When I sit down to write a new story, I aim to entertain myself first. If I can manage that, no matter how dreadful I think the tale in hindsight, I consider the project a success. Even those rare times when I re-read the story after I’ve finished it and sent it off to market, I only think about what I was feeling while writing.
If I had fun while writing, the story works for me.
What do I mean? Why do I think having fun is important? I hope to explain the answers to those questions throughout this book. For now, I’ll give the short answer:
I think having fun at writing is one of the keys to good storytelling and to having a long term career as a writer.
Look at it this way… When I write, I get to sit alone in a room (I’m an introvert) and make things up (use my imagination to have adventures). How could that be drudgery?
Oh no! Don’t make me sit in that chair and be lazy for a few minutes! Don’t force me to make-believe!
Yeah. Approaching fiction writing like it’s “work”, or something to be “struggled with”, is just flat silly.
Writing is not work.
But so many people, professional writers included, approach writing as work. You hear this all time.
I churned that one out.
I toiled on this book for five years.
Serving tables in a busy restaurant is work. So is cleaning hotel rooms. Or lugging 500 pounds of high heeled women’s boots on a pallet jack. (I exaggerate the weight only slightly.)
Fiction writing is just pure joy. But you have to get the right attitude first, which means clearing out some of the old clutter in your brain. You’re not churning, toiling, slaving, or any work related word.
You’re sitting alone in a room and making stuff up. Have a blast. Go on adventures. Enjoy the ride.
I hope this book helps you find that spot where you’re having fun while writing, whether during National Novel Writing Month (commonly abbreviated as NaNo) or any other time of the year.
A Slice of My History with NaNo
In 2008, right as the Great Recession was first turning ugly, I had a career that ended before it really started. I managed to find full-time work, but not in a job that had anything to do with what I had just spent the last year studying. I was at a cross-roads, and in need of something with more of a future. I decided I didn’t enjoy the career I had just trained for, but I had few other marketable skills.
But I could write.
So I researched fiction writing. What does it take to get published and paid? What do I need to learn? What am I lacking?
During this research, I stumbled across National Novel Writing Month—a yearly challenge in November to write 50,000 words in one month. I accepted the challenge, and wrote 44,000 words of an unfinished sword-and-sorcery novel. That story, which will forever remain in the trunk, was the beginning of the Brin Callahan/Tales from the Square science fiction universe, which I still write in.
From 2008 to 2014, I’ve completed three 50,000 word novels during NaNo. Enchantment in 2009 (retelling of Midsummer Night’s Dream, set in Scandinavia, with trolls). Six Dead Orchids, in 2010 I think (spirits of children trapped in houseplants, if I remember correctly). And Vox Banjo, in 2011 or 2012 (early stab at my Vicki Meyers character… a Chandleresque detective with psychic powers).
Along the way in Nano-land, I also wrote a 30,000 word short untitled romance novel, where all the action took place over the telephone. I admit to being a wee bit proud of that one, since to this day I can still tell which character is saying what, even without tags. I’ve thought of re-opening this project and adding in setting, something I apparently didn’t know how to do then. Alas, this novel still sleeps on my hard drive.
I’ve also been known to write short stories in November, because I have the attention span of a live-wire puppy. I believe Bloody Rose’s Echo, an early short story featuring my Mortimer Leblanc character, was written during NaNo. I say this, because I remember a certain short-haired blond (not saying names) poking fun at the character’s name. Many of the other short stories are forgettable. Many featured trolls or D&D style settings. The Peanut Thieves, a little thousand word short, sticks out in my mind as a fun story to write.
For Nano 2014, I explored and created my Rabid Squirrels Guild universe—a science fiction world with gamers in virtual reality. That novel—?Nerdrage the Barbarian—did not get completed that year. In fact, at this point I’m considering tossing the manuscript and redrafting with a clean slate.
But one of the subplots to that book took on its own twist. It was a silly side adventure with two characters named Ormusen and Kalati, but this subplot was the bit I looked forward to writing the most. In December, looking back over what I had written, I discovered the subplot became a story unto itself. I cut it out from the novel and turned it into a short story titled On Rabbits, Holes, & Shivs. Later, I re-discovered another loose subplot in that book, and turned it into another short story called The Devs Must Be Crazy.
Here in late June 2015, I have no idea what I’ll write for NaNo this year. Not one clue. I’m too busy writing The Lydia Ludwig Affair (a Brin Callahan novel) to think that far in advance.
I do know I’ll be a Municipal Liaison (ML) for my home region again, for the second year. The ML for NaNo is something like community organizer, representative, and forum moderator all rolled into one. I fill the calendar with events, answer folks’ questions, report trolls (thankfully I don’t have any in my quiet little region, *knock on wood*), and encourage the locals to write novels for at least one month. Great fun.
What Does It Mean to Find Your Voice?
Fun fact: when you talk, your skull vibrates slightly. Your inner ear also vibrates—ear drum, stirrup, cochlea, etc.—and this changes the way you perceive your own voice. This is why, when you record yourself, your voice sounds different than what you expect. It’s not because the recording machine is “cheap” or “defective”… it’s recording exactly what you sound like.
But you’re inside your own head. You have little basis for knowing what you sound like.
A similar phenomenon happens with writers. To my eyes, my writing is dull. Which is why, as a general rule, I don’t read my own stories. I already know what happened. I know how it happened, too. Also, I live with my own thoughts 24/7, with no way to escape. My writing is simply my thoughts put into little black code on paper, and none of it feels fresh or original to me.
But the stories that I think stink too badly to be published, those same tales are the ones my first readers enjoy the most. Why is this? Because they were written with my own unique voice, in the way only I can tell a story.
I don’t see my originality in front of me, because it came out of my head. I’m aware of my own tics and favorite phrases. I tend to gravitate towards certain types of characters and settings, and I’m also aware of those biases. Once written down, the story becomes dull to my attention-deficit brain.
With enough practice, though, I’ve learned to trust the voice I can’t hear properly. I’m still practicing and learning, with every new yarn. This is all about attitude: no more “I gotta work on my novel”. I simply trust that when I’m having fun, I’m always now subconsciously writing the story with my own voice.
I find characters and stories that excite me, and that’s what I write. I look forward to writing everyday, even on the days when I’m avoiding my writing.
Yes, have a work ethic. Meaning, find ways to get to the chair and stay in the chair. Work harder than everybody else.
Just don’t call writing work. Instead make it fun. When writing is fun, you’ll discover your voice.
The theme of this little book is finding your voice. How do you develop it? Where does it come from? How do you know when you’ve found it? I’ll try my best to stab those questions and provide techniques of getting out of your own way and finding your voice.
Unfortunately, voice can’t be taught. You have to find your voice for yourself. I hope what I share here will help.
Copyright 2015 David Anthony Brown
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