2 December 2010

The Happy Writer

Way back in the mists of time (2006 actually) I wrote a pithy series of writing tutorials aimed at getting a chunk of writing just... you know... done. Hang the quality, hang the need for editing, hang everything, just get it done.

The series was, of course, occasioned by the advent of that year's Nanowrimo. People seemed, continue to seem, to view the production of 50k words of novel something of a burden and a trial. For myself it's only a burden and a trial if my other life commitments physically prevent me from partaking. The actual production of 50k words is a matter of sitting down and opening the floodgates until they're all finished. This year I had a bit of a sudden sprint to the finish slapping down 15k last Sunday to fall panting and exhausted at the finish line with something like a reasonable rough draft. I had another book to proof and put the final touches on, events to host and a regular life to live around this. Probably why I found it quite such a trial.

The point is that I at no point found the actual writing difficult. As I get older getting through the writing is the least difficult part in the production of work. I see questions from aspiring writers on Q&A sites like this asking which bell and whistle laden "writer's word processor" to use to keep track of what's going on. I use notepad. Just me and the words, baby, locked in a continual stream.

The use of notepad to draft a novel is, in some ways, the most hardcore possible way to write with a keyboard, or indeed in any way. You see a sheet of paper can only be so large, a dedicated word processor document quickly becomes unwieldy, with a text editor you just keep on writing, until you're done. No muss, no fuss. If you never find yourself in a position where you're not "in the groove" then any faffing around with notes and formatting and saving chapter files and so on and so forth is just time wasted.

Yet, curiously, in all the world I seem to be alone in this. I do not know of one other writer in the world who can just turn it on and write. Possibly my father, he always kept impeccable office hours and wrote everything in LocoScript which is quite a lot like a text editor. He never discussed how he wrote with us, he just did.

Now, unless I'm some kind of superhuman mutant I can't see why it would be that I can discipline myself to write "on tap" and no one else could. If  I were going to look for obvious differences between me and almost every other living person who considers themselves to be some kind of writer I can see a few that may contribute:
  • Absence of illusions. I'm not doing what I'm doing to woo big publishers or to make the Times Bestseller List. I'm doing it because it's what I do.
  • Sense of fun. Because I have no illusions the business of writing stories and story games has become a fun hobby, I know of no other hobbyist writers, all writers I have ever encountered are limbering up for an encounter with the big leagues that likely will never come.
  • Lack of social pressure or cultural targets. Because I am purely in this to have a bit of fun I am not constrained to squash novels into a commercially viable length, or to worry about whether the thing I'm writing fits under a generic banner in a massive bookstore. I don't need to think about whether there's too much emotional content in an action story, or too much action in a love story. I tell the story the way I think it should be told and hang everyone else's opinion.
To summarise, I just don't actually care about the concerns others may have about whether my stuff "works". Hell if I could, should I put my mind to it, breeze through over half a million words in a year and still live a completely other life that has nothing to do with writing then it's not really much of a loss if something doesn't come off the way I planned. This year alone I've written two role playing systems and a novel.

One of the role playing systems is typeset and ready to roll Monday of next week in time for Christmas. The potential number of productions I could roll out next year is mind-boggling. I am creatively fecund, prolific and master of my own destiny thanks to POD services.

From a typesetting point of view, production of the role playing systems has proven so challenging that the idea of publishing a novel now seems like something I would undertake in a weekend. For me personally, the act of writing and producing works of fiction this way has been so immensely rewarding and personally satisfying I can't imagine having done things any other way.

If I have one complaint it is the common one that the world has not, thus far, seen fit to shower me with sufficient personal largesse for my efforts to dedicate my life to these projects full time. On the other hand, how many people discover the same things through the bitterly frustrating and unfair process of the traditional publishing markets? How many people are left twisted and broken in the ruins of their dreams and ambitions because they can't just let it go? Hey I haven't gained a bank balance that could buy me my own personal island, but I don't hate the thought of warming up the word processor (or notepad) and bashing out a couple of thousand words either.

If you are a writer, look at what you do and ask. Am I having fun? Is this really what I wanted? Am I pleasing myself or some impossible commercial dream state? What do I really want to get out of writing? How many people need to engage with my work before I am happy?

You may find that the answers to those questions lead you down a different path to the one you imagined. One with far fewer riches and launch parties but one with a great deal of personal achievement and a pleasant feeling of stability unattainable by many other methods.

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