Monday, November 14, 2005

JSB: Writing for the Joy of It

I recently received in the mail a complimentary copy of the audio version of my historical novel, Glimpses of Paradise (Bethany House). A full 17 hours, unabridged. It is an honor to have the whole book recorded, and the actress who did the reading, Alexandra O'Karma, is wonderful. As I listened to the first tape, I almost forgot I wrote the thing. In fact, I was thinking it sounded great, not at all like I remembered as I wrote!

We writers never think our stuff is as good as we want it to be. Writing Glimpses was hard work, because of all the research and the length. I'm was actually relieved it sounded so good on tape.

It's an odd disconnect. Among my many novelist friends, I find this to be almost uniformly true—the more we publish, the harder we are on ourselves.

One reason, of course, is that we know more the more we write. Our standards get higher. We see how other great novelists do it, and wonder if we are anywhere near that. We start to build a reader base, and hope we don't disappoint. Most unpublished writers think, Gee, if only I can get pubbed, get in the club, all will be well. I'll be happy, and life will become a series of interviews in leading magazines and websites. Maybe I'll chat with Katie and Matt, and tell them anecdotes that'll charm their socks off (does Katie Couric wear socks?)

Well, getting published is indeed a milestone, but it's not the holy grail. When one is published, there are plenty of challenges that come with it.

The happiest time I ever had writing was when I was unpublished. I wrote for the sheer love of it, and produced a crazy collection of Christian poetry, "The Night Carl Sagan Stepped on My Cat," and a novel I wrote entirely for myself, The Darwin Conspiracy. The latter was a satirical-historical-novel of ideas. Ever see that section in Borders? Me neither, so I thought I'd self-publish. Through an odd set of circumstances, it came to the attention of a small publishing house and they wanted it. So I let them. No brainer.

That started me in the book world, but I've never been quite as gloriously carefree in my writing since. I love what I do and seek to get better with every book. But now it's what I do for a living, so there's no going back to the age of innocence.

Yet every now and again I try to write something just for me, without thought of being published. I wrote a long poem recently, in the style of Shel Silverstein, which begins:

I once knew a fellow named Fergus McBean
Who built a perpetual lawyer machine—
A gizmo that argued and bickered all day,
Bullying all 'til it got its own way.
And then, when it did, it would chuckle and say,
"I’ve won the contention, and now you must pay!"
Fergus McBean grew quite wealthy that way.

Being a recovering lawyer, that made me happy. And just writing for fun was a pleasure.

So if you are yet unpublished, don't give up writing for the sheer joy of it. Do some free writing every day. Check out Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones or Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.

Write, as Brenda Ueland suggests in If You Want To Write (a very inspirational book), "Freely and rollickingly, as though talking to a friend who loves you."

Or as Ray Bradbury says, "In a great surge of delightful passion."

In doing so, you won't be writing for a market or according to false expectations. You'll be writing from what makes you unique. And in doing so you may just find the voice that someone, somewhere, will want to publish.

James Scott Bell is the author of Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure (Writers Digest Books). Visit him at


At 8:16 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

With so much writing do's and don'ts out there, it's refreshing to hear this advice, Jim. Write for the joy of writing. I want to take that to heart more than anything. That's why I started writing, and it's why I want to continue.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I feel a sudden desire to hum Whistle While You Work. Great post.

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Mary DeMuth said...

Thanks for the reminder. I used to be one of those unpubbed writers looking over the fence to what I thought were greener pastures. Nahhh, it's just work! Fun work, but work nonetheless. So, I slip in funny poems to friends and blog crazy things, just to keep the love of writing flowing...

At 4:56 AM, Blogger Camy Tang said...

It's a good reminder, especially because it helps me to let go all the "rules" I've learned and just let the words flow with delirious abandonment. Thanks!

At 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Feel like sharing the rest of the poem? It was getting rather funny!!!

Thanks for the reminder!


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