Six impossible things

The Fun Part

Writing isn’t any fun. At least, that is the impression I often get from listening to earnest young would-be and beginning writers discussing their work. There are all these decisions you have to make and things to pay attention to, from word choice to plot twists. It takes forever to finish a novel (and sometimes just as long to finish a short story). And then you have to do the marketing (I have never once met a writer who claimed to enjoy the submission process, not even the ones who are very, very good at it).

There are intense arguments over slanting stories for different markets, whether to look for an editor or for an agent first, the value and risk of multiple submissions, and traditional publishers vs. small presses vs. e-books. It all sounds so enormously exhausting and unpleasant that I wonder why anyone would want to get into this business at all, ever.

And then I run into someone who is so excited about their current project that they are nearly incoherent, or someone bouncing with joy because they found the absolutely perfect thing for Chapter Eight, and I feel better.

Any writer who wants a professional career does have to worry about all the things that go into getting such a career off the ground (and keeping it there), but there’s a down side, especially for those who get so caught up in the mechanics of writing and the procedures of getting their stuff sold that they forget why they’re doing it. I’ve seen more than one writer revise all the shine and sparkle out of a story in hopes of making it saleable. I’ve known more than one early-stage writer who has acquiesced to an editorial request that gutted a finished novel, or twisted the writer’s story totally out of shape.

None of them were having fun, and it showed in the finished product. It is therefore demonstrably worthwhile to sit down occasionally and remind oneself just why one is doing all this anyway.

When you sit down to write a story, what’s the thing that you’re most excited about? The coolness of the idea? The fascinating characters? The incredibly twisty plot? The history and setting? Getting to play with your nifty new Autocad program to draw maps?

When you are just gearing up on a project, what are you looking forward to writing? Is it a particular scene, or something longer like the arc of the unorthodox romantic relationship? Are you excited about a new writing challenge, or happy to be getting back to something you think you know how to do? (You are going to be wrong, if it’s the latter, but you know that and you don’t actually care.)

What is it about this particular book that is jumping up and down in your backbrain screaming “Me! Me! Write me now!” so loudly that you don’t care that nobody will want to buy a space opera about super-intelligent rabbits fighting against vampire carrots and their allies, the telepathic chickens? (Do not ask why your backbrain is excited about rabbits and chickens and vampire carrots. Just don’t.)

What, in short, is the fun part?

The fun part can stay the same for a twenty-novel series, or it can change from chapter to chapter, but ultimately, it’s the thing you have to keep an eye on. Because in my experience, if the writer isn’t having fun, it shows…and a lot of readers end up not having fun either.

Your idea of “the fun part” is unlikely to be the same as mine, or as any other writer’s. It may be something that your agent and editor frown at and politely but firmly categorize as “not commercially viable.” It may be something that your crit group, which is usually not as polite as one’s agent or editor, tells you bluntly is unsellable. They may be right, but fun is still fun, and sometimes you can make the fun part work in spite of the nay-sayers. Even if you can’t, it is often still worth writing the thing just to be able to have that particular bit of fun. You can always stick it in the back of your hard drive somewhere if you don’t want to make it a publicity give-away or self-pub it as an e-book.

Writing is work, there is no denying it. But if it isn’t fun, what’s the point.

  1. I had a stretch a while back where nothing I was writing was any fun, at all, anymore. So I scrapped all those projects and started something without any thought of trying to sell it, just writing for myself … which of course ended up being the best thing I’d ever written up to that point. The funny thing is, just a couple of months ago I was able to go back to one of those scrapped projects and start over with it, and it’s turned out to be sheer delight this time around. The timing just wasn’t right for me to write it before, I kept trying to turn it into the wrong story. Once I figured out what story it was meant to be, the fun has just flowed.

  2. Okay, where is the telepathic surveillance device hidden?

    I’ve been slogging a lot on the current WIP (yes, still that WIP), but yesterday, I finished writing a bit that I’d only recently realized I needed, and then sat there giggling like a loon and waving my fists in the air because I was just so danged happy with it. That’s the sort of thing that makes all the slogging worthwhile.

    (Also, I probably would buy a space opera about super-intelligent rabbits fighting against vampire carrots and telepathic chickens. Just for the record.)

    • I’m assuming that the idea is up for infinite replication? 🙂

  3. I definitely have my ups and downs with writing. For me the fun part is usually watching my characters interact and getting to play matchmaker. I love feeling all-powerful 🙂

  4. Rachel Aaron, in her book 2000 to 10000 (about writing faster), taught me to spend a few minutes before each writing session remembering why I have wanted to write this very scene since I started the project (she calls it Enthusiasm). Donald Maass, in The Fire in Fiction, Scenes that can’t be cut, says, “The author may not grasp the reason yet, but the impulse to portray this particular moment, this particular meeting, this particular action, springs from the deep well of dreams from which stories are drawn.”

    I don’t even try to write a scene until I’m in that place where this is the very best scene I’ll ever get to write and I can’t wait. It can take me days of digging to answer Why, but that digging is amazing in what it pulls out. I never wish I’d just gone with the easy first draft, the obvious scene of what needs to happen.

    It makes me slow, but it also makes it great fun. The fun is here, and now – or nowhere.


    PS It’s still work – but so what?

    • “The author may not grasp the reason yet, but the impulse to portray this particular moment, this particular meeting, this particular action,

      I love this. Scenes that can’t be cut, huh? I may have to check that book out after all.

  5. I tried listing everything I find fun but the list got waaayyy too long. I seem to love all the actual writing parts of writing. 🙂

    The not-writing parts of writing… not so much.

  6. For me, coming up with settings and characters is the fun part. Which is why writing fanfic has never held any attraction for me – the fun part has already been done.

  7. “It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes. When I brood over these marvelous pleasures I have enjoyed, I would be tempted to offer God a prayer of thanks if I knew he could hear me. Praised may he be for not creating me a cotton merchant, a vaudevillian, or a wit.”
    —Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880)

  8. When your character throws you for a loop when you’re writing and suddenly decides to go off in another direction for about a chapter or two. You never know what you’re getting when you sit down to write. That is my absolute favorite part of writing.

  9. Thank you for reminding me why I sit down to write every day (or almost every day). Watching television is easy, but writing is fun.

  10. Editing! Editing is the funnest part. Especially if it’s just copy-editing, but being able to stomp around on the scaffolding and nail up the things that should be there and occasionally realizing that a board is sticking out funny and needs sawing off… Much more soothing.

    Reader reactions are good, too.

    …I may be very, very strange.

  11. Brilliant! I don’t know why we feel we have to hammer the fun out of anything that’s meant to be work. I’m doing my best to find the fun in as many parts of the process as possible. I’m doing it in my spare time, I want to enjoy myself! I’m genuinely amazed that tweaking my process in even small ways can make a step feel like fun.

    But you didn’t tell us…what’s the fun part for you?

  12. I know I’m coming late to the party, but I like an opportunity to think about what I love! For me, it’s the intersection of landscape and season and mood. There’s plenty of other fun, but the very best are the times when person and place and time meet and touch each other. There’s such energy in those scenes for me, the rhythm of them catches me up and pulls me through them and the words are just there. So of course my primary WIP is mostly set on a slow-moving spaceship with a POV character who longs passionately for just that sort of relationship with her surroundings but utterly refuses to find it anywhere but a home she never expects to see again. There’s a lot I love about this story, but I do not like writing in a place with no weather. It does help me learn how to draw that kind of power out of other aspects of setting, from a crowd or a classroom or an artifact. Those mostly aren’t things that get my attention as much as landscape and weather, so it isn’t as natural to me, but there’s power and resonance there when my character will consent to getting involved in it, and it’s good practice learning to find it. Still, I am very glad to have a secondary project where I can let wind and snow and stars do a lot of the work for me.

    When writing papers in school, I loved the moments when another layer of structure became clear. I couldn’t write well off of an outline, I had to work outward from seeds of quotes or fact, knowing they fit together but not knowing how, building up a little more around each one until I saw how it fitted with another, and then writing the connections between them. That moment when I finally figured out what it was they all came together to say (usually in the last hour or so of work well past midnight), was a beautiful, shaky, tired kind of high. I’m not quite sure how this maps onto fiction writing for me, but I think it does, sometimes.

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