If Writing Isn’t “Fun” Then Why Do It At All?

One of the most annoying memes, to me, that pops up over and over again in writing circles is the notion that writing fiction is supposed to be “fun” and not some kind of “work” even when the goal is for writing fiction to be your day job. If the statement is an implied comparative (more fun than any other kind of work you could be doing), then I can’t disagree with it. But to suggest that if writing is not fun, then you shouldn’t do it is…asinine. The most recent place I’ve seen this is Dean Wesley Smith’s new year’s post about how to set goals and approach big projects in realistic ways. I admire Dean’s experience and work ethic, and I use him as an inspiration/kick in the pants motivational speaker (it would pretty much make my decade for him to talk about living in a van down by the river), but sometimes his point of view skews too far from my own for me to take seriously.

Writing being “fun” is one of those times. Writing is not always fun for me, and having fun is not my motivation for writing.

There are parts of the writing process that are extremely fun – my discovery process of figuring out what happens is generally one of them (although if I am on a time crunch it is not fun at all), but while that’s part of my writing process it’s not time I am actually writing, because I do not discover as I write, I write only after I have discovered. If I am just scene sketching something that popped into my head (usually a conversation or a really salient plot point or perspective), then writing is fun because it’s transcribing something already there and totally easy. When I actually write out scenes in long form, however, it’s a deliberate slog through a bramble-infested marsh most of the time. Every now and then I find a beautiful flow when the angel choir swells around me, but that’s the exception and not the rule. Editing satiates my sadistic side; perhaps that can go in the fun column, too. But generally? Writing time is not fun time; it is work time.

So if writing isn’t “fun” for me then why do I do it?

First, my motive for writing is twofold: to create a finished product that satisfies a personal reading/idea aesthetic no one else had yet to satisfy, and to remove the narrative/idea from my mind so something else can take its place. I suppose if I didn’t find it enjoyable I wouldn’t have kept at it this long, but while the exercise of a honed and cultivated skill is pleasurable it’s not necessarily fun.

Second, I think I am the sort of person who derives fun from completion or on the finished side of a project rather than on the creation side. None of my hobbies are processes I would call “fun” in the same way I would consider something like a concert or masking on Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans fun. (Perhaps the only issue I take with the meme is that for me, fun = unadulterated existential enjoyment, not some brand of masochistic enjoyment?) What do I do besides write? I cook and bake. I cosplay. These days that’s about it. Cooking is not fun; eating the delicious result is! Sewing is not fun. It alternates between being hair-pulling problem solving and endless tediosity,  but wearing the result is fun. The harder I worked on something and the better I feel like I pulled it off, the more fun it is to wear. Writing is the same way. Planning is fun, execution is miserable, getting to read the story I executed to the best of my ability is fun.

Perhaps as a process writing could be arguably fun for me, but in the immediate moment of sitting there, “butt in chair, hands on keyboard”? It’s not, and thinking to myself that I should be having fun in that moment would just be an excuse to only write when the muse strikes (ironically one of the attributes DWS ascribes to “wannabe” writers in the same post). So burn that meme to ash if you see it, Targaryen style. Just because writing isn’t fun doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.


Filed under Rants and Storms, Writing

2 responses to “If Writing Isn’t “Fun” Then Why Do It At All?

  1. Maybe ‘fun’ isn’t the right word.

    Or maybe ‘joy’ or ‘satisfaction’ is.

    It may also be that Dean is older – more like my age. At our age, if something isn’t fun, we do the other thing – because, unless we have to earn a living at the only way we know how, or have a burning social need to explore a given topic, we don’t have to push ourselves.

    You have so many choices for real fun that the self-discipline which allows you to produce finished stories, baked goods, and costumes is a requirement – or you’d stop writing and go do the fun things. Which makes writing work, even if you like it.

    I have practically no options: I can’t ski, walk, or spend much time standing (though I’m working on all those things, they may be pipe dreams). But having learned to focus, sit in chair, and wrestle with making the words do what I want them to do – because I now KNOW what I want them to do, and how to make them do it – gives me great joy and satisfaction – and fun.

    I’m also a little envious: babies are horrible time-killers, and must always come first, but they are also unbelievably fun. Mine are still a lot of fun – but so independent-minded it is completely different.

    As with all writing advice, from ANYONE: pick and choose what works for you from Dean’s – and then decide if it’s worth it to spend a significant part of your life doing it (assuming you have a real choice).

    • I wonder if it is an age difference changing perspective on the word. As I’ve gotten older (30 vs 20), fewer things really have that sparkling exuberance I think of as “fun,” but those things do still exist for me and writing ain’t one of ’em. When I’m older perhaps those things will have dwindled. OR, perhaps if I am ever in a position when I don’t give 8-10 of my best hours to someone else in exchange for a paycheck, then writing will seem more fun and less work. There are definitely days when I can’t think of anything I’d rather do..but those tend to be lazy weekend days or long holidays, not times when my brain hurts and my eyes are gritty and my willpower was all used up forcing myself to stay at my desk until 5…..

      You definitely have the right of it on advice, though – find what works for you and don’t worry about the rest! If you heard it with an open mind and advisedly dismissed it, that just means it wasn’t aimed at you,. 🙂

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