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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Squashing Creativity With Self-Made Stress

I had a writing revelation while checking out Stargate fan fiction last night. The magic of Stargate was all about the friendship of Jack O’Neill and Teal’c – and the marvelous way the actors complemented each other. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Unfortunately, most writers of Stargate fic dwell on everything BUT this magnificent duo, which prompted me to pull out an old piece of fan-fic I’d written about 5 years ago.

As writers, I think we’ve all experienced times where we’ve read something we wrote a long time ago and have been either mortified by how horrible it was or how great some of it was.

In this case, when I dusted off this story and re-read it, I was thinking, “Man, this is awesome! Did I really write that?” I remember writing that piece and I remember how it just flowed from my fingertips. Of course it had to be edited, but it came out quite well. And no, I don’t mean for that to sound arrogant, the story just had that magic click, you know?

Then I got to thinking about my novel-in-progress, and how I just didn’t feel the magic click with it, though I’ve been desperately working to achieve it.

So I had to ask myself the question.

Why did one story have that magic touch, and one didn’t?

Though more reasons may come to me later, I decided there were two specific reasons in this case.

Reason One:
The characters were already pre-fabbed for me. I didn’t have to think up my own major characters – they existed in living color and great detail for me on my DVD’s and I could access them at any time.

This is the double-edged sword of fan fiction. On one hand, it is a good training ground for writing your own original works. On the other hand, unless you consciously work at it, it will ham-string you because while writing fan fiction you are leaning on the “crutch” of pre-fab characters. And there’s nothing more difficult then creating wonderful, magical characters of your own.

But, the real revelation came in -

Reason Two:
When I was writing fan fiction, I didn’t take my writing too seriously. I had FUN with it.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy writing. There’s no way I would spend every spare waking moment laboring over a novel if I didn’t love what I did; if it wasn’t in my blood. However, now that I have made the leap in the last few years to wanting to become a “professional” writer, I have begun to take the writing process so seriously that it has adversely affected the quality of my writing.

Why did my fan-fic magically flow when my current work does not? Because back then, I simply wanted to have fun and write a story that meant a lot to me.

These days, I still want to have fun and write a story that means a lot to me, but instead of focusing on the FUN, I obsess at every writing session over the presence of adverbs. I spend weeks giving myself an ulcer trying to develop the perfect opening lines. Months will pass while I keep returning to the library, worried that I still haven’t researched in enough detail to be authentic.

And in so doing, I suck the life right out of my story.

So the next question is, how can I rectify this situation? A few ideas come to mind:

1. I need to keep the writing and editing times separate. Some people edit day to day or even in the same writing session. And that’s great if it doesn’t impede your creative flow. Unfortunately, my internal editor, though well-meaning, causes me no end of grief and heartache if I don’t keep her on a leash.

2. I need to create my own pre-fabbed characters. Though I have thus far not been much of a plotter, I think it would behoove me to at least spend extra time developing my main characters – so that I know them inside and out, backwards and forwards, just as if I was watching them in their own TV show and creating new stories for them. If you don’t know your characters intimately, you writing is going to falter and have fits and starts like bad fuel in your car’s gas tank.

3. Refuse to take myself too seriously. I think I can learn to implement suggestions 1 and 2, but this third? That will take some doing. And it seems silly that this should be the hardest thing for me. After all, I am not yet published. I do not have contractual deadlines. No one is holding a gun to my head. But the ticking of my biological clock is very successful at over-powering me. I frequently say to myself “Gee whiz, you’re in your 40’s already! You don’t have much time. Get busy sister or you’ll die without even finishing one novel!” On a logical level, I know this is silly. If God wants me to be published before I die, He’ll make it happen. If He doesn’t, it won’t, regardless of my age. Besides, many authors achieve their greatest successes at 40 and older. But my irrational side often wins out in this scenario. But I’ll keep working on it.

What’s the lesson in all this? On a superficial level it might be “Never go back and read your old stuff – it makes you think too much.” 8-)

But I prefer to think that this was a reminder to me to step back and evaluate WHY I’m writing in the first place, and to remind myself that this is supposed to be FUN, even if it is my chosen future career.

So write to your heart’s content. And have fun!


Patti Shene said...

Wow, you are so right on with this post! I can totally identify with your comments about "fun"writing versus the "strs" of writing for "real". I used to write Gunsmoke FF and it was a blast. Now when I write, I second guess every papagraph, sentence, sometimes every word! I'm trying to make myself loosen up and just let the words flow, but it's not easy.

Patti Shene said...

Sorry, that was supposed to be "stress", not "strs"! LOL!