Photo by Myles Tan
I often joke about the popular image of the writer: chain-smoking, whisky-gulping, deadline-addled, and demon-haunted. We rip and crumple pages in frustration. We bang our heads against our trusty writer’s block. We birth our words in agony, knowing we will always be underappreciated, yet also never good enough.
There’s some truth to this caricature (rare indeed is the creator who’s never suffered from self-doubt), but I believe there’s danger in wallowing in this image.
Why are we writing, after all, if we don’t find some spark of joy in telling stories? If our characters don’t feel just as layered as the real people in our lives? If we don’t feel a squishy affection for words like “quintessence,” “kludge,” and “sackbut”?
So, stub out that cigarette, put away the Jameson’s, and shelve the self-pity. Today I want to talk about the plain, simple fun of writing.
This sounds like a frivolous topic. It isn’t, at least not for me. The weight of an idealized, yet-to-be written story can be stifling, and I’ve spent far too many hours poring over malformed drafts, wondering why I suck so much at something I thought I was good at. I can become so focused on producing a masterpiece that I start to resent the necessary mess of creation.
What I’m finally (finally!) beginning to understand is that we can choose to approach our writing with delight instead of despair. Embracing the natural playfulness of the creative process frees us from the pressure of those flawless, hypothetical manuscripts. Remember: this is fun.
Stories are built around the most dramatic parts of being alive: everything that makes our world fascinating or frustrating, magnificent or mysterious, quirky or corked…
…sublime, divine, asinine, lonely, lively, moving, soothing, teeming, taunting, harrowing, haunting, tetchy, sexy, flirty, fierce, prickly, vicious, capricious, traitorous, triumphant, trivial, cantankerous, convivial…
…and on, and on, and on.
And that, writer friends, is the material we get to work with! Plus, anything else we can dream up, from dragons to spaceships to rewriting that argument you had with your best friend.
Take a “what if” question and ignite it with your words. Anything, literally anything, can happen in the imaginary realms you build. Your stories aren’t bound by the rules of physics, morality, or punctuation. You (lucky you!) get to craft emotional journeys, devise obstacles, and create worlds.
How fun is it when the story cluttering up your brain is brought to life by the simple act of assembling words? Or, even better: when the ideas you didn’t even know you had begin to sprout all over your project like invasive kudzu?
Suddenly you’re in charge of a whole little universe and everyone in it, and it’s up to you to enjoy creating and exploring.
And if you feel stuck? Well, there’s fun in that too—the same sort of fun that hobby stores are selling when they point you to their puzzle section. Push your characters into unusual situations and see how they react. Scooch around your plot in case there’s a better solution you’ve missed. Turn your story upside down and shake it for loose change. And if none of that works… it’s okay. Hopefully, you at least rekindled your passion for the story—why you started in the first place, why you’re going to keep writing, why you write at all, why you can’t not write.
Of course, I understand that writing can be difficult. Lots of fun things are difficult, like hitting a baseball or trying to outfox your nemesis. And sure, if you’re writing a violent or depraved scene, the writing isn’t exactly “fun.”
But writing doesn’t need to be agony—it can’t be, not always, or we would never finish our work. We would never even start.
So have fun. Make mistakes. Enjoy the mess. Treat your failures like the experiments they are (like, say, how that baking soda volcano that vomited all over the science fair judge in grade four was a valuable lesson on proportions). And don’t take yourself too seriously. Fiction writers craft enchanting lies that illuminate the truth of the human experience. But also, we sometimes just want to write about dragons and spaceships—and that’s worth honouring, too.