Rediscovering a passion for writing

A long, long time ago, I told myself I would never make writing my full time job. Friends, teachers, and acquaintances have complimented my writing my whole life, so I knew I was good at it. But, I knew that as soon as I did that, I would hate it. Monetizing your passion can suck the life out of it. I’d be lying, though, if I said I didn’t just want to write all day, every day. I’d gladly put in more than forty hours a week doing it, too. I think it’s in my blood, though I don’t have any famous or even not-so-famous writers in my family ancestry that I’m aware of.

I don’t even remember the first time I wrote a story, but it had to be very young. I still have a hard copy (printed on a dot matrix printer!) of a “novel” I wrote in third or fourth grade I think. It’s horrible. I don’t want to look at it—let alone read it—and it’s a blatant rip off of Brian Jacques’ Redwall (a series of books I was obssessed with through most of my childhood). But I’ll never throw it away, since it’s a precious artifact of my early creativity.

Despite all that, I haven’t touched a manuscript in fifteen years. That passion just fizzled.

After high school, my desire to write kind of came and went. For a while I was working too much, and I just didn’t have the energy. Then after the dot-com bubble burst, I had trouble finding work, and my living situation was just too unstable to be creative. After my life kind of stabilized again around 2007, I took another crack at it.

I still have those manuscripts. Seventeen of them, in fact, a mixture of short stories and novels. About half of which I’d consider “complete.” I can’t stand to look at those now, either, though. (It seems artists will never be happy with their creations, especially after the passage of time.) I shared them with my friends at the time, and I had good fun developing worlds and characters of my own.

This little burst of creativity, though, would not last. I know exactly when it happened, too.

I had one particular story that was very personal to me, and I decided to submit it to a short fiction magazine. (Those were still viable at the time!) To my utter surprise, they loved it. I’d done it! I was finally a published author. It paid peanuts, but it was legit. Thousands of other people who bought this particular magazine would actually read it. It felt amazing.

(No, I will not tell you what magazine. I would be mortified today if you found it and read it. It’s under a pen name, so nyaaaaa. 😜)

I wanted desperately to feel that emotional high again. So I wrote another, similar story. I knew at the time it wasn’t my best work, but in my mind I thought I’d found a winning formula. Oh, how naïve.

Unsurprisingly, it was rejected. And not just rejected, destroyed.

I don’t know if I caught the editor on a bad day or what, but the response I got back was scathing. He called my main character a “bimbo” and an “airhead.” (There was much more, but that was the one point that stuck in my head.) I was devastated. Wrting was deeply personal to me, and despite the feedback all being about the writing, it felt like a personal attack. I cried. I put down my metaphorical pen, and I walked away.

Looking back at it, I’m really glad I didn’t become a professional writer. It took me a long, long time to get to a point where I was mature enough to handle critical feedback, probably well into my thirties. Nowadays I’m much better at separating myself from my work.

But, this story has a happy ending, I think. Barely a month ago, inspiration returned to me. Not just a little, but a torrent of ideas that needed to exit my skull right now. I just checked, and since June, I’ve written 75,000 words into my current project. I’m not even sure how much effort that’s been—I tend to write in two hour spurts here and there, maybe three to five times a week.

It all started with a character. I created this idea of an elf in my head. Her name was Sylvie, and she was an alchemist. That was the kernel of the idea. I didn’t want to write a traditional high fantasy story, though, so I put her in the modern world and asked myself the simple question, “What if the fey were real? And what if they lived among us?” From that premise, she gained a human friend, Rayna, who also had an interest in magic and owned a book store. Now I had a duo of protagonists that could go on adventures together.

Sylvie and Rayna, as depicted by Sâmara Lígia. Oh yes, you better believe there's a romantic subplot.

More importantly, though, I didn’t write more than I needed to before I started. In the past, I focused way too heavily on the technical aspects of writing a book. Before I started, I wanted to have a complete outline, a story synposis, a roadmap to the end. I was terrified of not knowing where I was going. How could the story possibly be good if I didn’t meticulously plan out every beat? But this time, I just let these two characters play in my sandbox, and I decided the story as it went. To my surprise, it worked, and it worked well. I would literally just drop problems into each chapter that I’d have to somehow solve in the next. It was the “Yes, and…” of storytelling, and it was counter to everything I believed about writing a novel.

Coincidentally, Rowan J Coleman recently posted a video about this very subject in the realm of TV writing. It’s worth a watch and resonates deeploy with my recent philosophy on writing.

I have a blast writing like this. I do still have some notes on the overall story arcs and a few ideas for scenes I want to write later, but I avoid pre-planning too much. I foreshadow things that even I don’t know how I’m going to use. There’s a major plot twist revealed late in the first story arc that I didn’t know was going to happen until the characters stumbled into it. Thanks to writing ahead of my post schedule, there was still plenty of time to fix up a couple places in earlier chapters to make sure it all worked.

Oh, yeah, that’s the other thing. I’m actually posting my work now. It was very rare in the past that I’d want even close friends to read my stories, but this time I forced myself to put it all out on the internet. Also I’m releasing it on a very specific cadence which holds me accountable for continuing the story instead of just giving up. There’s not a whole lot of readers yet, but just the act of having a schedule helps to motivate me, and the fact that anyone can read them is simultaneously a terrifying prospect and necessary for my growth as a writer.

Here, I’ll actually give you the links this time.

Another point about focusing too much on the technical: I used to be hyperfocused on correct spelling, correct grammar, correct structure. Correct, correct, correct—I wasted a lot of time editing and finding the perfect sentence structure instead of just writing. (I score very high on the “Conscientious” scale of DISC assessment, if your workplace has ever made you do that.) Now I just let it flow. First draft is first draft. I still edit a little bit, but I let more of my natural style come through instead of trying to correct myself, so you’ll definitely find some splicing of independent clauses now that would get your wrist slapped in a collegiate writing course. Now I wait until right before I post a chapter online to do any serious editing, which gives me a bit of distance from the first draft.

I was actually reading an article this morning about AI and writing, and this stood out to me:

The fact that AI, which is trained to detect and replicate underlying patterns in our writing, can produce such coherent prose is a testament to just how much we rely on convention, both at the sentence and structural level.

The whole article is worth the time if you’re into that subject, but it explained why AI writing sounds so stilted. It follows the rules a little too well, and that’s how some of my old writing feels to me now. Explcitly allowing yourself to write like… well, yourself, is important. Even if it isn’t “correct.”

Anyway, the whole point of this post is just to say that I’ve rediscovered my passion for writing, and it’s glorious. I’m having so much fun. I set myself a fairly conservative post schedule (only posting two chapters per week), and that takes a lot of pressure off me to write too much too fast. Despite that, the first story arc was completed a while ago (20 chapters total, while only 11 are public as of this writing). I’m fifteen chapters into the next story arc, and I’ve got a few basic notes on three more stories that I want to write involving these characters.

I’m going to be busy for at least the next few months. Let’s hope it doesn’t fizzle out this time.