I was 19 when I lost my sense of fun. With my writing, that is.
There I was in the college library, thumbing through the science fiction story I was working on. I felt a kind of pride as I flicked through the rough, brown pages. The story was raw, was most certainly not done, but I felt the world coming to life....
Then, suddenly, the pages were ripped from my hands.
It was Ben (not his real name), my English Literature classmate.
I waited expectantly as he read the story, I think I even held my breath.
He tossed the papers on the table, almost dismissively, and said: "Why are you wasting time writing trash like this? You're better than that."
I was stunned. Yet, I didn't feel crushed by what he said.
See, like Ben, I was in awe of the literary masters we studied in our Lit class. Compared to Fitzgerald, Dostoyevsky and Chekov, my tale of a post-apocalyptic underground civilisation seemed juvenile by comparison.
I thought to myself: Ben was right. I was wasting time. He was going to be agreat poet. And I should strive to be the next Katherine Mansfield. My writing was meant for bigger things!
Taking out the 'trash'
So, I "took out the trash", so to speak, and began writing Katherine Mansfield knock offs. While some mimicry is warranted, even encouraged, at the early stage of a writer's life, writing to be someone you're not is another matter altogether.
Unsurprisingly, my prose became turgid and lifeless. Worse, I found writing these literary bon mots utterly boring.
In the end, writing fiction became tedious. It felt like pulling teeth. I had more fun cleaning a toilet.
This was a far cry from my earlier years.
I began crafting stories when I was 10. I started with drawing comics in lined exercise books and then went on to writing a non-fiction book on Astronomy when I was 12 - illustrated and stapled together by yours truly. By the time I was 18, I had written short stories, half-finished novels and, believe it or not, a book on world history.
I wrote because it was fun. I had no expectations of being published, earning a dime or gaining fame. Early in my life I decided that I had to do something creative and writing became my thing.
I lost that spark when I stopped writing for fun and wrote for approval instead. I had this wrong belief that if I didn't write anything that mattered (whatever that meant) I would be wasting my time.
After the fun faded away, I decided I wasn't cut out to be a fiction writer and poured my energy into being a journalist instead.
Those career-building years were exhilarating.
But writing became work.
It would be nearly 10 years before I wrote another original piece of fiction. TEN YEARS.
When I finally restarted my fiction writing ambitions in 2012, I met a big wall of Resistance because of my rigid mindset: Writing is Work. Writing is Not Fun. Writing is my Life's Purpose and Calling, and Writing had to Pay My Bills.
With these heavy ideals weighing down down my creative spirit, it was a miracle I ever wrote a word.
My only saving grace was that I remembered what it was like to write for the hell of it, and how much fun it was. It took a lot to crawl out of Resistance. In fact, it took me nearly two years!
I now love cracking open the laptop to write my fiction. The process of creating fiction is challenging, believe me, and at times I can becomea puddle of whiny, angsty, writerly mess, but I can genuinely say that I now have fun crafting my stories.
Here is how I made writing fun again:
I wrote fanfiction
I owe fanfiction a big debt. When I was hung up about how my fiction had to meet some literary golden standard, fanfiction gave me the outlet to just have fun with my writing. I wrote novellas, novels, and short stories based on TV worlds I was already in love with. Because fanfiction writers do not make money off their works (yeah, yeah I know about the 50 shades thing) there was no pressure for my fiction to have an outcome beyond pleasing and entertaining readers.
I let go of outcomes
One of the biggest obstacles I had was that nefarious belief that if that piece of writing didn't produce any kind of outcome (be it money, recognition, or fame) it was a waste of time to "indulge" in it.
Elizabeth Gilbert, in her wonderful book, Big Magic, said: "The outcome cannot matter".
"Why should I go through all the trouble to make something if the outcome might be nothing?" Elizabeth asks rhetorically in Big Magic.
Her answer: "Because it's fun, isn't it?"
So I let go of the idea that my novels would amount to anything. Instead, I now...
I focused on the process
It's all about the craft now. How can I make this dialogue better? How do I make my writing process more efficient? This mindset leaves you free to enjoy the writer's journey. It becomes a discovery adventure instead of one about meeting goals and outcomes. Outcomes, mind you, that may not happen, and thus sap the joy out of you when it doesn't.
I treat every piece as practice
This idea was something I picked up from one of my favourite writing heroes, Dean Wesley Smith. Every novel, short story or blog post is a chance to practice the writing craft. Dean is also refreshingly unsentimental about his works, saying that if a story didn't work or wasn't liked, he would not rewrite it but instead move on to a new story. This prevents your ego from being overly attached to your word babies. Because it would be about the process, not the product. I think it's a much happier way to be!
How about you? Do you have fun with your writing?