(Note: I wrote this in July 2013 and am posting it here again up front (without a word changed) because, to be honest, I’m getting a lot of certain types of questions from writers. This works as an answer to those questions. So here it is again. You might want to read it again, even if you remember it from July.)
Yeah, I know. A weird topic for a blog: Having Fun.
Over the last week or so I had the fantastic pleasure of being in a large room for a week with thirty-five very-well-published professional writers, all excited about writing and publishing and having fun.
That’s right. In this time in history where every writer’s conference, every blog post, every “expert” is shouting about the sky falling and how publishing is coming apart and the world is ending, I spent a week with writers excited for the future and enjoying writing again.
Let me repeat that: Writers excited for the future and enjoying writing.
In fact, everyone there enjoys writing and publishing so much that one of the main topics was how to control projects and decide what to write next.
A Personal Note:
When I started writing in 1974, it was an awful experience and even though I felt driven to write, I pretty much hated it. I hated the fact that I had to “rewrite” everything, that I had to “plot” everything out ahead, that I had to have “feedback” before I could ever do anything with anything I wrote.
Note: All of those problems were my internal problems. I believed all that crap of the myths, and for seven years I produced two short stories per year and hated everything about the process. Everything.
Then, in 1982, I decided to follow Heinlein’s Rules because, to be honest, they sounded like fun. And I decided that if I couldn’t have fun with my writing, I would move on to something I did enjoy. (I have done an entire long lecture series on Heinlein’s Rules and why the five rules work for writers.) I went from writing two stories a year to fifty per year and started selling. Surprise, surprise… And I was having fun writing.
In 2008, after twenty-six years of having fun, writing again had become no fun. I hated what New York was becoming, I hated what they were requiring me to do, I hated the lack of respect my hundred-plus novels got me with young editors. Writing had again become a dull, lifeless, stupid thing for me to do because of how I was treated by New York. (Note: These problems were not internal this time, but the external problems of publishing in general had invaded my mind and made everything no fun.)
I was about to walk away.
Then came the indie publishing world.
Suddenly, all the hundreds of stories and novels I had written again had value. And I could control what I wanted to write again, I could publish what I wanted to publish, and I didn’t have to rewrite for someone the age of my granddaughter (I don’t have one) because they thought they knew more than I did about writing and story.
Suddenly, when I went to the computer in my little writing garret overlooking the Pacific Ocean, writing was again fun. I was free!! I was back playing and enjoying myself just as I had done when I discovered and started following Heinlein’s Rules in 1982.
Today my main rule for writing fiction and publishing is this: “If it’s not fun, why bother?”
How to Have Fun
But Dean (I can hear people saying) how do I learn to have fun?
I think the answer I give most people is simply “First, Step Back.”
What I mean by that is step back from your writing and what you are doing and just give it a hard look. Where does writing stop being fun and start being torture?
Here are some main torture points I have heard in many, many letters from writers over the past six months.
1… You bog down and stop almost every story or novel in the middle.
This is caused by fear, total fear of some result you have made up that will happen when you finish. This is deep. And often it is caused by your critical voice taking over after a burst of creative voice. Critical voice always thinks your creative voice sucks.
Solution? Dare to be Bad. Follow Heinlein’s Rules and make it a challenge to follow those rules for a year. Another solution: Stop caring what other people think. Stop showing your work to workshops. Just finish and publish and never look at numbers or reviews or anything.
Results if you follow the solution: Writing becomes all that matters, and the fun will return. (But a warning, it is scary hard to follow these solutions.)
2… You finish stories or novels easily, but get trapped by no story being perfect, so you rewrite everything and never mail or publish anything or very little and you hate rewriting.
This is caused by a couple of things. Once your creative side is done, your critical side takes over and makes you believe nothing is good enough, just like some nasty English teacher would. And you rewrite, which dulls your story and turns it into sameness and thus it will never be bought. And not being bought gives a feedback loop to your critical voice, giving it power to make every story worse and keep it in control over your creative voice.
The other reason for this is that you haven’t gotten past the myth of rewriting yet and still believe what your English teachers and others taught you.
Solution? Start studying the creative process more. Start understanding how your own brain works. There is a very real reason Rule #3 of Heinlein’s Rules is “Don’t Rewrite unless to editorial demand.”
When you realize that art comes from the creative side of your brain, you must start learning how to block the critical side at all turns. Don’t rewrite past a mistake-fix draft and a spell-check draft. Learn to trust your creative voice. (Scary hard to do.)
Results if you follow the solution: Wow, does writing become fun again. The child that is your creative voice is let loose to play and you just have a blast writing and mailing or publishing and then repeating, over and over. You get a lot more prolific and have a ton more fun.
3… You have to carefully outline everything before you start.
The cause of this is complete fear of something you made up way back in your past, or were taught and still believe. And holy smokes is outlining a story or novel ahead of writing it a dull and boring process.
Needing to outline is a totally false belief put on you by your critical voice and listening to years of myths. Get over the fear. Every writer is different, so for one year try writing everything without an outline. Then if that doesn’t work, go back to outlining just a little.
Solution? Just stop. Shut off the critical voice and myths that are telling you that you HAVE to do that and try writing a story for fun with no outline. And then another and another. Give no-outlining six months or a year and see if you don’t have more fun and write better stories.
Results if you follow the solution: You will be far, far more prolific, enjoy writing a ton more, have fun with the normal challenges of writing like getting stuck, and so on. It really is great fun to just write into the dark and take a chance. And a ton less boring and a ton less work.
NOTE!!! Right about now I have lost about half of you because you have said, “Oh, that doesn’t apply to me. I HAVE to do that. I can’t mail anything without rewriting, I can’t finish, I must outline. If you heard that thought hit your mind, step back, and think about it again. Step Back. I’m trying to help you have more fun, remember?
4… Every book or story is an event and thus must be perfect.
This is the result of years of traditional publishers making us believe that books are “Events!!!” This is total crap, of course. Books and stories are not events, they are just stories. Entertainment. Nothing more. But if you believe a book or a story is an event, it takes on a huge level of “Importance” to you and thus that book or story is almost impossible to let go of, or stop working on.
This also wraps in all of you trapped in doing research instead of writing. When you are trapped in research instead of writing new words on something, you are making a book too important. Research is a good thing to do if you don’t let it stop your writing.
And this thinking of a book as an event often causes the problems in the top three above.
Solution? Somehow you must take out the idea that surrounds you that a book is an event. No one way of doing this that I have found except writing fast and following Heinlein’s Rules. People around you will come up to you and ask how your book is doing. You know you have beat this when you don’t know which book they are talking about.
Results if you follow this solution: The freedom you will feel to write anything and have fun will overwhelm you and you also will end up talking to other writers about how to figure out what fun project to write next because there are so many you want to write and play with.
5… You must sell your book to a traditional publisher (or you must have an agent)
In this modern world, that feeling is just suicidal for most, meaning about 75% of all writing careers. Agents are ripping people off more and more these days, and making rights grabs with agency agreements. And unless a traditional publisher wants your book, you have no clout and are begging, and thus they will screw you with contracts. (I have done a bunch of posts on these topics.)
However, that said, this is very, very deep in many writers and often they must sell a book first or have an agent first before they can clear this out and get back on track in a modern world. That said, this desire is recoverable problem for some. Some writers never get past this and would rather sit in a bar whining about not being able to sell another book than move on. But not all writers. But it will cost you years and years of your life and more grief than you can ever imagine if you walk that path in this modern publishing world.
Many of the writers in the big class last week were traditionally published and were working hard to regain the fun in their writing. I am traditionally published, remember. I know this one. You can recover after years of publishers and agents taking your money, but it won’t be an easy recovery. Trust me.
Solution: This one is simple. Set your plan to get good enough at writing great stories and indie publishing them that in a few years you will have so many readers traditional publishers will come to you instead of you going begging to them. By then you might have learned a little more about what you want and the myth of needing to be traditionally published might have vanished some. At least then you can make a clear decision with facts and knowledge.
Results if you follow this solution: You might get really rich, and at worst you’ll become a better writer because you will have practiced and had so much fun writing.
6… I can’t indie publish my own work. I don’t know how. (Read that as I am afraid to learn.)
The learning curve for learning how to do your own covers, learning how to find a copyeditor, learning how to load a book up to all the distribution sites like Kindle, Kobo, and so on isn’t that steep. It is stressful at times. Yes, but now four years into this new world there are a ton of classes and other indies writers to help you.
And if you really want someone to take care of you, so you want to stay in traditional publishing, you are reading the wrong blog. That attitude will get you exactly what you ask for. Someone will take care of you. And take all your money and copyrights in the process.
Solution: Get over your fear. Just assign some time in your life to learn how to do covers, write good blurbs, and upload work. Expect some stress because learning is stressful by the very nature of learning. But the moment (and I do mean the very moment) you get that first book loaded and selling all over the world and realize that you did it and it’s not impossible, the feeling of freedom with your writing will overwhelm you.
Results if you follow this solution: Total freedom with your writing and a future of choices.
So Why Will All This Help Me Have Fun?
Because if you can climb past those six major things above, maybe you can go at each story as a challenge, as an adventure to tell yourself. Writing fiction is a wonderful way to make a living.
I sit alone in a room and make stuff up.
That’s my job description.
And for a few decades in traditional publishing, back in the old days before New York changed, I made a ton of money at it and had a blast.
Now I still make a ton of money at it and have even more freedom to write what I want then I ever had before. Ever.
Readers now decide if they like my story or not, not some editor.
And I can write as much or as little as I want without anyone yelling at me.
And I can make my books look exactly as I want them to look.
But most importantly, I can entertain myself.
I have thousands and thousands of choices now with my writing.
I have control and I have freedom.
And for me, all that is great fun.
Go have fun.
Copyright © 2014 Dean Wesley Smith
Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery. I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.
I make my living with my writing, as I have said above. Sometimes I write these for fun, to entertain myself, sometimes I write them to help others.
Either way, if you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.
If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.
And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. I don’t always get a chance to respond, but the donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!