Monday, October 12, 2009

The Discipline of Fun -- part I

Do you love to write?

Sometimes I love to write. Other times I love it after, when it is done. Still other times there is no love to be found, not hiding under any rock, not even afterwards.

Lately I've been thinking about fun and love in creativity, and trying to come up with a discipline that will make it always fun. Or at least: mostly. I don't know if that's possible, but it's worth a shot. The thing is, I generally set out to do something beyond what I can easily achieve, whether it's art or writing. The perfectionist in me is making certain demands from the outset, and that makes the process less fun that it might be if I were creating purely for fun.

For example, I wrote a silly story the other day just for Clementine. So long as my brain was on the right channel ("for Clementine, not for the hope of publication and wowing the world"), it was a breezy, light-hearted thing to do. Fun. But once I started thinking, "Hey, this is pretty good. Maybe this could be something," my brain switched over to compulsive self-editing perfectionist channel and it became less fun. I wish it truly were channels, because then presumably I could wrest the remote control away from whoever the heck is wielding it now, and I could turn on the fun channel for all first drafts.

Still, even if there is no remote control for my brain, there must be a mental discipline that would amount to the same thing. I'm working on that now: the discipline of fun. How to stay in that place of fun, creatively, more of the time. How to make it, ideally, the new normal. You know, just because you get really used to something, doesn't mean you can't alter it entirely and then get really used to the new something. Like painting a room. It's WOW! at first, and then it fades to normal. So, I'm setting out to develop a disciplined practice of FUN. Care to join me?
(No contortionism or skimpy outfits required!)

Here's one tip to get us started:
At one of the first SCBWI conferences I attended, the writer Michael Hoeye recommended you "write to a specific person, not to a cosmic crowd," for example: write to a child you know. There's a writing exercise I do sometimes called "Bedtime Story" where I write "Once upon a time . . ." first and then try to write in the spirit of telling a bedtime story out loud, to someone specific, be it my childhood self, or now Clementine. It's not a situation that encourages perfectionism. It's a way of turning that mental channel. Sometimes it works. I recall that Michael Hoeye told how he'd written his first Hermux Tantamoq novel for his wife while she was away on a long business trip, and I think he said he emailed her chapters. That's kind of a version of bedtime story. Make your audience specific, make them someone who loves you, and maybe you can make the writing process be purely about the joy of a story unspooling.

I hope so!

Here's a quote from the writing book Page After Page by Heather Sellers, which I have from the library right now:

To create a writing life, you will need to fall in love--deeply, seductively, passionately--with your writing life. It will become not a habit or a job, but a lover. If you keep it as a second-string lover, it might always be cranky with you. But if you make your writing life so lovely you can't take your eyes off it, you will space out during meetings, and dream about it as you go through the day, just like when you're in love.

I do want to fall in love with my writing life.

Where am I in my writing life? Well, I'm working on a YA novel that's written in the same style/tone as Lips Touch, but it's one big juicy tale rather than stories. With this book I have experienced memorable highs of fun. Last fall I recorded my first day with it:

"I had the most beautiful, brilliant, joyous writing day yesterday! Every word was sheer fun. The air crackled with ideas so that my hair got static and stood on end. A shimmering window opened in the air and butterflies flew in. A polite goblin brought me a key on a golden pillow. I don't know what it opens yet, but I'm sure it's something awesome."

I'm sure you've been there on the first day with a new idea. Like a relationship, a book will not always maintain that same level of infatuation, but hopefully like a relationship it can sustain deep affection and attraction and commitment. Love.

I also finished a first draft of something else the other day, something shorter and sillier and for younger readers. I typed the last 500 words or so one-handed with Clementine asleep in my other arm. It was slow-going, but I did it, and halleluja it was also fun because I was determined that it would be. That was my first priority: have fun. I'm working on that attitude with the novel, which is much more involved and less light-hearted, and more of a challenge for my new discipline. I'm going to do my best, though. I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, there were dragon sightings at Portland's Japanese Garden yesterday afternoon. No. It's true.
See? Isn't she terrifying?


Megsie said...

What a great post on how life should be lived! I am not a writer, but I think that this discipline of fun could be used for any passion out there. Thanks for reminding me that FUN is supposed to be in everyday life, it shouldn't be the exception but the rule.

And, that dragon is just about the cutest little dragon I have ever seen!

tanita✿davis said...

Okay, first? That contortionist woman is going to give me nightmares. Thank you EVER so much. I don't think I've seen boots so ugly in a long time.

Second: I appreciate this attitude, but haven't been able to cultivate it. Right now I'm in a season of rejections and revisions and am sort of groaning about trying to figure out what a "wow factor" (allegedly missing) means to various publishers. It's tiring. And yet, if writing is a discipline, perhaps joy in writing is as well. Looking forward to seeing how you work that, and to your future dragon sightings. Surely it's like seeing a (non man-eating) unicorn, you know something good will happen next...

storyqueen said...

Dear Laini-
Love this post. For me, and I don't want to brag, first drafts are almost always fun. Writing is all about fun!! (Revising/editing....another story entirely!!!)

I look forward so much to my writing time. Perhaps because my full time job is...well...don't get me's great and I love it, but it's NOT writing. Those little stolen moments when I get to write, well, there's usually so little time that I can't worry about how it is going to turn out. I just have to enjoy the moments.

But, when I open the door for writing fun, sometimes a lot of crappy junk sneaks in. Sometimes, when I go to revise something, I realize that it's not even worth it. Even though writing the piece was fun....there really is no future for it. Perhaps if you revise as you go, you avoid this scenario.........?

Good luck finding the balance.

Cutest dragon even...and I know all about dragons.

Also, bought Lips Touch today. Waiting until bedtime to crack it open!


Liana said...

Oh Laini please do keep us posted. That's one of my biggest hurdles right now. I don't know how to make creating FUN again because almost as soon as I start something all these expectations and future concerns just tumble down all around and on top of me...and I'm stifled.

Also, that dragon has got to be the most adorable dragon I've ever seen!!

P.S. Have finished both Lips Touch and Silksinger...and my mind keeps wandering back to those amazing worlds and characters you've bestowed upon us. Thank you!! :)

Shannon Messenger said...

So I'm not the only one who battles with this. Personally I lose my joy when I try to write to please anyone other than myself. It's hard, because I so want to get my story good enough to be published, but as soon as I start to think like that all the joy gets sucked right out of it.

Like right now, I've been working on my current draft for about 6 months, and I'm down to that point where I'm happy with about 50% of it and the other 50% is awful. And I've been stressing SO much about how to improve that 50% that it was becoming torture to work on it. So I let myself work on a different story, a different book, and in two hours I wrote 5000 words and had more fun than I'd had in weeks. But it was because I wasn't writing it for anyone except myself.

Now if only I could find a way to channel that feeling when working on my current draft, because it's such a great story and it deserves to be told well...

dawn said...

OY! you were channeling distraught writers, fantasy to science, when you penned this one brilliant laini bird!

first. WOW! i gobbled (literally) 'hatchling' first from lips touch. don't ask me why i started at the end, but that's the BEAUTY of having 3 novellas. i LOVED it! it was gorgeous, enthralling, frightening, and oh so satisfying at the same time! i went on and on and on about it at dinner (because you KNOW i'm so soft-spoken) and rob simply said, "sounds great. can't wait to read it." :rollingeyes:

and SILKSINGER! wow! where do i begin? [ you might say]. i've loved escaping into laini's intricate and expansive world. keep it coming.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love the idea of approaching writing as telling a bedtime story to someone you love. Wow. I'm going to try that, for sure. Thx!

Fletcher of the Day said...

I have that struggle with Photo assignments...meeting the technical requirements vs the creative aspect. Sometimes I have to stop and take a step back to gain perspective (literally and figuratively.

Still waiting for Silkslinger and Lips Touch...Amazon apparently put them on the slow boat....

And Clementine is the most adorably terrifying Dragon I've seen in a while! does she breathe fire?


Shveta Thakrar said...

Mmm, a whole YA novel from Laini! Should be yummy.

I have a question: How do you balance working on more than one book at once? I'm assuming you must still be working on the Dreamdark sequels as well as this novel--plus the one for Clementine you just finished!

In regard to your actual post, I love the idea of finding the fun in writing. I'm working on revisions right now, and I think I shall imagine this book being for my younger self, when there were no fantasy adventures about Indian kids in local bookstores or libraries. She would have loved that.

Also, butterflies come in through magically appearing windows in your house? Clearly I'm in the wrong neighborhood! ;)

Love and lotuses,


Holly said...

This is a very timely blog for me. I have been trying to figure out why i am having such a hard time getting myself to write lately. Truly, i have not had the same relationship with writing since the divorce process started two years ago. Sure, there was the year where i was too embroiled in my own drama to even want to create fictional drama... But now it seems to be--to use your love analogy--a fear of commitment. I am scared to fall in love with anything again; let alone anyONE. And this has got to stop. Love is joy. And writing can be something i anticipate diving into. Thanks for these thoughts.

anne said...

The dragon is adorable. do you know the book "There's no such thing as a dragon" by Jack Kent?

as to the YA Novel in style of Lips Touch -- I hope so, as everyone here who has read it moans that each story doesn't go on for an entire book!

keep creating, we're lucky to have you!

Suzanne Young said...

Maybe I need another baby to help inspire me through this next book?


tone almhjell said...

One-handed? Wow! And you've been painting and writing and creating and it's pretty amazing. I could tell myself that it's because Clementine is so easy to handle, but one-handed? You are wonderwoman, my friend!

I long to write, but need more time to settle and get into it than the five snatched minutes I get when Magnus actually sleeps during the day.

Yesterday, though, I got desperate to create something and made up a melody for one of the poems in my story. I sang it to Magnus all night. No hands needed, see!

Elena said...

ClemDragon is so adorable!

Anonymous said...

LAINI!! NBA!! I am so happy for you! OMG, you are seriously an inspiration!

Flemmily said...

Does being a National Book Award finalist make it easier to write?


Lisa Schroeder said...

Come on, hurry, SPEECH, SPEECH!!!!


I'm just so happy for you - it's so well-deserved.

Congratulations, Laini!

Hoontah said...


I clicked on the National Book Award website and what did I see? Lips touch among the finalists!

Ahhhh!!! I am so excited for you. Congratulations! I'll do a happy dance in your honor.


Valerie Geary said...

Just read on another blog that your book Lips Touch was nominated for the National Book Award! Maybe I'm late to the party, but from one Portland writer to another (even if it is late!) -- Congratulations!!! I'm putting it on my "to read" list! : )

persnickety_jen said...

Clementine as a dragon is the cutest thing ever. If I had a baby and that baby had a dragon outfit, I would never take him/her out of it! (A lot of ifs, but still! Dragons!)

And congratulations on the National Book Award nomination for Lips Touch!!! How exciting! And totally deserved! I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

i would love to read what you wrote for Clementine. That is how I started my first book - for my daughter when I was on maternity leave.

Andrea Eames said...

I have been thinking about this lately, too. I'm approaching the end of a first draft, and it's sheer drudgery at the moment - especially because I have an agent and a publisher now, and so I feel so much more pressure to 'make it good.' I had a fun creativity day last week - sat on cushions on the floor doodling and writing about my book with coloured crayons, having a floor picnic and reading SARK's Creative Companion, and that definitely helped. Sounds silly, but doing things like that does inject some fun back into things!

MedleyMisty said...

I identified with this so much. Especially the perfectionist bit. *makes note to pick up your books next time I go to the bookstore*

Just found this blog, but I thought I'd add my congratulations too. :)

On the topic of this post - my story is just made for fun and it uses the Sims 3 game so it's not at all the same level, but thus far it has been absolute perfect joy. Now though, it's nearing the end and black spots of depression have begun to show up in the bright joy. What am I going to do with myself when my love is finished?

I can see how the idea of writing to just one person would help. Didn't Vonnegut recommend that too?

I agree with Shannon Messenger - I think that my one person that I write for is myself, and it seems to work.

Catalina said...


and congratulations for the Award! you truly deserve it! :)