Imaginative Play = #AmWriting #AmDreaming

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Adults make writing feel like work. We begin in elementary school, where the trauma of learning how to hold a pencil and form letters sends most of us home crying (or wait, maybe that was just me? LOL!). After we learn to write and read, we’re given awesome books. For me, those first stories felt like walking through a door and into a new, exciting universe where puppies could fly and little girls got to travel to other planets. Unfortunately, right after the fun of finishing the book, children are told to extract the “central idea.” Wha-?

I got bad grades in reading comprehension.

The hilarious thing was my comprehension was excellent. I just could not bear to distill an entire universe down into a few lines. The story was the ENTIRE STORY to me, not a theme or a moral to be put into an outline.

Adults are still making reading and writing into work. I’ll admit that writing IS work a lot of the time. It takes years to learn how to take stories out of your mind and put them into words that other people will not only understand, but devour. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance to figure out how to draw a reader inside your imagination without throwing them immediately back out again with misspellings and terrible metaphors.

The thing is… none of that work has anything to do with the initial joy of writing, and how much it is basically playing with characters in a universe inside your head. For me, the playful heart of writing is the part where I’m in bed, staring at my ceiling, having a complete conversation with three different people somewhere on the moon or on a spaceship or in a city. Sometimes my imaginary friends argue. Sometimes they fall in love.

Sometimes the heroine kicks butt.

This is play.

It’s also good for you: Play Doesn’t End With Childhood. How cool is that?

 

Plotter or pantser? Neither. OR how to not bore oneself to death

 

When I began writing novels, I started with an outline for the first few of them. I had main points and ideas for how long it should take to write the whole thing and all sorts of useless notes about chapter length and so on. And when I began writing, I got SO FREAKING BORED. Why? Because the part that was most fun (making up a plot and characters and figuring out how to torment them) was all over by the end of my outline. The sheer drudgery of writing description and dialogue nearly killed me.

Okay, I thought. Clearly I’m not a plotter.

The next few books I wrote without an outline. I sat down and started typing away with whatever floated into my head. The frightening mist of the unknown closed around me like an evil fist. I got lost. I got so totally lost I couldn’t figure out what the hell I was doing until I wrote an outline. Then I grew bored. AGAIN.

Clearly, pantsing my way through a novel didn’t work either. (Being a pantser means you’re flying by the seat of your pants: no outline, no concept, etc.)

There must be a happy medium, I told myself as I desperately pecked away at my keyboard.

There is.

It doesn’t have a pithy name. It doesn’t fit into the “Plotter or Pantser” lingo at all. I sort of outline my novels, but I don’t write anything down. I make up characters and then I put them into sticky situations. This is what my train of thought looks like: oh, I want this character to fall in love with that one and then BAM! Bad guys show up or someone trips over themselves or whatever. I don’t give myself a road. I stand at the edge of a prairie and stare into the distance at the pass through the mountains, and then I begin typing my way there.

In one book I missed the pass entirely, but that’s okay. In another, I got to the pass, but then decided to hang-glide down the other side instead of walking.

So what does one call that? Am I a jumper? A pantser with a plot? A plot with no pants? No idea and I’m not sure I care.

Oh hey, look! There’s another mountain! *points excitedly* If anyone asks for me, I’m heading over that way…

 

Write more books (preferably ones that don’t suck).

I hate ninety percent of the books I read. Yes, yes I know: hate is such a strong word, it’s all a matter of opinion, what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander and other clichés, but whatever. Most books suck. (Either that or I’m terribly picky. The queen of finicky.)

Some are so bad I give up in the middle rather than slog through the whole thing. It’s as if the words on the page got together and decided that it would be fun to torment the reader: hackneyed dialogue, passive voice, adjective abuse. Sometimes the main character is so hateful or stupid or whiny I want to punch him or her in the nose.

Some are just meh (my vocabulary word of the week). My younger teen uses it to describe school. My older teen uses it to describe his younger brother. I also saw it in a book review recently. It’s the new “whatever.” It’s the kind of word that says: I didn’t have the energy to throw this in the trash so I might as well finish reading it. Meh books comprise the biggest portion of my ninety percent.

Some books are so godawful that I actively despise them. These I usually finish just so I can knowledgeably diss them to any friends/family/victims who happen to wander by. I say stuff like: OMG did you read [insert book title here]? It was WRETCHED. The heroine was a dog-walker who fell for her cousin’s meth addict half-brother/stepson! They boinked in the back freezer of a butcher shop in between sides of COW! (I try to make sure my voice grows more shrill with every phrase so as to press upon my listener the complete hideousness of the book.)

I’ve been reading for four decades (yes, frightening, I know) so I’ve read a LOT of horrible books. At some point I said to myself: honey, it’s time. Write a book and see if you can do any better. Since that elusive ten percent of absolutely brilliant writing happened so rarely (novels which are so excellent I cried with envy and despair as I read each delicious word), I decided I should write my own. I would write the book I wanted to read.

Uh-huh.

That didn’t go so well, as you can imagine. Do you know how difficult it is to avoid passive voice/hackneyed dialogue/adjective abuse? Filter words exist solely to pop up in the middle of any paragraph I write, laughing and giving me the finger. Then there’s the length issue. Do you have any idea how long an average novel runs? 50,000-60,000 words. Do you know how long I can sit still? [Insert unintelligible vocalization of derision here.] At one point I almost resorted to stapling my ass to my chair. I gave myself little rewards: chocolate if I finished a chapter (this did not help the size of my butt), more chocolate if I finished two chapters (butt still spreading), and chocolate with caramel if I finished three (yes, I know this is the opposite of what I should do if I want to be physically functional but too bad-I don’t need to walk to write). Eventually I got the hang of it and published some novels.

Unfortunately I still have the original problem: most books suck. Most books will always suck, especially those that seem fun to read at first. They will suck giant ass rocks and they will suck tiny little turds of poo. They will suck until the sun explodes and our planet collapses into a heap of molten carbon (at which point I’ll be like: Whoa. Fireworks. Then I will consume my body weight in chocolate until I explode. I mean, what the hell else is there to do when that happens?)

There’s only one solution to the “most books suck” problem: write more books (preferably ones that don’t suck).

 
Of course, I’m sure there’s someone out there who thinks my books suck.

 

 

That’s ok.

 

 

No, really. They can go write their own books.

 

That don’t suck.

 

 

 

Me? I’ll be eating a ton of chocolate while I type happily into the sunset (which looks really, REALLY BIG right now. And HOT. Um.
WTF?).