…and not worry about publication
You have a story beating in your chest. You want to add your name to the roster of greats like C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. Or perhaps you think you’re the chosen one to dethrone Stephen and crown yourself as King.
I get it. I’ve been there. In many ways I’m still there, truth be told. I can hear the call in the back of my mind. The story begging to be let out. But as much as we want to see our names in lights, there comes a time for us to slow down.
Don’t rush into things. There’s something to be said for biding our time when it comes to publishing. Sometimes, it’s okay to write for fun. Here are seven reasons why new and teen writers should stop thinking about publication and just focus on writing for fun.
As writers it’s possible to lose our focus.
What are you writing for? A new career? Fortune? Fame? Your name in lights? Is it the words “Based on the novel by Joe Smith” on the big screen?
These things are all nice, but they shouldn’t be the beating heart of your writing. If you focus on fortune and fame, will you be heartbroken if you never get it? Few writers do. Writers like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are the exception, not the rule. If you focus on these things, you will be constantly grinding against a future that may never come. You will burn yourself out before you ever see what greatness you could achieve.
I’m sorry for the cold water, but I’ve got some stats for you. A report from Digital Book World and Writer’s Digital Author Surveys conducted a study to see exactly how many hopeful authors actually get published. The results? Of 9,000 respondents only 23% managed to get their manuscript published. I’m not saying by any measure that you shouldn’t try. But you need to know the landscape before you do.
The strange truth is that you will never achieve these things unless you let them go. Do you think King decided to devote his life to the horror genre after weeks and months of intense market research? No. It’s what he loves. He writes for himself and what comes out is an authenticity that can’t be denied.
The same is true for Rowling. She didn’t decide to set her books in a school and make a mothers love the theme of her work by discussing it in a committee. She set her books in a school because she’s a teacher. A mothers love is the central theme of her books because she’s a mother. And her books are fantasy because they are based on the kinds of games she played as a child. If she had written for a board, she would have lost this authenticity.
Writing for fun, and nothing else, reminds us of who we are as writers. It reminds us why we write. Without this our writing becomes inauthentic, derivative, and, whether we realize it or not, readers pick up on that.
There’s a writer I really like on YouTube named ShaelinWrites. She has a quote I think is extremely helpful:
“Your writing is worthwhile without approval.”ShaelinWrites, YouTuber
As a writer you are an artist. And as with all artists, you grow in your craft by practising your craft. So you need to write. You need to write everything and you need to write a lot of it. All human activity lies within your scope and you should be using your writing to make sense of it.
That’s not to say every aspect of writing is fun. Nothing is always fun. Even video games aren’t always fun. Escort quests, anyone? But we get through the parts we don’t like by focusing on the part we do.
Is there a particular chapter or a scene you really want to get to? Maybe a particular quip or one liner you want to deliver? A character you really want to introduce? Focus on that and allow it to light your way. Remind yourself of what made you fall in love with writing in the first place.
Don’t worry about fame and fortune. If you chase them you will burn out long before you catch them. It sucks the joy out of writing when you turn it into a job. Focus on your true love. Then it doesn’t matter if you find fame and fortune. And if you keep your focus then maybe they will still be added to you along the way.
Stretch your creative legs
Alexa Donne is another YouTuber I admire. She gives lots of great advice, even harsh advice. Her advice is to just write. Write a ton. Write because you’re passionate about it. Write because you’re driven to it. Write whatever you want.
Your writing doesn’t need to be perfect or publishable, that’s not the point. Your brain is like a muscle. It will atrophy if you don’t use it and that goes for your writing, too. If you don’t write you will soon lose your ability to write at all. Writing is a muscle, and it will wither away if you don’t exercise it. But not to worry, it can be built back up with practise and patience.
The best thing a new or teen writer can do is just relax, take a deep breath, and write. Write as much as you can of whatever you like. Short stories, poetry, fanfiction, novels, flash fiction, whatever you like and as much as you like. Experiment with different genres. Mix and match, get creative. Take your writing muscles and put them vigorously to the test.
Fanfiction is a great place to start if you aren’t sure. The rest of the literary world tends to look down on fanfiction, but I think that’s because they are out of touch. I think there are a lot of great benefits of fanfiction for the new writer. The characters, plot elements, and tropes of the genre are already well known so all a new writer needs to do is focus on the craft.
Another benefit of fanfiction, possibly the greatest benefit, is the encouragement and feedback you will receive. When you engage the fanfic community, you will receive tons of advice and encouragement. At this point in your journey as a writer that’s what you need most of all. It can be scary to put yourself out there for the first time. Immersing yourself in a supportive fanfic community can help you build the confidence you need to push the limits of your writing.
A quick note: Some original content creators don’t like writers making fanfic of their work and have taken steps to quash such works when they arise. If you’re reading this, you can probably agree this is stupid. As a (admittedly unpublished) content creator myself, do you know what I would give to see fanfic of my work on fanfic.net or AO3? To me, this should be encouraged, not punished. As long as you’re not charging for someone else’s intellectual property, what’s the harm?
But, none the less, some creators may take issue with your fics. If you come face to face with this, don’t get upset and don’t fight back. It’s petty and stupid, but just take the fic down. Remember, they can stop you from posting publicly, but they can’t stop you from writing. And if really want to publish then just change the names of your characters and world locations, repurpose your fanfic as an original piece and repost on AO3 or Fiction Press, or something.
Beat writers block
Another benefit of writing for fun is that we beat writers block.
You know the saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun?” The same is true for writing. If you’re having fun with your writing, then a day can pass in the blink of an eye. We can breeze past anything that might give us trouble in work for publication because it doesn’t matter. It’s just for fun. Who cares if it creates a big plot hole? No one’s going to see it. We can just fix it in editing later. Or not. If we’re happy with it then who cares?
But when we’re not having fun with our writing absolutely everything can seem like a slog. Writers block rears it’s ugly head because it suddenly takes more effort to do everything. Now we’re aware of that plot hole we just opened in chapter 3. Or that the main character went from platinum blond to auburn over the course of a few chapters. Rather than leaving it alone and handling it in edits, we fixate on it.
Remember, it’s harder to be blocked if you’re having fun. And when you do get blocked it won’t hit you as soon or as hard.
Sometimes you just need a break
Writing is hard. A long writing session actually burns a lot of calories. According to healthstatus.com, it’s possible to burn 60 to 100 calories per hour just by vigorous concentration and writing. A female college student of 126 pounds can burn 270 calories an hour with a combination of vigorous concentration, including writing, and proper posture. That’s not quite the same as digging trenches in 40 degree heat under the burning sun, to which I can attest, but impressive all the same.
So sometimes your brain just needs to check out for a while. But you don’t want to just take a break. Many writers have found if they stop work altogether it’s incredibly difficult to get back into work. What happens is we tend to hit the snooze button one too many times to avoid doing something that stresses us out. So “five more minutes” becomes “Holy crap, I missed the bus!”
A good solution is to use your “fun” writing to let your brain recharge. By taking these working breaks, you de-strain your brain without allowing it to relax completely. Your brain is rejuvenated by doing something you like while still being awake and alert.
ShaelinWrites creates short stories to let her brain recharge. You could set your work aside and write some fanfiction. Or turn out a few pieces of flash fiction. Scribble a little poetry. Do whatever you need to do to fill your tank, just don’t turn off the engine.
Protect your brand
As an author you have a brand, whether you realize it or not. Every author does. What do you think of when you hear the name Stephen King? Probably suspense and horror because that’s his brand. What do you think when you hear the name Robert Ludlum? Probably Jason Bourne and other thrillers he’s written, because that’s his brand.
You have a brand, too. You could say that your “brand” is that body of work you produce most consistently, and that brand needs to be protected. Bad things can happen to writers when they publicly go off brand.
J.K. Rowling is a fantastic author. I’ve ready Harry Potter a few times and I’ll probably keep reading it. But when she branched out into the mystery genre with her book “A Casual Vacancy” she took a beating. I tried reading it, but it was such a departure from what I was used to seeing from her that I had to put it down. It was too jarring. I think critics and many other readers felt the same way.
Within the first few pages of the book I was treated to marital infidelity and enough cursing to make a utility worker blush. I know because I was one. That’s not to mention a father berating his teenage son for certain… private indiscretions.
None of that is necessarily bad in fiction, mind you. Another author I highly recommend, Sol Stein, said in his book, “Stein on Writing,” that what we hate in life we love in fiction. These things all have their place. But, let’s face it, when I heard that Rowling had crafted a mystery novel, I was expecting “Sherlock Potter and Dr. Grainger” in “The Case of the Missing Weasley”. Not a gritty expose of human failure and misery.
And this is where your “for-fun” work comes in. It will allow you to try genres and themes that you’ve never tried before away from unkind eyes. Your brand will be safe and you can spread your wings a bit. See what works. If you don’t like it or it doesn’t work, no worries. Either drop that style or genre, or level up and try again. Maybe try something else.
You’re not obligated to show your for-fun work to anyone. You’re only obligated to share work you’ve published. By publishing you’ve asserted that, in your opinion as the author, the work is complete and ready for consumption and critique. But until then, you don’t owe anyone a single thing. And if some of your for-fun work does hit the mark, you can decide where to go from there.
You might consider publishing some of your off brand, for fun work under pseudonyms to see how readers take it. Lots of well known authors publish under pseudonyms. Stephen King publishes some of his off brand work under the name Richard Bachman. Michael Crichton, who wrote Jurassic Park, started his career under the names John Lange and Jeffery Hudson while he was still a medical student. A pseudonym allows readers to get a feel for what to expect, and allows you to publish what that audience expects, saving you and them some unpleasant surprises.
Your writing will be more entertaining.
If you’re not enjoying your book, how can you expect your readers to? Your mindset when you write will show. It will sweat through the pages like a runner in a marathon. You can’t help it. Your excitement and boredom with a scene will be picked up by the reader. They can tell when you are just trying to get through a scene to get the book done. A reader might not know why they sense it or what they sense, but sense it they will.
And if they aren’t invested in your work they will go find work they can invest in.
I ran into this problem many times with my first manuscript, The Bereavers Tale. There were many times when I was just slogging through a scene to get to the other side and be done with it. Looking back now, it showed. What I should have done was take a break. Read a book. Write some fanfic. Do anything to re-center and recharge my brain before returning to work. Now I have a glut of scenes I need to prune in edits. The only bright spot should be that they will be easy to trim since they are all deathly boring.
Stardom could still be yours
It’s absolutely possible for lightning to strike when you write for fun. When you’re not worried about what anyone else thinks it frees your creativity. This freedom has made stars of some very unlikely authors. Many authors have had success by tweaking a short story or fanfic they wrote for fun and publishing it on the market.
I’m no fan of the Twilight series. Don’t get me wrong, I’m deeply interested in how it became so popular, and I want to do an article on that later because I think it’s interesting. But the books themselves are fairly poorly written. Even less than Twilight is my desire to read the Fifty Shades of Grey series. I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard snippets and it seems to be possibly worse than Twilight.
Yet the Fifty Shades series is worthy of note because it began as a fanfic of Twilight. The author, E.L. James, wrote the whole thing on her iPhone and then repurposed it as a standalone work. The literary value of the work aside, I think that’s quite inspiring. It shows how focusing on something you love, only because you are passionate about it, can lead you to create something that others may love as well.
And that’s why you should be writing for fun.
- It reminds you of why you write.
- It helps you beat writers block.
- It stretches your creative legs.
- It protects your brand.
- It makes your writing more entertaining.
- Your writing will be more entertaining.
- You are more likely to hit on a winning idea if you are having fun.
So, there you have it. 7 reasons why you should write for fun before you ever look at publishing your work. I hope it helps.
Good writing and Calamus Gladio Fortior!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLHHRAf08T0 (Alexa Donne – Advice for teen writers (should you publish?))
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdjJhgu7l1A&t=900s (ShaelinWrites – Advice for Teen Writers | What I Wish I’d Known)
Austin Powers: Goldmember, copyright 2002 by New Line Cinema, clip used under fair use.