When I was in high school, I wrote constantly. Stories spilled out of my brain, and my pencil was barely swift enough to catch them all. Sprawled on my bed, upright at my desk, out on the swing (where the stories raced around my mind, here and gone in nearly the same instant). Summer nights while the rest of the family slumbered, the hours ticking away as I reveled in my made-up world.
It couldn’t last, of course. Sooner or later, we all have to come down from the mountaintop. In college, I struggled to create stories for class; outside of class, I wrote nothing. One of my suitemates, an art major, commented how lucky she and I were to have something we loved to do. She had recently switched her major from pre-med, and she was in the early flush of love with drawing. I envied her: she could draw whatever she saw in front of her, while I had to concoct everything from scratch.
Once I graduated from college, it was easy not to write. Memories of some bad experiences in college writing workshops, coupled with the demands of real life, redirected my attention. I occasionally played with a bit of fiction, and I still read voraciously. I even taught creative writing in high school and adult education. But those hours of mindless fun crafting stories seemed a thing of the past.
Then came the day I discovered a now-defunct fansite for my once-favorite television show, Bonanza. With my usual impeccable timing, I’d discovered the show literally weeks after it went off the air and into syndication. Most of what I’d written on those yellow pads was what would now be called fan fiction, but in those pre-internet days, I had no idea anyone else made up stories that were, for all intents and purposes, additional episodes for adored characters. When I saw the fansite’s library—a treasure trove of stories like the ones I’d written all those years ago—I remembered how much fun I’d once had writing. The siren song grew louder until I opened my laptop and began to write.
It was as though no time at all had passed. The floodgates opened, and stories poured out. A kind and very talented writer encouraged me to share my stories. For a year, I wrote in practically every spare minute—as well as some which weren’t spare and should have been devoted to billable work. Writing was my drug, and I was hooked again.
It was inevitable that the rush would eventually slow. I continued to write, but at a slower pace that accommodated my other responsibilities. I focused more on craft in my Bonanza stories—first person or third person? Present tense or past? Flashbacks? Foreshadowing? In due course, I began to think about branching out into original fiction and maybe even trying to sell a story or two. I took classes, studied books, and found some periodicals that would publish my stories. I worked on the book I’d begun years earlier, and after a lot more time had passed, I figured out how to publish it.
For years, I’ve heard writers talk about how hard writing is. Butt in chair, they bark. Show up every day. Don’t wait for inspiration. Word counts. Don’t let the blank screen defeat you.
In other words, do the work.
But can’t we also have fun?
Certainly, there’s an argument to be made that if writing were fun, we wouldn’t have to force ourselves to do it. Also, the notion of having fun with your work is more than a bit precious. People who are waiting tables or working on assembly lines or leading weight-loss programs or performing colonoscopies are likely not having fun. They may enjoy their jobs, or the jobs may simply be their way of funding their lives. But I guarantee that nobody looking through a colonoscope is having fun.
Yet isn’t enjoying our work part of the reason we choose to be writers? God knows, we’re not doing it for the money; most of us will never make enough as writers to leave our day jobs. (Some of us don’t make enough to keep the cats in kibble.) It’s not as if writing stories or books offers the security of a regular income and benefits. And we definitely don’t do it for the prestige, as anybody knows who has admitted to being a writer, only to be asked, “What have you written?” and having the response met with a blank stare.
We write because we want to. Even when it’s hard.
Except wanting to write isn’t the same as having fun. Fun consumes our minds and focuses us in the moment. When we’re having fun, nothing else matters. Whether it’s an hour, a day, or a season, we revel in the sensations. We splash in the waves, ride our bikes down the hill, spin around and around until we collapse on the lawn, laughing. Sometimes there’s thought, and other times there’s pure feeling.
Which is why fun writing is important, even when your job is writing. Fun writing clears your palate. It helps you to remember why you signed on for this gig. It’s where you explore the crazy-ass stuff you’d never, ever show anyone (except maybe your most trusted writer friend, and then only if they really, truly get you). It’s C. S. Lewis writing about theology and grief, and also writing Narnia, or E. B. White writing The Elements of Style and also writing about barnyard animals.
This is not to say that Lewis and White didn’t work hard on Narnia and Charlotte’s Web. Quite the contrary, I suspect. But I submit that you just can’t write about a talking lion (even one who’s a Christ figure) or the friendship between a pig and a spider without having fun.
We all have fun in different ways. Some people have fun writing horror or romance or historical mysteries in exotic locales. Others have fun writing erotica or literary fiction in strange forms. (I once saw a published story that was laid out in two columns on the page, except that Column A didn’t seem to have anything to do with Column B. I never did figure out how to read that story.)
One of my earliest Bonanza stories arose from an idea that came to me while I was working one day. In an admirable display of discipline, I refrained from stopping billable work to write the story. Instead, I jotted this note: “Adam directs a play.” From there, I had a rollicking good time writing a story about a community theater production. Fan fiction readers loved it. Years later, I revamped it, with a different setting and original characters, but I kept the snarky remarks and sibling rivalry that had made the fan fiction version so popular. Something must have worked, because the revamped version (submitted with permission) placed as a finalist in the 2018 Faulkner-Wisdom competition for novellas.
There being very little market for novellas—especially not the larky fun kind—I am now in discussions with the editorial team of Tuxedo Cat Press about releasing this little story as an ebook. (Being “in discussions” with TCP’s editorial team involves negotiating such matters as what cover design will cost and whether or to what extent the inventory of Party Mix treats will be affected by this expense.)
If I were represented by an agent and under contract with a Big Four publisher, releasing this novella wouldn’t even be a question. Of course you can’t, they’d say. It bears no relationship to your debut. What about your readers who want to know more about Meg and Ralph and the Pole? What will they think of this quirky little story of a couple of brothers doing a play in the 1960s?
Make no mistake, I love my readers. I’m eternally grateful to everybody who has told me how much they adored State v. Claus. The book has gotten glowing and enthusiastic reviews from kind and generous people. Readers have even sent me book selfies. It’s been thrilling and glorious. (Allow me to assure all of you: the sequel is indeed in the works.)
But here’s my thought. I had fun writing the story of these brothers and how they put on a play. People who read the fan fiction iteration had fun reading it. And I think fun is a good thing to have. So if TCP can offer you a fun read while you’re patiently awaiting the sequel to State v. Claus, I don’t see a downside to that.
Which means that assuming we can still afford Party Mix treats (which the editorial team insists upon), Tuxedo Cat Press will be issuing a new release in the fall about a pair of brothers who are very, very different–and how they came together to put on a community theater production of Romeo and Juliet.
And I had fun writing it.