Letter From The Editor - Issue 68 - April 2019

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  Writing Advice by Mette Ivie Harrison
October 2018

Remember When

. . . you were a kid and were writing your first "book?" Remember how fun it was? You worked on it every day, every minute you could? You spent hours planning it out in advance? You'd invite friends over to read it and they loved it as much as you did? You drew pictures for it just because it was so awesome? You gave away copies for free because you wanted to share your joy?

If you're not feeling that same joy with your current process, just think for a minute about why that is. Is it because you're writing something you don't really love? This isn't just because you're an adult now and nothing is as fun as it was when you were a kid. Take it from me.

There are things I don't like to do as much now as I did when I was a kid (rolling down a hill while doing somersaults, for instance, or going on the merry-go-round until I puke), but writing isn't one of them. Sometimes the joy isn't the same. I know now that I'm not the only person to have ever had this idea before (usually). And having a monster come and eat everyone at the end isn't that cool (nor is having the main character wake up and realize it was all a dream). But writing is fun. I wake up every day excited to write. I really do. I don't just enjoy having written. I enjoy writing itself.

I would like you to consider that the reason you might not enjoy writing now as much as you used to is because you are doing it differently. And maybe not as well. Did someone tell you that you have to think about marketing before you start writing? Are you worried about selling your latest book for enough money to quit your day job? Are you spending all your time worried about grammar mistakes? Or about how many words each chapter needs to have? Or if your main character can be a zombie? Are you worried that your mom won't like the book once it's out? Or whether your book will make people think you're the new Shakespeare?

Please stop. The problem isn't with the writing. It's with you and the way you're thinking about writing.

Writing should be play. It should be fun. Especially in a first draft or an outline, you should be having a good time. You should be trying to figure out how to put in as many awesome things as possible. You should let your characters do what they would do, not force them to do what other people have told you is a good plot.

If publication means that you can't have fun, that you can't do goofy stuff in your books, that you have to follow rules that steal joy, or that you can't tell the stories that matter to you, then should you make publication your goal?

Yes, I'm published and yes, I'm lucky enough to be writing books that are basically the most fun I've ever had (most of the time). Yes, being a real author means dealing with some things that aren't fun and accepting that they make your book better. Not every moment of being an author is sparkles and rainbows and unicorns. Revision can be hard. So can reading reviews of your book.

But that's the grown-up part of being a writer. Never let that part steal away from the heart of your writing. Never let yourself feel like you can't break the rules your English teacher taught you. Yes, you can use bad grammar in the mouth of a character. Yes, you can begin sentences with "but" and "and." Yes, you can reference Doctor Who in your Regency romance if you want. Yes, you can quote obscure YouTube videos. Yes, you can make up a new language that has a hundred words for poop.

Grown-ups stop playing most of the time and I think it's a sad state of the world that this happens. Part of this is because of the pressure we put on ourselves to be "good." Part of it is the idea that once you're a grown-up, you're done changing and you're going to be the same for the rest of your life. Another part of this is that grown-ups spend a lot more time thinking about how to make their kids have fun instead of having fun themselves. But you can do both. Art is play for grown-ups and if we forget that, we've lost something precious.

Get out the finger paint. Get out the playdough or the pottery wheel. Turn your favorite music up loud. Get some of your favorite snacks to keep you company. Go to a coffee house or meet friends at the library to write if you need some social motivation to keep going. Put on your favorite striped socks. Let your hair go crazy.

Having fun is too important not to do it every day, and every time you sit down to write.

Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison

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