Missed Part 3? Read it here.
“The Importance of Managing Fun”
Stephen King had to start somewhere. His book, On Writing, gives us a history lesson on how he started, how he grew, and how he became a success. His main message to aspiring writers is to remain consistent. But, he also encourages writers to bring with them a sense of discovery. There’s a turf war in writing right now between the “plotters” and the “pantsers,” the latter of which King is the king, but both camps agree that discovering the story is as important to writing as knowing its structure and its ending. Discovery is important to the writer because the writer is the story’s first reader, and emotionally, it makes sense for the writer to plot the story along as if he is discovering things for the first time with the reader.
This is where writing for fun comes into play.
One of the big questions when we write anything (for this argument, we’ll focus on fiction, even though nonfiction writers have the same question to ask) is whether or not we should write for an audience or write for ourselves. If we’re writing an adventure story when our personal preference is thrillers, for example, are we being true to ourselves as authors? If we love screwball comedies, but are forcing ourselves to write a serious vampire drama because it’s what’s hot in the market at the moment, are we doing our job well? If we discover things about our protagonists, even if we don’t actually care about his journey because he doesn’t live within our preferred genre, are we still expected to “ooh” and “ahh” at the discoveries the way a potential reader might?
To that, I say, the author is also the audience.
Now, this isn’t to suggest exclusivity, of course. As we take writing more seriously, we need to start asking ourselves whom we want to read our stuff. But the real first question is whether or not we want anyone else reading our stuff. As I said in “The Importance of Experimentation and Ignoring Fear,” I began my writing life as a private citizen, unwilling to share my stories with anyone who didn’t also wear my underwear. As I wrote more and had more fun doing it, however, I had a greater willingness to share what I was writing. (If I had fun writing it, then maybe others would have fun reading it.) I started by sharing my work with my dad; then I started reading my stories over the phone to a select group of friends. Nothing I wrote was “good” per se, but I enjoyed writing it. And they enjoyed reading it (so they said). But I was not about to release any of it to the public.
Simply put, I wasn’t ready to put myself out there.
I’m an introvert by nature; though, life has taught me that even introverts have to show their faces to the world from time to time. The invention of the Internet has helped me to combat my fears. It’s given me a comfortable way to get out there, spread my wings, and grow as not just a writer but an author, too, as sharing work can be autonomous, based on discovery, and not require me to slap potential readers in the face with copies of my manuscript as I shout, “Read this!” In other words, I can put my name on a work, keep my face off of it if I want, and avoid the awkward conversations that could’ve formed had I given someone my work directly.
The flipside to using the Internet, however, is that now anyone can read anything I’ve posted anywhere, including the good works and the crap I should’ve kept to myself, and now I can’t hide my imperfections, my poor thoughts on a subject I know little about, my lame turns of phrase, my general ignorance about how the world works, and perhaps worst of all, my inexperience with business and my lack of professionalism as an author. Once it’s out there, it’s out there for all to see. And even though my memory sucks, plenty of people have solid memories that endure years upon years, and they’re the ones who will inevitably read the stuff that made me want to remain a private citizen in the first place. Question then becomes, should I put my name on this thing at all?
Well, there’s a flipside to that, too. Putting my name on crap means everyone who finds it will now think I’m a bad writer. But leaving good work anonymous will mean anyone who finds it won’t know I’m a good writer.
Everything is a risk. Putting our names on the line like that is a risk, just as leaving our names off of things is also a risk. Crazy thought, huh?
That’s when we need to decide whether we want to write for business or for fun. We usually begin our writing life for fun, just as I did, and it’s okay to write for fun. But when we post our work for the public, we have to acknowledge whether or not writing for fun is still our goal. Otherwise, why would we bother sharing anything with strangers? We’re the ones supposed to be having fun, right? Are the people who read our work having fun? Does that even matter?
I’m sure Stephen King began writing for fun. But here’s the kicker: I think he still writes for fun. I think it was, is, and will always be in his blood. The difference now is that he gets paid to do it. He had to start somewhere, and even he will tell you that he’s written crap once upon a time. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I’m pretty sure he admits that in his book, On Writing.
The reality is, we should write for fun. It’s okay to write for fun. But we should also forward-think a little. Just like posting about our bad day on Facebook, we should think about what sending this piece of writing up the line will do in the future. Will we be okay tomorrow if this gets out today, or will posting this cause something consequential and irreversible? And is that a bad thing? Perhaps that’s why we need coaches and mentors in our lives. We need gatekeepers to let us know if what we’re about to do is helpful or harmful, and if the job we’re doing as a writer will still be fun tomorrow if this gets out today.
It’s okay to write for fun, but we should have some sense about why we’re doing it first.
Next Week: “The Importance of Balancing Priorities and Knowing Audience”