Not long ago the Mail Online (U.K.) published a Q&A titled “The secrets of my success: Elmore Leonard” by Lina Das. The boldface overline for the master crime novelist’s comments about writer’s block was, “If it’s not fun, you’re writing the wrong book.”
I have no idea if Leonard himself said that, or if Das inserted the phrase as a subhead. But it got me thinking:
Should crafting stories indeed be fun for us aspiring fiction writers?
It starts out that way.
We allow our imaginations to run free. We conjure up worlds we’ve never lived in. We have a blast creating characters who behave in ways alien to ourselves. And we forge ahead on tales that we hope will be both entertaining and enlightening to our eventual readers.
But then something happens, and we get bogged down in our stories. We begin to doubt our choice of words and phrases. We grow dissatisfied with our characters’ development, frustrated by our lack of progress, hypercritical of the work we’ve done. We become despairing of ever reaching the end. Our dreams of crafting short stories or books worthy of publication become nightmares.
The fun of exploring the fictional universe we’ve created becomes a drag.
Why does this happen? There must be a million theories.
One may be because we stop writing solely for ourselves. We stop following our instincts.
Instead, we start anticipating the suggestions we’ll hear in our critique groups. We worry whether we have an appropriate three-act structure or meet the tenets of some other template. We try to check off all of those how-to lists we come across in the writing magazines. We begin to think of how we are going to summarize our stories in query letters, how we’re going to describe them in synopses, how we’re going to build our platforms. We wonder how we’re ever going to get an agent.
Enough! Turn off all that outside noise. Then sequester yourself again in a theater of invention and fantasy. Watch scenes play out on the movie screen of your mind, and transcribe them in bright, clear prose. Let your story entertain you the way it did when you started telling it. Allow it to deliver you to a dramatic conclusion.
Is this a prescription for fun? Who knows? But if it makes writing a complete story a little bit easier, who cares?