Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

The Two Kinds of Pleasure

A popular refrain from writers is that they don’t enjoy writing, but they enjoy having written. I find this is true for so many things in life. There’s the joy we experience while doing a thing, and then there’s the joy of having done the thing. The “have had” pleasure.

Exercise is a good example. Some exercise I love in the moment, especially if there’s a sport involved. Other exercise (like hot yoga) makes me miserable while I’m doing it, but afterward I feel so good that I wonder why I don’t do it more often. It’s difficult to commit to these “have had” types of pleasure, even when we know the reward will be worth it. That’s why I often say you have to force yourself to get started (sit down in front of your story. Or get the yoga mat out and just lay on it and stretch). Once you get a taste of the “have had,” you can often push yourself to keep going.

Where it gets tricky is with diminishing returns. There was a lot of joy in sailing across the Pacific Ocean. There was also a thrill in having had done it. No one can take that accomplishment away. I would enjoy doing it again, in the moment, but would I enjoy the “have had” aspect? Probably not. I don’t think I’d feel anything extra from having done it twice.

This can be a challenge for writers, especially if their best work comes from the “have had” type of excitement. For me, this was overcome by not telling the same story over and over. Or even by exploring new genres. With exercise, it comes from shaking up the routine now and then. Or setting different goals.

These are just different tools to motivate ourselves. We have to find the things that will give us long term contentment and pride (the “have had” pleasures), and also find ways to enjoy the journey until we get there. Just as importantly, we have to understand when and how these two types of pleasure decouple for each of us so we don’t get stuck pursuing the wrong experiences.

What makes you happy? How are you managing your time so you experience more of that? And how can you tweak the necessary things in life to derive more joy from them? I listen to podcasts on my commute and while I’m folding laundry or doing the dishes, because I learn from podcasts and so I get a huge “have had” pleasure from them. Music gives me more pleasure in the moment, but it doesn’t last. What about you?

6 replies to “The Two Kinds of Pleasure”

I really enjoyed your post, Hugh, thank you. We have just arrived back in the US after living abroad for the last 6 years and I find myself feeling a bit lost. I hate the idea of being a dirt dweller. Or purchasing things like a car, a home, clothing, stocking the pantry….it all feels too permanent. I have lost the desire (and knowledge) to be settled. Your post encouraged me to reflect on what makes me feel happy, and in my mind the list of my passions is clear – humanitarian work, photography, writing, diving, cooking/baking and quilting, to name just a few. I need to immerse myself in these things and not dwell on the ground beneath my feet.

The challenge is everything. Not just for writers.

From the drudgery of every working day, to grieving for a loved one. If it is made into a challenge it can become the symphonie of life.

What makes me happy – To hear that symphonie, each evening, and listen to the applause, each morning.

This is going to appear as a plug, but it isn’t. It’s my journey into becoming a new author. I understand the joy in doing and the joy in “have had.” The crash after you hold your first book in your hand. The doubts that arise wondering if you can repeat it. The fight to dig in that inner strength and push forward with the next book. It’s similar to exercising. When you think you can’t do one more, you have to dig in deep and do one more… just to discipline your mind over your body. Defeat for me, always occurs in the mind first.

Because my book is my memoir. I can’t repeat it. That elements one problem and creates another. Falling Silence is my memoir of being born and raised in a cult, leaving and learning to live in a world I was raised to fear as evil. A story that reads like a thriller and will take you on an introspective journey into the dark chambers of your mind.

What makes me happy? Writing. What keeps me going? 1) The sheer stubbornness to not quit. 2) A pretty disciplined schedule that I implemented when I began to write. 3) The pure adrenaline rush to push myself to my breaking point… and then push a little harder. Yes… I am driven… endlessly driven.

Music is essential. Hair up in a tight bun, headphones on and I write. Meditation and exercise are also essential for me, to maintain my energy level. Though I admit, I’ve slacked off in that area right now.

When my brain becomes stuck in my writing, I turn on the music and dance. My down time is reading.

And when it becomes too much and I want to run away from it all… I get on my running shoes and run while I listen to my Youtube playlist “The Blue Flame Warrior Rises.”

After-all… I am the Blue Flame Warrior Woman and I rise once more… but of course… that won’t make any sense to most. Oh well…

I listen to podcasts now all the time too. Which is weird because I am an amateur musician with a lot of studio albums. Which is weird to say I write music but don’t listen to it much. It would be like a writer who says, I write but don’t read. Eitherway, totally understand that transition from music to podcasting. But when I hear a Radio Lab or Infinite Monkey Cage that blows my mind, it’s like discovering a new band that quickly becomes one of your favorites. Speaking of podcasts, Flash Forward. She talks to experts about possible and not so possible futures. So good, and self published.

This is a great post and a great reminder to just “sit down and do it”! I’ve been wanting to write a book for as long as I can remember, and have been following your success since 2012. Your success story is super inspiring and I always love getting to see what is going on in your life.
For me, one of the “have had” pleasures is reading a book, recommending it to someone else, and getting to share the excitement of a first read all over again.

Also there is the idea of something, which our expectations either exceeds or can’t compare to the thing itself. I work better from habit than motivation, which easily gets squashed as life creeps in. I also enjoy myself more when I operate from the idea of exploration than motivation. It’s hard motivating yourself to exercise or write day after day after day, when no one is watching .. for me it’s easier to ask myself what’s interesting and reach towards that. Can I run longer or faster or lighter? Can I write clearer? Can I write copy or fiction or memoir that I would like to read? Can I write a scene with a sense of place even if you’ve never been.

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