Friday, September 11, 2009

The Evolution of Writing

It’s funny how things change. I couldn’t wait to drive. Once I had a license, I loved it. I don’t know when that affair ended—probably when traffic entered into the picture, when “driving” turned into stopping-and-occasionally-going.

For decades I wrote books. I wrote for fun, which placed writing on the priority list right behind playing solo computer games or watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island. It was something I did when absolutely everything else that needed doing was finished. After all, writing was a waste of time. No one ever read the stuff I wrote. I liked to think that I was improving, learning my craft, or that the books I wrote would be discovered in a box years after my death and some professor would declare them masterpieces. Too bad he was never appreciated in his lifetime, but alas the greats never are.

Then I started the Riyria series. Halfway through book four we fell on some hard economic times. A lot of people did. We moved and it looked like I would have to suspend writing the series indefinitely. Once I put a project down I have lightning-odds of picking it up again. Too much is forgotten because so much is stored only in my head. We struggled forward and I forced myself to keep writing. Writing was no longer fun, it was a chore, something I felt I needed to do so I didn’t leave one more thing half done. It was a good story and it didn’t deserve to die the quiet death of inconvenience. I still hoped someone would read it someday…even if that person was the future me. I’ve done that, picked up a book I forgot I wrote years ago and delighted myself. Wow. I wrote this?

It was a miserable task, forcing myself to write. Some people say pain and depression gives birth to art. I prefer to be happy. Writing when depressed isn’t fun. It did help to escape. Rather than alcohol, or drugs, or even the television, I would slip into my computer and like a C.S. Lewis character pass into another world—a better one, one that I controlled.

When I learned Crown was going to be published it became exciting—first-day-of-school exciting. One part scary, two parts kiss-the-dog delirium. Suddenly writing has merit, it has respect, it is legit. What I used to do to entertain myself is now my job—sweet! Like someone saying they will pay you to eat ice cream.

The rollercoaster comes after that. Ups and downs. Good reviews. Bad reviews. No reviews at all. No money. Things get quiet and I wonder if the ride is over. Do I get out now? I look at the t-shirt souvenir they handed me, the one that says, “I’m a Published Author,” and think—at least they can never take it back. After a few washes it might fade, but I can always wear it with pride. It’s mine to keep.

Then people start talking, not to me, to each other as if I died or something. “Have you read those books? I can’t wait for the next one.” They can’t wait? “I’ve read the first one three times already.” Three? “My son and I will be fighting over it when it arrives.” Starting fights?

Writing changes again. It is no longer for fun. It is not a chore, but most of the initial excitement is gone. What replaces the vacuum is a most unexpected sensation. I knew writing wouldn’t always be fun, I certainly guessed getting published would be exciting, but there is no way I could anticipate this. Yet as comments are made, small insignificant posts discovered on obscure blogs and forums where they never think I’ll find them, statements of hopeful anticipation; it sinks in. These people really like the books. Some love them. They make comments that make me think of when I read those few great books in my youth that stayed with me. I’m doing that? The story I am writing is doing that to people? That’s when I realize this isn’t mine anymore.

The writing changes. It’s no longer what it was, but what it’s become—a duty, the good kind though, the kind called an honor. When you realize there are people who have fallen in love with your characters, you suddenly feel an obligation not just to finish the story for them, but to do the best job you possibly can.

Sometimes change can be good.

2 comments:

  1. I am almost afraid to respond to this. I never really thought about writing in this way. Once you say it, it makes perfect sense. To finish the books for your readers. I almost feel bad even for the good reviews, only because I am not one who wants to put pressure on another. As much as I anticipate the next book and greatly look forward to it I would not care to hound anyone to move faster or to complete for me. I agree that writing should be for fun. You have to enjoy it to do it any justice. If you don't like it, then it will show in the work. But as you have mentioned it is an honor, however I think you still have a love and fun with your stories to do the wonderful job in creating the world that comes across in the books.

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  2. Melissa,

    Oh trust me. Hearing people threaten my life if I don't get the next book out soon is wonderful. For too long I worked in the silence of indifference. This makes it all better. And yes, its still very fun. How can adventuring with Royce and Hadrian not be?

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