Thursday, January 04, 2007

Should writing be fun?

Author and publisher Susan Hill has been visiting writers' blogs and websites, and she doesn't like what she has read:

...in among all manner of different comments and counter-comments, confessions and questions and answers and pieces of advice, one thing struck me and this was how painful the whole thing seemed to be. How much angst, anguish, worry, striving, fear of failure, self-flagellation and goodness knows what else which indicated that almost none of these people are ENJOYING WRITING. Now if I had not enjoyed writing, from the age of 5, if I had not always and everywhere found it huge fun, stimulating, interesting, exciting, entertaining and surprising, I would have gone off years ago and done something else. I love writing, just as I imagine those who can play football or any other game or paint pictures or sing or ride horses .. love what they do. There is hard work and a certain amount of anxiety but if you have even the smallest bit of talent, then you should be enj0ying the exercise of it - if you don't, for heaven's sake give up. NOW.

I realize "football" means something different to Ms. Hill than it does to me, but I like the sports analogy. Is it possible for a player to make it to the top of the heap without having an insatiable desire to participate in the game? I don't believe so. Anybody who isn't crazy in love with football isn't going to go far in the sport, I don't care how talented he is. And so it is with writing.

Ms. Hill goes on:

There has always, among very literary writers, been a certain badge of honour worn about the Suffering involved, the agony, the blood, the sweat and tears, the soul-searching, the pain of the creative process. All of which of C...p. Hard work, yes. Frustration when it doesn't quite go right, certainly. But otherwise, fun and more fun.

Maybe that little word "fun" bothers some writers because it appears to suggest this process is an easy one. Writing isn't easy--it requires vast quantities of patience plus unwavering concentration and some amazing organizational skills--in short, discipline. But if you don't find it irresistibly challenging and deeply satisfying--in other words, fun--then maybe you weren't really cut out to be a writer.

"No rules. Just write" is more than a silly corruption of Outback Steakhouse's advertising slogan. For the past four years it has represented my philosophy of novel-writing. Susan Hill proves herself a kindred spirit with these words:

The writing life can be made too full of Shoulds and Oughts. It's too easy to beat ourselves up. I SHOULD write 1,000 words a day. I OUGHT to work in the morning when I'm fresh. I MUST write every single day. I WILL MAKE MYSELF finish this chapter before I let myself have a cup of coffee

Oh for heaven's sake. No should or ought or must. Just enjoy it. Have fun. If this one isn't working, try another. If all you have is misery, stop doing it.

If you truly believe you were meant to be a writer, then reject the rules others would impose on you and just write! Once you begin having fun, that will show through and your writing will be better than ever.

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15 comments:

Carolyne said...

Hey Brenda, interesting post. But I have to confess that I am such a scatter brain (Oh Lord please help me concentrate on one thing . . . Oh Look a bird . . . at a time) I need the discipline of a daily quota even though part of me balks at it and calls it stifling. I have to think of a quote from (insert name of semi-famous person here that I can't remember) that daily discipline gives the athlete the freedom to move, the musician the freedom to play whatever he wants. Anyhow, I can have MORE fun with my writing when I keep myself on track. I guess basically it's a personality thing. And speaking of self-discipline, I and a couple of othe women, have started No Buy month. I'm blogging about my progress at A Few Words in the WInd. Check it out.

Brenda Coulter said...

I need the discipline of a daily quota even though part of me balks at it and calls it stifling.

But that's just it, Carolyne. You're writing your way. You aren't trying to cram yourself into somebody else's Perfect Writer mold. That's what I'm talking about.

Now I'm going to click over and see what No Buy Month is.

Chaser said...

While I get Ms. Hill's point, and I agree with you, Brenda, that writers really need to feel free to explore what works for them, I tend to reject declarations that if you aren't having fun, don't do it--that's a little too simplistic for my taste.

It's possible to love a job on average and not love any given day or any given task. For example, I adore revising, but I really hate drafting. I have to do one to do the other. Outlining, yippee; page proofs, gack!


Myself, I get annoyed by the "just have fun with it" exhortations when I am in the middle of tasks that just plain bug me. What, like I need to go through this like one of those smiley happy-clappy aerobics people when I hate exercise? Isn't it enough that I soldier through it because it's the right thing to do...I gotta have a smile plastered on my face, too, in order to reassure people like Ms. Hill? I know nobody cries for the books I don't write; I know I can not do it on any give day. Still doesn't make me face that pile of pile proofs with any songs in my heart. I am likely to complain--and complainers of all ilks are often no fun and self-indulgent, whether they are complaining about bad service or the fact they have page proofs.


It's really important for me, I think, to be upfront with my students lest they go forward thinking that writing, especially nonfiction, is all joy when it's often a practice of flipping between ungratifying or boring work to get to extremely gratifying work (this can very much be the case with archival research; months of nothing, and then BANG! a high you can't imagine when you find something great. I enjoy the day-to-day of sifting, but many of colleagues do not.)

You live off the average--and by all means, if you are not having fun on average, the job isn't for you. But that still doesn't mean you aren't going to encounter points in the process that you do out of commitment and discipline rather than enjoyment.

Brenda Coulter said...

You live off the average--and by all means, if you are not having fun on average, the job isn't for you. But that still doesn't mean you aren't going to encounter points in the process that you do out of commitment and discipline rather than enjoyment.

But Chaser, we're talking about novel-writing here. And editors can spot a passionless manuscript without even opening the envelope. It's a fact that writing fiction is enormously difficult, and most people who seek publication are never going to achieve it. Even after publication, writing novels is a very tough way to make a living. So my point--and, I think, Susan Hill's--is that writers who aren't doing this for the love of writing are unlikely to reap any rewards from the work.

It is often said that many people don't want to write, they want to have written. They fantasize about having the wealth and fame of somebody like J.K. Rowling but aren't similarly driven to write. I understand why the words "this should be fun" might put some people off, but I've tried to make the point that "fun" doesn't mean it's going to be a bowl of cherries every day. I have certainly known disappointment and frustration in my writing life. But those bad moments never last, and on the whole, writing was fun for me even when I wasn't published. I wouldn't have stuck with it, otherwise.

BJ said...

If I may...and this is not meant to be glib...but for me it's always been the challenges, the difficulties, the effort, even the angst, that make it "fun."

And fun it is. Really.

Of course, so is step-dancing...

So if all this ever stops being fun, maybe I'll--oh, no--what an image.

BJ

RoseMary said...

Hmmm.....I didn't realize how painful writing is for some people. Maybe most of the pressure comes from the idea that you must be 'published' to be a writer??? If you love writing, truly love it, that's why you'll do it. Not for the possible 'fame' it may bring you.

RoseMary

Brenda Coulter said...

RoseMary, I considered myself a real writer the day I finished my first novel and read it and knew in my bones that it was good. Being published is thrilling, but it's not publication that makes someone a writer.

...for me it's always been the challenges, the difficulties, the effort, even the angst, that make it "fun."

Exactly, B.J. If anyone needs proof that writers are oddballs, there it is!
;-)

Chaser said...

BJ's comment is my exact point, and I've always been confused about the statement that people "want to have written" in the light what Bj says. I love having written (even though I am usually sad once a manuscript is done), just I like *love* having finished a half-marathon even when I'm DEAD LAST.

One of my favorite projects was never published (it was for National Geographic and the spread just never happened), but it taught me so much and the people were wonderful and the assignment was *awesome* and I felt like I really accomplished something personally with that piece, but it never saw print. I wish it had, but I loved doing it.

So there's the distinction between facing your resistance (angst) and winning--the joys in the process--from wanting to be *famous* a la JK Rowling, which is about external validation, and it's that second one I think is just very dangerous, no matter what your craft. You just have so little control over how your work is received that craving attention for it, and feeling rotten if you don't get that attention, is a fast road to misery.

Having had to cheer and prop my usually happy and optimistic novel-writing husband through his third revision, I agree that novel writing should be fun and it should have passion, but I still think there are going to parts that do get you down--I know we are not disagreeing. I just think HIll has read around the blogs and she seeing people use their blogs to vent on the bad days and concluding that people aren't happy from that. I just think they are venting. Writing is too hard and the rejections are too numerous for those who don't really love the act of writing to stay with it for long.
(And yes, the reason I am here making a pest out of myself is that I have redrafting to do that I don't wanna...)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I've seen quite a few people like the ones Susan is talking about. And I sometimes just want to scream..."Go get another job!"

But then I just shake my head and move on to someone like you...who has a lot of fun! :-)

Douglas Cootey said...

Great sentiments. I loved your statement: "Writing isn't easy--it requires vast quantities of patience plus unwavering concentration and some amazing organizational skills--in short, discipline." Truer words have not been spoken on the subject. When writing becomes difficult I can look to my life and see that it isn't organized, my concentration is not focused, and that I'm forcing it into my life with dreary results. When I step back and rethink my life, shuffle my schedule around a bit, and rededicate myself writing becomes fun again.

Kristy Dykes said...

I bit, Brenda. I saw your post on the ACFW loop about blogging. You have a very good blog! I enjoyed reading it. I have one too. Christian Love Stories. Thanks for the blogging tips. I utilize most of them. I'm very happy with my blog and where it's going. God bless--

Robin Bayne said...

Great post! (lost rest of post due to resigning in, with Google or something)

Brenda Coulter said...

...I've always been confused about the statement that people "want to have written"....

Chaser, I simply meant that some people are much more interested in talking about writing than they are in actually writing. They want to be respected and admired for being writers, but they're uninterested in the day-to-day writing life (which necessarily involves a certain amount of, uh, writing). In short, they want to be members of the club, but they'd rather avoid paying their dues.
;-)

My bonny Bonnie, I think you're fun, too.
;-)

Douglas, it's always nice to see you here.

Kristy, thanks for the kind words, and please stop by again sometime.

Robyn, sorry you had trouble. I've tried to switch to the new Blogger, but they say my two-year-old blog is too big, at present, to transfer.

ever-eternity said...

I love writing. A lot.

I'm only fifteen, and for three months seven people and I have been writing a five thousand plus paged novel over Facebook. We're obsessed.

However, I have to admit, it's the best thing I've ever wrote and read.

Five thousand is a little much, so we're going to make a series out of it.

And i completely agree with you. Love what you do or fall through.

But, quick question:

We've been writing this post by post, no planning, no nothing. It's going to be a heck of an edit...

...Should we plan out some things? And, how do you get 7 people published when the ages of the authors range from 12 - 17?

-Raychel

Indigo Project said...

Writing used to be fun for me. I did it all the time as a kid, lugging around 5subject notebooks, and later a portable manual typewriter.
But after you write out what you like, disregard the mold everyone puts you in, and put out your best, only to get slammed down each and every time, you get a little jaded. now writing for me feels like a chore, but i love telling stories. i keep telling myself, to hell with them, i'll keep going! but what does one do when everything they put out makes the public very unhappy? Meh, i guess what i'm trying to say if one does what they do and are happy with it but everyone else is unhappy with it, what does one do then?