Saturday, March 10, 2012

Writing For Fun

The release of the John Carter movie has me thinking about the element of fun in writing. When I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars (Barsoom) series I found what was, to me, the archetype of the sheer adventure story. I devoured the Barsoom books and looked for more, which didn’t exist in my small town library. I started inventing my own tales, although I didn’t write them down at that time.

I told myself so many stories throughout my childhood. I did it just for fun. I didn’t even think about sharing them with others. They were a personal pleasure. When I did begin to write stories, I did it only so that I could put them in a fixed form to remember, not because I thought about publishing them. I was having fun.

It probably seems as if I’ve repeated “fun” a lot. I have. The first book I wrote that got published was Swords of Talera. It was an unapologetic ode to Burroughs and Barsoom, and I’ve never had so much fun writing in my life. The sequels, Wings Over Talera, and Witch of Talera, were almost as enjoyable, even though I was living through a much tougher part of my life at the time. Here’s a little piece of “Swords.”

We turned south and hugged the coast in the intense heat of early afternoon, and in an hour we passed the jungle by and rounded a headland into a blue-steel lagoon. Three ships were there, all of black wood, with violet sails and two rows of ebon oars shipped in the ports. The ships stood with demon figureheads catching the sun at their prows, and black flags hung at the masts. Smoke rose from the shore beyond the ships, dark against the pale gold of the sky.

By the time I wrote “Swords” I was hoping it would be published, but that wasn’t the primary reason I put it all down on paper. I just wanted to know what happened next, and I wanted both the feeling of telling the story and of reading the story. Today, I sometimes write for the challenge of telling a new story in a new way. Sometimes I write for money, or for publication in a particular forum. But mostly I still write for fun. I write because there’s no other job that gives me the same kind of satisfaction.

I’ve often wondered if most writers start out writing what they personally want to read. I wonder if they start out writing for fun. And I wonder if that continues throughout their careers or if fun starts to take a back seat and finally falls out of the picture. Maybe the writers with us today can tell me their story. I’m listening.

18 comments:

Angie said...

I have a hard time imagining not writing fiction for fun, especially at first. Why else would you do it? If your primary goal is money, there are a many easier and more likely paths to try. Fame? Umm, right, same there. I certainly wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it, and I can't imagine writing anything I wouldn't enjoy reading myself. :)

Angie

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Damn fine writing in your example.

BernardL said...

I write what I like to read. With the enormous amount of time spent editing, I couldn't even contemplate how torturous it would be to write what I don't like to read. :)

I bought so many ERB paperbacks when I was a kid, my folks thought I'd flipped out.

Ty Johnston said...

Hmm, when I stop and think about it, I don't always write for fun. I usually write about something that interests me, but I don't necessarily think of that as "fun" in a traditional sense. Usually when I'm writing horror am I writing for fun, but with other genres I'm usually exploring some particular themes, a writing style (a way of telling a story) or both. Though I suppose that could be considered fun.

Chris said...

This is a good reminder, Charles, as I've been struggling with that myself lately. Every now and then we all need the kick in the ass to remind us why we do this thing. If I'm not having fun with what I'm writing, how can I expect anyone else to?

Oscar said...

If I had known that writing was so much fun, I might have started earlier, say in my teens when everything was fun. But now, I just do it for the fun of it, part hobby, part pastime, all enjoyment.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is EXACTLY why I started writing! I wrote adventures I'd not seen in a book or movie.
It's been years since I read Princess of Mars, but the new John Carter movie is amazing. All about the Golden Age of adventure. And it finally clicked last night after seeing the film (and reviews of my own books that say they are a throwback to the old style of science fiction) that is exactly how I want to write, exactly what I wanted my books to be.
Yeah, took two books, but I finally figured out my style and voice!

Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, I have taken on projects that were, initially, not so much about fun as about other things. Not really money, though. Yet I find it very difficult to go forward and actually finish a work unless I somehow start “having” fun with it.

Ivan, thanks, man. I’m still pretty happy with the work I did there, the exotic quality of it.

Bernard, I’ve found that I can get myself interested in genres I don’t typically read in order to write in them. And afterward I often do continue to read there.

Ty, I think I definitely write most horror for fun because it just amuses me no end to do gory twists on things. However, I’ve written some horror stuff about child abuse that was certainly not fun in any traditional sense. Good point. I really hadn’t thought that element of it through.

Chris, absolutely. At times when I get away from the fun for too long I realize I’m probably doing something a little wrong. That’s one reason why this year I told myself I was going to focus mostly on fiction and do little nonfiction.

Oscar, my problem these days is having to give up my fun “writing” for work. I try to balance the two but there are plenty of times when the non-fun has to drive out the fun because I have to make a living.

Alex. Excellent. I definitely have that same hope and feel for my own work. The adventure’s the thing, man. I read a book a few years ago entitled, “Adventure’s a Wench.” Wow, that kind of encapsulated it for me.

Rick said...

I write to get the damned stories out of my head!

laughingwolf said...

gotta agree with bits from everyone, mostly ty and rick, though ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

Rick, hum, what about the voices then?

Laughingwolf, gotcha.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have fun in the rewriting not the first draft. I know that says something odd about me but I don't like coming up with a plot. So I guess it's not about fun. But I do write exactly what I like to read, I think.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I write for fun. I have always written for fun. But I'll admit, it becomes harder after being published and you are now writing to be published. And for those writers for whom writing is now their primary source of income, I could imagine with the pressure of publishing, promoting and selling the book(s) it must be more anxiety than it is fun.

In fact, I've seen it in some writer's work where there first few books (written before the first was ever published) have different tone than the later ones. Sometimes the later ones seem put together as if the author is on a deadline to meet his/her contract.

Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, I do have a lot of fun in the rewriting process, although it's kind of a different type of fun. Hard to describe the difference for me.

Jewel, I've seen that too and it really makes me wince. I understand the need for money and I'm often glad I don't 'have' to depend on my writing to pay the rent. Still, what I like to read as a reader is the kind of book that exhibits that early tone you're talking about.

Joanne said...

"I write for fun. I have always written for fun. But I'll admit, it becomes harder after being published and you are now writing to be published. And for those writers for whom writing is now their primary source of income, I could imagine with the pressure of publishing, promoting and selling the book(s) it must be more anxiety than it is fun." Jewel, I can relate to this sooo much right now. I make my living (such as it is :-)) writing and editing, and I have a book coming out next month. I'm writing very little for fun these days and trying to find my way back to that space; my focus is too scattered at the moment. But at its best, yeah, writing is fun in the broadest sense - freeing, fulfilling - a discovery, an adventure (even when the subject matter itself isn't fun).

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, you hit the nail on its head with "there’s no other job that gives me the same kind of satisfaction." Writing is fun, surely, and if you can make some money while you are at it, writing can be a lot more fun. While training to become a news reporter, the first sound advice I received from a professor of journalism was to carry a scrap of paper and a pen or pencil in my pocket so that I could jot down an idea or thought the instant it struck, because it will never come back twice. His exact words: "Write it down immediately. You can refine it later. The ojective is not to lose the original thought. It's a fun exercise too."

Story ideas and entire dialogues often pop up in my mind, usually while I am commuting or bathing or whatever; however, by the time I sit before my comp to put it down, it's gone. Is this a case of being more articulate in thought than in writing? Does it happen to others too? Thanks, Charles...

Charles Gramlich said...

Joanne, I'm sure you're in a position that many writers are in. It's sometimes hard to find the fun when there are so many other demands on you. No easy answers for sure.

Prashant, I carry a small tape recorder with me a lot of times when I'm driving, in case something like that happens with ideas. Otherwise I usually have a pen and paper handy.

Liane Spicer said...

Started out that way but getting published took a lot of the fun out of it for me. There was all the promo, writing option books to a publisher's template, finding myself right smack in the middle of a publishing circus with Dorchester, plus all the other pressures of having work 'out there'...

I'm working on regaining the enjoyment, and deciding to go indie with a few of my stories has gone a long way toward restoring the fun factor.