I took the last month or so off from writing to recharge my creative batteries. I spent time with my family — playing D&D and introducing our kids to the MCU films. We went on our first family camping trip. I watched far more YouTube videos than I care to admit, and I even listened to a couple of audiobooks.
Yesterday, I decided it was time to get back to my book, The Weaver’s Boy. For the last fortnight, I’d been feeling the need to create again rather than consume. So, I sat myself down after lunch and managed to bang out about 2 thousand words. It brings my total to just under 125k, and I’m on the home stretch.
But bugger me, it was a grind.
To say I was disheartened is an understatement. I thought (well, hoped more than thought) the break would do me a world of good, and that I would return to the manuscript renewed and eager to bash out the last act. Instead, all that creative fatigue came rushing back when I realised the enormity of the task before me.
Finishing the draft is only the first step in many to come. A few months ago, I realised I needed to restructure the book’s story and characters to fix continuity issues and set up hooks for later books in the series. That means I’ll have to do a version 1.5 draft to rewrite two subplots in the second act to make them fit the restructured story. Then there’s the 2nd, 3rd and 4th draft…chasing betas, paying my editor, paying marketing…
If you’re reading this post as a reader or writer, I don’t expect you to care or offer sympathy. After all, this is a burden I’ve chosen to bear. Art is pain, as the cliché goes. Writing is hard, and more books are brought to life through sheer bloody-mindedness and determination than raw talent. Boo, fucking hoo.
Yet, the experience makes me wonder about my motivations. Why do I subject myself to this? It’s not that I’m trying to be a best-seller, earn adulation and make a million bucks— writing fantasy is my hobby. It’s less lucrative than my blog. If money was my sole interest, I wouldn’t waste my time writing books.
Most writers, when asked, believe that writing and storytelling is a compulsion. I am a writer because I have to write. That’s certainly true of me, at least to some extent, but the adage is not prescriptive — it doesn’t say what you should write. I write every day; it’s the core part of my profession as a technical writer. If I’m honest, it’s been a very satisfying and rewarding career.
Yet, fiction is my first and oldest love, and I have to think it’s more than a mere habit that drives me to write fantasy stories, even when I have no financial need to do so. There are times when writing gives me great joy and escapism, but then there are times like now when it’s an enormous grind.
So, what then do I feel like writing? Or more to the point, what is it that brings me joy, and where is the tipping point when joy becomes a grind?
There I said it.
Honestly, I’m at my happiest when writing novellas. I cut my teeth writing novellas as a teenager long before I attempted to write my first novel, and it’s a pleasure that’s always stuck with me. I think perhaps a return to my roots is past due.
I feel far more engaged writing short fiction. Furthermore, I can hold the structure of a novella in my head. They play to my strengths in writing minimalist, character-driven prose. Most importantly, I can write them in the little time I have to spend after work, and family commitments eat the bulk of my day. As I get older, it’s time rather than money that feels like my most precious commodity.
Unfortunately for me, my genre is not very forgiving of novella writers. The majority of fantasy readers want their narratives epic — multi-volume sagas with each volume sprawling across 150k+ words. I’ve devalued my work and myself in the process out of the belief that what I created was somehow lesser merely because of smaller scope and a modest word count.
I know now I made a critical and costly mistake. By turning stories that were initially intended as loosely connected novellas in a six-book saga, I set myself up to fail and became miserable in the process. I need to redress that mistake and do so in more sustainable ways. I need to accept my strengths and value them for what they are.
As I get older, it’s become abundantly clear time is my most precious commodity. How I spend time directly correlates to my happiness and mental health. Grinding through a 150k manuscript out of the false assumption I need to please some idealised genre reader is stupid. This is not my career, and I’m under no obligation to meet anyone’s expectation but my own.
I’ve learnt I cannot create if I don’t find joy in what I do. I don’t write for anyone but myself. This is my hobby, and if I can’t enjoy it, then I might as well take up golf.