Writing Excuses 9.53: Writing for Fun
Key Points: We get into writing because it’s fun, because we love it. If you think “I’m just a hobbyist” or “I’m not a real writer,” you are wrong. If you want to write, you are are real writer. Have fun. Experiment. Try something new. Outline a really cool, exciting idea. Write fan fiction! Don’t get trapped into thinking that everything you write has to be important or publishable. Have fun, get excited, and write.
[Mary] Season nine. Episode 53.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Writing for Fun.
[Howard] 15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Dan] I’m Dan.
[Brandon] We’re going to talk about writing in a fun way. Now, on the podcast, we often talk about the professional side of writing. Writing as a pro does get kind of stressful at times. The thing is, we all got into this because it was fun, because we loved it. Nobody becomes a writer because… Well, I’m sure there are some people…
[Brandon] But most people, and I hope you listeners, don’t become… Didn’t become writers because you wanted to make millions of dollars, you became a writer because you just legitimately enjoyed doing this. So during this podcast, we want to talk both about writing perhaps as a hobbyist and not stressing about the fun… Or not stressing about the professional side. We also want to talk about if you are writing very consistently, how you can make sure that your recapturing the fun and having fun every day as you’re working on your writing.
[Howard] If you’ve been strong-armed into writing…
[Brandon] Yes. [Chuckle]
[Howard] I’m so sorry. We love this. I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
[Brandon] Well, no. We’re coming off of Nanowrimo where I think a lot of people have… Last month, they knuckled down, they wrote their 3000 words a day or whatever, and they might be thinking, “Wow. Writing isn’t fun anymore.” On the other hand, I meet a lot of people will come to me and say, “I’m just a hobbyist,” or “I’m not a real writer.” I want those people to know, “Yes, you are.”
[Dan] You totally are. When Brandon was pitching this idea to us, to do this as a podcast episode, he used the comparison of people who play basketball. I know I’ve got… I don’t do any game that requires legs, but I’ve got neighbors that play sports all the time. They’ll go every Thursday night and play basketball together. At no point does anybody ever say, “Well, that’s too bad that you never made it to the NBA.”
[Howard] Or… Or…
[Dan] You’re a failed basketball player. No, you’re not, you’re doing this for fun and you love it.
[Howard] If you don’t work on your free throws, you’re never going to be able to go pro.
[Dan] Yet with writing, we have this sense that if you’re not getting paid for it, if you’re not going pro, that you’re wasting your time. That’s not true.
[Brandon] No, it’s not. I remember… Dan can back me up on this. We were writers together in our early days so I can remember the moment when I realized I just really love this. I love writing these books. It was so much fun to back then, run to Kinko’s and print off a copy and get it bound so that I could go the next day to my friends and say, “Here’s the new book.” My readership was five people. But they would get that book, they would read it, they would love it.
[Howard] Your Kinko’s bill! Oh, my God.
[Brandon] My Kinko’s bill… It was like 60 bucks to print off any of these books. But everyone… It was so much fun. I had such a thrill of finishing that book that I realized I’m going to keep doing this. It doesn’t matter if I never sell a book. It doesn’t matter… If I’m 70 and I’ve been doing this my whole life, I’m not going to be a failure because I’ve loved every minute of it. If what I’m doing is I’m taking Thursday nights and I’m writing my books or… Thursdays, Saturdays, Fridays, Mondays, what…
[Brandon] I do this pretty compulsively, but the money is not a measure of how much I enjoy or how much you enjoy doing this job.
[Howard] I… The thing to consider here is that if you are writing as a hobbyist, if you are just writing because you want to enjoy it, you don’t need to worry… You shouldn’t worry about external validation. You’re writing this for you. You’re writing this because you want to write, you want to put the words on the page. I want to free you up to do that. You don’t need external validation. I’m externally validating you right now.
[Dan] Merry Christmas.
[Howard] You want to write… Yeah, Merry Christmas. You want to write. Congratulations. You are a writer.
[Brandon] Yeah. I really think that there are people who are listening right now who need to hear this. I remember… Dan, you were talking… Telling a story about getting discouraged because all your friends were selling a ton of books.
[Dan] Yeah! I made this stupid mistake a couple of years ago of going out to dinner with you, and with Brandon Mull and with James Dashner. If you ever want to feel poorly about yourself and your artistic success, that’s a great opportunity to do it. I came home that night just feeling like, “What am I doing? I’m not selling a fraction of what these guys are. Am I wasting my time? What is the problem here?” And realized in that moment that that’s not why I do this. I don’t write because I want money. I don’t write because I want to get on the New York Times list. I write because I love it. In that moment, when I considered quitting, I thought, “Well, what am I going to do? Well, I’d probably just end up writing anyway because that’s my job. That’s been my hobby my whole life. It’s what I love to do.” That’s why we do this.
[Howard] We’ve talked in the past about wanting to write versus wanting to have written. For me, recently, I’ve been way behind on getting the comic out. Okay, so way behind for me means I’m only 10 days ahead. But I would look at the artwork that needed to be done and it felt like a chore, because at the end of it, I wanted to have drawn the comic. I have switched recently to using brush pens instead of technical pens. What I found is that that switch up meant that when I was sitting down at the table and not thinking about being done, just thinking about putting the line on the page, there was something about the tactile experience, about the visual experience of… One minute there’s no black there, and now there is, and it’s kind of magical. That is fun! And I enjoy that. With that being there, I can sit at the table for hours and just draw. And then the work gets done.
[Brandon] I think that that’s really important to say. We want to talk more about that. I think there are people out there who need to hear right now that it’s… Just go and write and love it, and don’t stress about becoming published. There are other people who are working so hard on this that they need reasons… Or not reasons, but they need ways so they can make sure they’re capturing the fun, and not turning this just into a chore. Discovering new brushes and new technique is one way to do that. With actual… With writing, I think that you can do this by experimenting.
[Dan] Absolutely. I talk about this a lot. Do… If you feel like you’re losing fun, try something new. Whether that is today I’m going to write a genre I’ve never written before, or I’ve always done third person so now I’m going to do first, or I’m going to write about a character, a side character in this story just for the heck of it. Or one thing all three of us have done, I know, is just outline something. Don’t even have to finish it and write it. Just outline a really cool idea that gets you excited.
[Brandon] Yeah. Speaking of which, I should talk about our book of the week, because there is a story… I habitually do this as a writer. I’ve found that the way to make sure that I’m always having fun is that I’m always free to jump and try something new. That I’m not locked into one world, one setting, or even one type of genre. One of the books that I did this with a few years back was called Legion. Well, the sequel Legion: Skin Deep which… These are very episodic, so you could start with this one. It’s about twice the length of the first one. It is free on audible right now. You can download it. It’s only free for three more days. Okay. So if you haven’t grabbed it, you need to grab it right now.
[Howard] It is… Christmas has already happened. I’m sorry you didn’t get your present.
[Brandon] But as a present, Legion: Skin Deep is 100% free in audiobook. It’s four hours long. You can just go sign up for an audible account. You don’t even have to pay them money or sign up for credits or anything. You can just download that book for free. Anyone who’s been listening to this podcast who has already signed up for audible to support us or to get books… Thank you very much. Here is your free present. Go download my new book for free. The story is about a guy who has a very weird psychological disorder in which he can become an expert in any topic very quickly but that information manifests itself as a hallucinatory person who appears to him and is his expert team. So in the first book he learns a new language and it manifests as a hallucination, a woman he can see who interprets that language for him. He has this whole… He has 40 something people who are each an expert in different fields. He solves problems by kind of wrangling all of his hallucinations together to point them in solving this difficult problem. He’s like an action hero, except he’s really a middle manager and all of his hallucinations are the real action stars.
[Brandon] Legion: Skin Deep. It is very fun. I would recommend it to you, but I’m a little biased, since I wrote it.
[Dan] Now, for a peek behind the scenes, I have to ask the self-serving question here. A lot of times when we do these really fun, I’m excited about this and I’m going to write it kind of projects, we’re inspired by another work. What inspired you to do Legion?
[Brandon] It was the John Cleaver books and your… You knew this, right? It was Dan’s weird take on psychological disorders, and… I think it was actually Hollow City. While you are doing Hollow City…
[Dan] It was Hollow City, which is my book about schizophrenia.
[Brandon] Yeah, your book about schizophrenia, because we were doing the workshop, the writing group on it. I remember exactly now. I’m like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if he were an action star?” You’re like, “What?” I’m like, “Yeah. These hallucinations, if they helped him out.” You’re like, “Yeah, whatever.” I’m like, “You should write this book.” So like a year afterward, I’m like, “Dan, you remember that cool book that we brainstormed that you should write?” And then finally, Dan said, “Brandon, write the book. I’m not going to write it, it’s your book.” So I sat down and the next month I wrote it. Had a blast, and it turned out really well.
[Howard] That was actually a great insight into properly managing critique during a writing group. Dan, write the book that you want to write. Let Brandon write that one that he’s telling you your book should be.
[Dan] It was really an awful writing group comment, of, “Hey, you should really make this into an action star.”
[Brandon] I did not say that about your book.
[Dan] No, you didn’t.
[Brandon] I said that there is another book out there that I think you could do some cool stuff with schizophrenia for. But it was the wrong way to make a comment.
[Howard] But talking about being inspired by something and talking about fun, I have been really enjoying Gearbox’s Borderlands 2, especially the downloadable content, Tiny Tina’s Dragon’s Keep. I think it is… Or Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep… Some of the best videogame writing I’ve ever had the joy to play through. And it had… It inspired me to want to write stories in Gearbox’s universe. I’m never going to get paid to write stories in their universe.
[Howard] But I sat down and I outlined some fun stuff. It was fun to do. When I was done, I’d had fun and I’d gotten it out of my system and I didn’t make any money. But I had fun. That’s…
[Brandon] I do this all the time. Legion is an example of something that turned out very well that I released. I’ve… I have several of what we call trunk novels. These are books I’ve written and put aside because I wanted to explore a new genre. I think that a lot of newer writers have trouble writing things that they know aren’t going to be published. I was working on one of these books… I wrote a book called Death by Pizza. It is an urban fantasy.
[Howard] Oh, I remember that.
[Brandon] It’s not very good. As I was writing it, I knew it wasn’t very good. I have another one, it’s a screenplay that I wrote. Not very good. But I wrote it to learn things and to practice things. Then I put it aside and said, “I’m never going to publish this.” I do this all the time with my published novels. I will write the viewpoint of the character I’m not intending to put in the book. A behind-the-scenes for me to get to know that character better. And also kind of just to refresh myself. Sometimes I stick them in, sometimes I don’t.
[Dan] Yeah. You see this with so many other art forms where people will do a concept sketch or a style guide or something like that. You’ll see this for movies. We love looking at those. This is the design for the monster… All the designs for the Star Wars monsters that they didn’t end up using. Those are fun. You can do that as a writer, describing all these things or saying I’m just going to write this scene because it sounds exciting. You might never use that. You need, I think, to not enslave yourself to the idea that everything you write has to be important or publishable. Just write it because it’s fun, because it gets you excited and can help you write the real thing you’re working on.
[Howard] I got a couple of pages of campy film noir private investigator first-person stuff which I wrote just because I wanted to play with that POV. It is totally unusable.
[Howard] But everything I put on the page was me having fun, being over-the-top, clever but not clever. It’s a riot. No, you can’t have it.
[Brandon] So, those of you listening who were thinking the other way. You were not thinking like… You weren’t the one who was thinking, “Oh, I should be okay just doing this in hobby.” You’re like, “I wanna be hard-core.” I think what we need to give you as a present is it’s okay to break your deadlines now and then. Even as a professional writer, who has a decent reputation of keeping deadlines, once in a while I call my publishers and I say, “I need to write on something else.” Now, we’ve talked about on the podcast the importance of keeping deadlines, of meeting deadlines, of making deadlines for yourself, of setting goals. These are all very important. I don’t want to downplay the importance. As a pro or as a semi pro, it is important to keep your promises and things like this. But I’m giving you the permission right now, if you are worried about the fund leaving your writing, I’m giving you permission to break a deadline, to put a book aside, to go and write something just because it was fun. Because you need to remember how much you enjoy this, and what a blast it is to be a writer. If you ever lose that, it’s going to be very dangerous to the quality of your writing.
[Howard] Doomed! Doomed, I say… Oh, wait, we want them to be happy.
[Brandon] We want them to be happy.
[Dan] That could be a great writing prompt. Everyone listening to this, you’ve got that one thing that you really want to write that you haven’t let yourself write yet. Go write it right now.
[Brandon] I think that we can do that. We are out of time. So that’s your writing prompt. Write that thing. Write that thing, that idea you had that is just a goofy idea. Where you’re like, “Oh, I could never do that.” It’s time to write that thing. Make that your New Year’s promise to yourself that you’ll write that thing. Whatever it is. This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses, now go write.