Sunday, November 28, 2010

Writing For Work, Writing For Fun

I suspect all writers write for fun. Yes, I have known tortured poets who are driven by personal demons. But I really think that even they, on some level, must get a certain joy from somewhere in the act of creation. And I think that most of the rest of us share a little bit of their torture too.

Because writing is not actually the same as reading, and I suspect (and here is me putting a crazed and unsupported opinion) that the joy we are seeking in writing is at least partly a desire to recreate the experience we had when we first discovered how great reading was. When you're young, and you haven't become jaded yet, and you haven't read every kind of plot or twist that exists yet, reading is a pristine experience. You could surrender yourself to the story and be taken on a journey. You experience the joy of discovery every time you open a book.

But if you read a lot, the experience becomes less pristine. You've seen it all before. You get picky about which tropes you like. And your brain rebels at the idea of giving up control to another. So you jump the tracks and head out on your own journey of discovery - which is when you become a writer.

The problem, as I said, is that writing is not reading. When you take the reins, you take responsibility for the story. You don't get to sit back and let the discoveries wash over you. You have to look ahead and plan. Nothing is a mystery. You can't discover, you must invent. By the time you are rewriting and polishing, the experience of writing is nothing like the freshness of reading. You may still get joy out of it, but it's a different joy. It's a joy of craftsmanship, of communication.

But there are always parts of writing that are like reading. Many writers refer to their first draft as a "discovery draft." Or if you're like me, you do "exploratory writing" ahead of that first draft - taking the story and characters in different directions, playing with what will work an what won't. Finding the most fruitful path.

I was thinking about this today, because writing a mystery requires the highest level of planning of any kind of writing. (And I'm talking about the tightly plotted whodunnit type puzzle mystery here - though there are many looser plot styles that fit in the genre.) It is an extremely satisfying kind of writing, though. Even though you will never experience the mystification of the reader of your story - you'll never match wits with the story, or get to guess where it's headed, or change your mind as the clues pile up - you get to be the magician, luring and distracting and pushing the reader through that experience. It's very hard work to do it right, and you only get the reader-like experience for small parts of the process.

I think this is why I like to dip into adventure - because the story can work out more spontaneously. Even when you have twists and turns, they are much easier to weave in clues on a second draft when they are not a full-out game of wits. If you know what all the characters are really like, and you know their motivations and where they start the story, you will remain consistent as you twist and turn.

But sometimes I go even further off the rails.

Today I worked on The Serial - the strange series of tales that don't quite conform to anything in modern genres. They are inspired mainly by the kinds of stories told in silent movie serials and in magazines and books of the same era. High adventure and mystery and a rather convenient lack of realism.

(For new readers, you can read a little about that project in this post on the early concept of the characters, and also this post on the concept of "Texerland.")

My very first idea for this story came long before the geographic anomolies and the Awarshi partisans and such of my current story. It came from an urge I had as a kid to just sit down and make stuff up - to just start the story somewhere, and keep throwing in complications, and just let it go where ever it wanted to go. It was going to start as a standard high fantasy, but I was prepared to let there be space ships, and forays into the modern real world. I called it "The Perils of Lady Pauline" as a vaguely medievalized version of the old movie serial.

I got bored with it pretty fast, mainly because the mind can whip through such ideas much faster than you can ever write them down. Slowing down to get it all down on paper put it right back into the category of "work" again. It's not reading. It's writing. Bleh.

But as you gain your skills, you can bring those two experiences back closer together again. You can put one to work for the other. The heroine of my current serial is indeed named Lady Pauline (though she is a thoroughly modern flapper and a baroness in her own right) and it is the story of her perils. I am a long way from doing anything with this story. It is still in fully exploratory mode....

...but it is good fun. And that's what I wrote for today.

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2 comments:

marycatelli said...

I started to write because my parents made me return all the books to the library and get out no new ones just because we were going on a trip and couldn't return them on time.

The Daring Novelist said...

Yes, there is nothing like running out of books to get you writing new ones....