. I picture fingers stiffly pounding at the keyboard, and gritted teeth, and a mind so bent on producing that the words get dammed up inside, unable to break free and breathe onto the screen or the page.


Writing done well is a passionate, wide-open act, reaching out to the reader, offering up our souls, our truths, and our fantasies in the form of our words.


Do we REALLY have to treat it like hard labor, or place rigid codes of behavior upon it?


If we are passionate about our writing (and, if we aren’t, then the better question might be “Why am I doing this?”), wouldn’t it be better if we came to court it, tease it, tempt it – and then gave ourselves over to the spirit that moved us, when it did, with joyful abandon?


Do we REALLY have to drive ourselves to it, jaw and heart clenched up tight as we mutter, “Butt in chair; hands on keyboard” over and over again, as though it’s a mantra, snarling at anyone who dares to interfere with the sanctity of our writing time?


I don’t have to.


I can instead live a rich life – hugging my children, having long conversations with my husband over our morning coffee, going places and doing things that are not directly writing, and all without guilt. I can take hot showers and let the ideas come, as they often do.

And I can stay up all night, writing, not because I have to, but because the spirit moved me, and there is joy and passion and deep truth, for me, when I sink into my own mind in the wee hours.


All the energy I used to spend forcing myself, is now spent living a life that blends writing, reading, TV, family, pets, travel, hometending, time in nature and with friends, learning, and love in ever-shifting patterns. Time spent not writing, not forcing myself to write when the words and my mind aren’t there, allows space for things to simmer in the stew of my subconscious – and, at least for me, that doesn’t happen on a schedule.


Do I have to write?



Do I choose to write?



More and more often, I do it with a wild passion and a tingling thrill that have made my exponentially more prolific than I ever was in those “have-to” days, when I avoided anything that smacked of writing in pure human rebellion against what is forced.


This round, I challenge you to ask the question: Do I REALLY have to write?

Or can it be a joyful choice, a present you give generously to yourself? An interlude with yourself, and your fantasies, a daydream set to words?


May you find joy and freedom and passion in the answer!


I certainly have.


Shan Jeniah Burton



12 thoughts on “Do I REALLY Have To? The Puritan Work Ethic and Writing with Passion by Shan Jeniah Burton

  1. I love this. I need to reconnect to what I love about writing instead of trying to force the job of writing. Thanks for the reminder. I needed it. Hugs.

    1. Tia,

      I think we all need that reminder sometimes, and I imagine maybe more so when publication is added to the mix.

      My you find deep and joyful reconnection!

      And all hugs happily received and reciprocated! =D

  2. Thank you for this post. (I’m pretty sure this may have triggered a dream I had last night! A good one, I should add.)

    I find it too easy to get caught up in shoulds and have tos and I’ve been trying to write – and live – more heart-centred, but I lapse from time to time, so reading about how this works for you makes me see that it really can be done.

    I’m printing this off and pinning it up where I can see it every day.

    Thank you. 🙂

    1. Lisa,

      I love those types of dreams, and honored if my post triggered one – how cool!

      I’ve spent the last five years rooting the shoulds and have-to’s out of my parenting, and, eventually, it spilled over into everything else. I may never be the same! =)

      At the same time, old patterns can pop up in the unlikeliest of moments. I wrote this for myself, too – because I can get so caught up in my goals sometimes that I forget why I write, and that, every time I write, I am living my passion. I’m glad it speaks to you, too. Often, I see things in other’s writing I missed in my own life.

      Sending you lots of energy for living that heart-centered life!

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